"Like a wet kiss." "Like Vietnam." "Like a poke in the eye with a sharp stick." "Like heaven on earth."
I'm a guy what likes metaphors. They help me understand my life. I mix them up sometimes. "You've buttered your bread, now lay in it." My job? It's M*A*S*H. Vienna? Vienna is the mall in Dawn of the Dead. Those slightly blue people shuffling towards me might seem like regular shoppers--but wait! They're the Austrian Undead.
Back in the Cretinaceous Era, when I was, oh, thirty, I read an essay about weightlifting by Henry Rollins. And whatever you may think about his hair, tattoos or music, our Henry is a great stylist. In this essay, he referred to weightlifting--both the practice of it and the weights themselves--as The Iron. "The Iron never lies to you," he wrote. "Friends may come and go. But two hundred pounds is always two hundred pounds."
I'm sure Henry won't mind if I borrow the Iron. For me, parenting is like weightlifting. Or I should say that, since I started re-reading Jesper Juul's Your Competent Child, the Iron seems like a good way to describe the sort of uber-reflective, patient, and self-critical parenting that Juul thinks will save the world. Really.
For those of you who've never heard of him, Juul is a Swedish fella who, unlike lots of people who write books about parenting, actually is a working family counselor. Put simply, his idea of good parenting means taking your kid seriously as a real person by listening carefully to what they say and how they say it, and by seeing them for who they are, not who you want them to be. Hence, for me at least, raising kids--both the practice of it and the kids themselves--is The Iron.
This Iron never lies to you either. If your kid never listens to you, maybe it's because you're not saying anything worth listening to. The Iron can teach you and make you stronger, but only if you respect The Iron. Your kid is misbehaving? That's because she doesn't have words for the pain she's feeling--as a parent you have to teach them constructive ways to express that shit. Plus, mama and papa have to be honest about their role in causing their child pain. That is the way of The Iron.
It is a difficult way.
Juul, like Rollins, verges on the masochistic as he lays out his program for being a better parent/hero. Or maybe he's sadistic, because he's writing for an audience of people, like me, who want to be better parents, and are thus susceptible to the notion that kids are worth every jewel of your strength.
But if you're a selfish person--and I am--parenthood, excuse me, The Iron, seems to kick your ass and take everything you got. Daily. Then when exhausted you asks The Iron to get into bed for the tenth time, The Iron just stares at you, and says, "Du bist cacki." ("You are a turd.")
This is the Tao of The Iron. In my mind, I respond, "Nein, du bist futzy." (No, it is you who reeks of poopy, little miss.") But I respect The Iron. I trust The Iron and all that it has to teach me. So with my words I respond, "You are wise, small Master. How may I come to See you as an unbroken prism of Beauty and excellent table manners?"
And lo, there is peace in the land.