I recently had the pleasure of watching a little boy in the
lobby of a hotel have a full-on meltdown over Pringles chips. The little boy in
question was about my son's age, 2. His parents, two very attractive people, who looked really embarrassed,
whispered and exchanged desperate glances, all while they tugged gently at
their son trying to peel him off the gleaming white hotel tile.
A 2-year-old having a meltdown is a normal sight,
especially for me. I've seen my son meltdown in the school parking lot because
I won't let him drive the car. I've had to haul him out of Target under my arm
while he shrieked for a credit card. One time, he sobbed for 10 minutes because
I told his sister she could color a crocodile whatever color she wanted.
What was unique about this meltdown was that the little boy
only spoke French. "Je veux Pringles!" He screeched. "Je veux Pringles!"
Perhaps I shouldn't have been so gleeful over the tantrum as
I was. But as an American woman, I've been bombarded by the narrative that French
women are inherently superior. There are hundreds of books available that tell
me how to eat
like a French woman, dress
like a French woman, have
sex like a French woman, and in 2014, with the publication of Pamela
Up Bebe," parent like a French woman.
I don't fault the French, truly. This is an American
phenomenon, born of our Francophile nature and our deep desire to make women
feel insecure. There is a whole lucrative cottage industry of books and
articles that tell women what we are doing wrong and how to be better, try
harder and be less of ourselves.
These narratives somehow (try to) prove that there is something inherently wrong with our children.
And in this industry of self-esteem destruction, French
women are lauded as the Platonic ideal of who we ought to be: thin, classy,
chic, and now, really good parents. But it's an ideal that no one of any
nationality can live up to and one born of a limited perspective of who
American and French women are, which is to say, people. We are people.
In the wake of Druckerman's book, there were manyarticles
that called her out for valuing a system of education and parenting that was
authoritarian, for focusing on strict obedience rather than creativity and free
thinking. One French parent, writing in The
Atlantic, noted: "While that's certainly understandable, I can vouch
for the fact that while French parenting might be better at producing
well-behaved children, I wouldn't recommend it if you want healthy, happy
Despite those articles the narrative has remained. I've had
friends note that in France
there is no such thing as ADD or that French kids eat everything, as if
these narratives somehow prove that there is something inherently wrong with
our children rather than differing perspectives on the experience of being
human. What if having picky eaters is actually a good thing for kids? What if
the French actually have a lot of kids with ADD they are just ignoring them
because of cultural blindness?
But whether or not French parents are good or bad is beside
the point. I am sure they are doing the best they can and that's the point. We
are all doing the best we can with the information we have, and when it comes to humans of any nationality, that is all we are: humans—flawed, messed up, tired humans.
And kids of any nationality are just that, kids. They are
tiny humans who get tired and hungry and lack the emotional capacity to deal,
so they end up pounding their tiny fists on the white tile and screaming. In
any language it's the same.
I spoke to the parents later out at the hotel pool. The mother also had a daughter who was close in age to my daughter. But
because of the language barrier, our kids just eyed one another suspiciously
and spoke very little. I apologized to the mother for staring at her son while
he had a tantrum. I told her about my son's most recent tantrum and I told her
that Americans think that French kids don't fuss. The woman laughed so hard
that margarita almost shot through her nose.
"Oh, my dear," she said, "You Americans
really know nothing do you?" At that moment, both of our sons began to