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Parentbling magazines

By Erica Etelson

Not long before Child magazine folded, I filled out a survey asking me what I liked and didn't like about the publication. The first part was easy -- any and all advice about how to keep playground sand out of my house (I really don't think there can be too much said on this subject). But, in the spur of the moment, I couldn't think of anything I didn't like other than the ridiculous number of ads for designer clothes for spill-prone tots and breaking features on how to decorate a fetus's room.

Now that I've had some time to collect my thoughts, I have a few additional complaints to lodge, not only against the late-Child, but against most of its survivors in the mainstream parenting magazine industry:

1. Pictures of supposed moms who have the thighs of Charlize Theron and whose breasts have not renegotiated their gravitational relationship to Earth.

2. Birthday party planning tips that involve themes of any kind, cupcakes decorated to resemble amphibians, and goody bags filled with a quarter pound of junky plastic toys that will wind up in a landfill within a year. One magazine's website suggests that parents (read: mothers) whip up a "xylophone" cake and adorn it with candy mallets (available on Mars). Or, for an ancient Egypt theme party, send out invitations in the form of scrolls of parchment paper singed at the corners with a lit match ("adults only!"). When I was a kid, we pinned the tail on the donkey, had some cake and called it a day. Today, thanks to parenting magazine party hype, I take my kids to parties that cost more than my brother's Bar Mitzvah.

3. "Fun" craft ideas that require me to round up "common household objects" such as owl-shaped cookie cutters, lollipop sticks, golf tees, feather boas and fishing line. I find myself ooing and aahing over the picture-perfect final products…for about five seconds, followed by a wave of nausea that signals the onset of Parental Inadequacy Shame Syndrome (PISS) -- a transient state of guilt that my child will never have the pleasure of turning a clothespin into a pterodactyl. I should probably just turn myself in to Child Protective Services right now.

4. Articles that are barely disguised advertisements for "must have" toys, gear and snacks. My son "must have" a Hello Kitty mini-humidifier and a package of Scooby-Doo Mini String Cheese? And my infant really needs a $35 Bling Bling Baby pacifier studded with Swarovski crystals? Gosh, I just hope they can overnight that to me!

5. Child-rearing advice on how to "tame" my toddler. Parenting magazines often peddle advice that purports to be nouveau but is nothing more than regurgitated versions of the same old behavioral conditioning techniques parents have been using since the Dark Ages. Instead of "go to your room," it's "time-out."  Instead of "good girl," try: "I like the way you humped Simba the Lion in your bedroom so that Mommy wasn't embarrassed in front of Grandma." Even the dreaded silent treatment has made a comeback: If your toddler throws a tantrum, just ignore him until he comes around, and that will teach him to behave properly. What I want to know is: Which of these parenting experts is going to pay for my son's Prozac prescription when all those repressed feelings start boring a hole through his soul?

6. Health stories that urge me to do whatever is necessary to ensure the total sterility of my home. It seems that, if young children even hear the word "germ," they will immediately contract all kinds of potentially fatal viruses and, if they eat off a surface that has not been properly sanitized (with new Clorox Wipes), they will soon be doubled over in the throes of amoebic dysentery. My mother was as germ-phobic as any good Jewish mother, but my brother and I weren't even required to wash our hands before dinner let alone undergo a Karen Silkwood-style decontamination protocol. Clearly, I'm still bitter over the fact that anti-microbial fear-mongering led me to buy a $30 shopping cart cover that, had I ever figured out how to strap it on, would have theoretically prevented my son's skin from coming into contact with any life form. Which brings me to my final and chief complaint…

7. Stories that aim to scare the shit out of me. Apparently, there are so many hidden hazards that your child is as good as dead if you don't get busy child-proofing the immediate universe. Some of the little-known dangers I've been briefed on include swimming pools and hot tubs that suck kids down the drain and bats that fly in through open windows and infect sleeping children with rabies. Of course, these tragic flukes are saddening and sometimes even alarming, but when I remind myself of the bigger picture -- that nine million kids don't have health insurance, two million are obese (too many Scooby-snacks?), and the United States has a higher infant mortality rate than any industrialized nation but Latvia -- I feel a whole lot better.

Mmo : December 2007

Erica Etelson is a stay-at-home-and-write mother and recovering attorney. Her work has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Bay Guardian and LA Times.
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