Parenting is, I have learnt, a competitive and unforgiving business.
Everyone's a critic, but it can be a bruising business
As of eight o'clock this morning, I'm happy to report that the swelling around my eye has almost completely receded. The bruise is still visible, but the pain has disappeared.
Let me explain.
Last week I went to an art gallery opening, and to me, every picture looked the same. When I pointed this out to the other gallery-goers, I learnt a painful lesson: sometimes it's best to silence your inner art critic.
It wasn't a professional art gallery. It was a nursery school classroom.
I have a four year-old goddaughter who is in every respect a marvellous, luminous child. She's sunny and smiling, delightful pretty much all of the time. Her parents are dear friends of mine, and it's a joy and an honour to serve as her godparent.
OK, now that I've got all of that nonsense out of the way, I can tell the full story. My goddaughter's preschool class held an "open house" event, where parents and other "significant caregivers" were invited to wander through the classroom, watch a short musical performance, and take in a mini "art gallery" of paintings and drawings by the little ones.
It was excruciating, of course, but not because of the children. They were all hilarious and adorable. Pretty much every single kid was irresistibly charming, though I guess if you can't manage being cute-as-a-button at four years old, you probably should just give up and live in a hut. Being four is your best shot.
The excruciating ones were the parents. Perhaps this is just a Los Angeles-specific phenomenon, but parents these days are almost entirely objectionable. They "ooh" and "ahh" over every tiny object their kid shows to them. They shower the little monster with praise. They are relentlessly and cheerlessly positive and encouraging - so much so that even the kids see through it.
A certain dad applauded a little too loudly at the musical performance, which was, let's face it, not all that accomplished - it was a dozen four-year-olds singing off-key, and a little fat kid at the end of the row banging a small drum. When a certain mother was heard to say with a swoon, "My daughter sings like an angel! No, wait, she sings like a professional!", I saw their daughter sigh in exhausted disgust. "Please," she seemed to be saying, "get a grip on yourselves. We're four. And the fat kid is keeping the wrong time."
My problem came when it was time to appreciate the art work. "Children are so creative," the parents purred. "My child especially," one of them said. "He has such an eye."
"If they're so creative," I asked in a tone I was told later was sharp and insensitive, "then why do they all draw alike?"
Now, parents, be honest with yourselves: your child draws just like every other child. The house is a triangle on a square. The arms and legs stick directly out of the oblong torso. The sun is an orange circle. The ocean's waves look like the edge of a bread knife. Children are sweet and funny and innocent and adorable, but they aren't creative. They haven't been around long enough.
All of which I shouldn't have said but, unfortunately, did. And that caused the parents of my goddaughter to inch slowly away from me. Parenting is, I have learnt, a competitive and unforgiving business. No parent wants the others to know that they're the ones who invited the mean jerk who attacked their child's compelling crayon masterpiece.
As the afternoon wound down, a dad sidled up to me at the juice and cookie table, where I was attempting to hide from the evil eye every parent was sending my way.
"So, you're a television writer?" the dad asked.
"Yes," I said.
"You write television comedies, did I hear that right?"
"And you think my kid isn't creative? You write sitcoms for a living and you think all kids draw alike? What about you? Don't you think most television comedies are uncreative and unoriginal?"
At this point, I was cornered. The dad's voice was rising in anger.
"I see your point," I said meekly.
"I mean," he went on, "what makes you any different from any of these four year-olds? Well?"
"I get paid more," I said, trying to lighten the mood. "A lot more, actually. What does your kid rake in, after taxes?"
Which I thought might elicit at least a chuckle instead of what it did elicit, which was a roundhouse punch to the left eye.
Nobody likes a critic. Especially a parent.
Rob Long is a writer and producer based in Hollywood
On Twitter: @rcbl