The Things Your Children Know About You

by Matthew J.X. Malady

— Taffy BrodesserAkner (@taffyakner) May 10, 2015

Taffy! So what happened here?

So both of my children came home from school with a Mother’s Day gift for me, inside which was an assessment? employment review? census? on our relationship, laid bare over just few questions: What’s your mother’s age? What does she do? What’s her favorite food? That kind of thing. My older son, who is 7, came home with one that could easily have been switched with another kid’s, and I would have thought it had been, had he not confirmed that it was his. It said his favorite thing that I make are cookies; I’ve never actually made cookies during his lifetime, and maybe only once before that. He said my favorite thing to do was spend time at the spa, and though my husband and I have an ongoing joke about kelp wraps, I don’t think I’ve ever been to a spa except under the duress of wanting to be like everyone else for some womanly friendship trip, or graciously accepting a baby shower gift. Spas generally combine things I can’t tolerate: humidity, lavender scents, people touching me, nudity (my own and others’). Anyway, I asked him why he made so many things up, and what he said was devastating: He said he didn’t know the answers. I am normally someone who feels the upper ranges of working mother guilt. This made me take to my bed.

But the one you’re contacting me about is the one I posted on Twitter. It was my 4-year-old’s, which included many of the same questions. His answers, while not wholly inaccurate, were problematic just the same.

Which of these contentions from your son do you most feel the need to refute/address? Is it that you feed him lots of candy? That you like alcohol? That you simply adore tomatoes? In any case, the floor is yours. Also: Talk to me about that lentil soup!

I mean, he got a lot of them right. How old is your mother? 39, yes, accurate. What does my mother do? She writes, she goes to work. Yes, also true! What does my mother make? Lentil soup. And it’s true that I make a great lentil soup (though my older son loves it more). It’s from Susie Fishbein’s Kosher By Design Lightens Up cookbook, seminal stuff in these parts. What does my mom say to me? “Do you have to make?” Yes! Now, I saw some posts on Facebook from other mothers in the class. The other mothers say “You’re so cute!” and “I love you very much!” But though I say those things, too, this is what he remembers. And perhaps this is the thing I hope he carries through life: Yes, I love him, but does that even matter when you have to make? The final question was, “Why do you love your mother?” Because I give him candy. Fair enough! I do do that sometimes!

My bone to pick with my 4-year-old lay in the less accurate statements. It’s innocuous enough to say I like tomatoes. I’m fine with them, and mostly relieved he didn’t write Chipotle, or my own finger dipped repeatedly in a chunky peanut butter jar that I use to make sandwiches for other people.

Mainly, obviously, I object to several things about the alcohol comment. I am not a big drinker — not by a long shot — and often I characterize people I see drink on even a weekly basis as problem alcoholics. I also don’t really know where he got the word “alcohol.” I certainly never say, “Get me some alcohol!” I certainly never call a drink, “alcohol.” I occasionally say that I’m drinking a grown-up drink, but usually it is coffee. I object to his passing this on to the nice teachers who maybe now look at me a little sympathetically, who now probably think, “I wonder if old Taffy is drunk now” at drop-off. They are likely under the impression I am consuming alcohol so steadily, and with such little regard for taste and decorum, or even drink preference, that I only require one single component: the alcohol part.

Lesson learned (if any)?

Obviously, the most problematic is not my 4-year-old’s misconception that I love tomatoes, or even that he is broadcasting to his private school teachers that he is receiving candy on the regular — he is; I give my kids candy from airports when I come home from reporting trips, as a sort of guilt tariff, and, if anything, the thing that haunts me about that is how often it happens. I work a lot, and I travel a lot, and so he gets a lot of Sour Patch Kids, which he adorably refers to as his kids, as in, “Can you please hold my kids while I go to the bathroom?”

What lesson could I learn when the supposition isn’t true? These things are a horrible Loehmann’s dressing room mirror in the face of all you thought you were doing right. The lesson I’ve learned is that you think you know what you’re doing, you think you know how your kids think of you, and you don’t know anything. When it comes down to it, the ballad of us working mothers is that we can only hope to be truly understood by our children much, much later.

Just one more thing.

All this said, I was at the James Beard Awards a few weeks ago, where I was nominated in profile-writing (I lost), and I sat at the same table as my GQ colleagues, who were very nice to me. Now, I don’t believe I drank too much, but if I were to be a properly skeptical journalist, I’d have to ask myself these questions: Why did the waiter laugh every time he poured me more rosé? Why did I wake up the next day with a hangover? Why did it feel very important to me to touch the arm of everyone I was talking to? These are all things for me to take a hard look at.