Cut Yourself Some Slack
And someone else too if you can
A few months ago I was chatting with a friend about a curious phenomenon that we had both began to notice. She and I both grew up in immigrant households — the kind of immigrant household that placed enormous weight on education, elevating it to the level of status.
We were talking about books; we both read quite a bit and both of our mothers have taken to a habit of complaining about how much we read. Recently my mother lamented that I was spending my whole evenings reading, and that I should socialize or watch some TV instead. She complained that I’m too uptight and I needed to relax.
- Ahem, there’s a pandemic going on, there isn’t much socialization to be had.
- Reading is relaxing. Sure, To Start a War: How the Bush Administration Took America Into Iraq might not sound very relaxing, but it’s historical escapism and it very much is relaxing.
- Fielding complaints about the things that I find relaxing is distinctly not relaxing, and might be contributing to my appearance of being uptight.
More so than all of this, the rueful irony of the situation is how it is almost exactly the opposite of everything that I — we — had been hearing from our parents for all (and I mean all) the years of our childhoods. I don’t mean to paint a picture of some sort of joyless childhood where I was locked into a room to study for all my days. I watched plenty of TV, sometimes with my parents for a few episodes of CSI per week, or more generally at seven or eight in the morning on Saturdays, before my parents were awake, and only at times when I happened to know the TV’s password, which in our household was naturally password protected.
The ways in which I would learn the TV’s password were as auspicious as they were unreliable. Generally it would involve trying to glean it from the corner of my eye as a parent keyed it in, feigning disinterest between sidelong glances at the remote. Sometimes I would only get a number or two, or sometimes just the motion, and I would test combinations later, slowly over several days to avoid locking the TV which would give me away to my parents. Obviously I was quite the Jason Bourne.
Other times I would interrupt my parents on their night out with a phone call and quickly let them know that I had finished my homework and wanted to watch TV. With enough pleading I was usually successful. Most nights they’d come home and update the PIN, but luckily for me other times they’d forget and I would be able to watch Pokémon come Saturday morning. I wonder how often my parents would let me keep up the ruse, pretending not to know that they know that I know the code, as a small gift to me for good behavior.
Anyways, this is all to say that I watching TV was not a habit I much grew up with as leisure activity as opposed to a treat, and thus it is totally backwards for my mom to now chastise me for not watching enough of it. I do miss out a bit as a result, I’ll admit. I haven’t seen any episodes of Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad or The Bachelor, and there’s a host of workplace gossip that I miss out on as a result (though less so now, ‘cause pandemic). Somehow I’ve managed to survive though.
A bigger part of this plays into what we consider socially acceptable forms of leisure. Binge-watching the latest Netflix show is part of the common culture, binge-reading sociology literature is not. I could list pastimes like running, yoga, drinking with friends, getting high with friends, completing jigsaw puzzles, playing board games, playing video games, and cosplaying, and I challenge you to see the value judgements you make about each.
At times like these, it is good to remember that you should cut yourself some slack. Who cares if you like to curl up with a book instead of a TV show? We spend so much time wound up in the inconsequential, and that distracts us from the things we’re enjoying. For my part, I’m going to keep reading. At the same time I’m going to cut my mom some slack too — she is just worried that incessant reading will make me stressed and brooding (there are plenty of other things that contribute to those already).
In short, make space for others to be who they want to be insofar as it doesn’t hurt anyone. Be mindful of the judgements you pass on others, and consider how consequential these things actually are. And chill, mothers, we’re turning out fine.