I’m re-reading “Kitchen Confidential” because I enjoy Anthony Bourdain’s work and I love writing that takes me into an unfamiliar world, teaches me the language and unwritten rules, introduces me to the influencers and machine cogs and miscreants who lurk about, and–most importantly–shows me why it matters.
Because we all inhabit our own little worlds. Stake out our positions on this corner or that. Obsess about music or dance, stocks or statistics, food or gardening. From the outside, it can be hard to see what all the fuss is about. Why does it matter, Anthony, that I chop my garlic fresh and “avoid at all costs the vile spew you see rotting in oil in screwtop jars”? Why does it matter that I wait a few minutes instead of cutting into a steak immediately after I pull it off the grill? Do I really have to save the pasta water and pour it back over the noodles? Yes. Why? Because those are the rules of the cooking world.
Parenthood is its own universe, too, only truly known to those subject to its gravity. There’s a way parents talk. A way they think. There are rules and, always, exceptions to the rules. Up and downs of the most intense variety. Inevitably, you try to boil it down to a sentence, you get caught in clichés. Life’s greatest adventure. Hell of a ride. Best thing that’s ever happened to me. All true, but essentially meaningless.
The big reveal is in the details, I think. In “Kitchen Confidential,” Bourdain describes his first experience eating an oyster. It wasn’t just about the slimy, fishy goodness in his mouth. It was about the context. The way it felt like a rite of passage. The way it appalled his brother. The rush of indulgence. The ritual that made him feel like part of an exclusive club.
I think, as parents, we lose sight of that sometimes. We’re in the weeds, trying to deal with mini-meltdowns, rushing to check off to-do lists, frantically darting from room to room to keep fingers out of light sockets and dinner from burning and siblings out of each other’s stuff. We forget to stop, breathe, and just revel in eating that #*&$*^# oyster.
I haven’t ever witnessed chefs pulling knives on one another in the kitchen, screaming about escargot, but I do have this video on my phone of Declan absentmindedly hitting himself in the face with a piece of plastic while watching “Sesame Street.” I’ve watched it probably a dozen times. I don’t speak “kitchenese” but we do have a weird lingo around our house that slips in and out of different octaves and includes SAT-level vocabulary peppered with guttural squeals, babbling nonsense, and Louis Armstrong-quality scat. Whatever it is, it’s not boring.
What I’m saying is, we’re part of a cool club, too, parents. A world with its own language and rules and absurdities, joys and bores and stresses. So I say, let’s not be so quick to write off our lives as over, to envy our single or childless friends as somehow having more than we have, to lust after nights of warm beer and plastic red cups and dirt-cheap apartments. The parental underbelly is teeming with its own bizarre and bountiful offerings, and it’s a world worth talking and reading and even bragging about. So tell me in your boldest CAPS LOCK why this high-chair is better than that one. Shower me with your observations about sleep training and baby wearing and proper weening techniques. Post the pictures of your beautiful alien child and tell me about the way they fill your heart and drive you mad. Because it matters. It connects us. Like Bourdain, we should be as thorough and honest as we can in describing our strange little space in the world. Be present. Be real. Be opinionated. We’re all better for it.