It was 1994 or so, spring maybe, and I was on my way to work at Electronic Arts in San Mateo, CA. I must have been listening to the rock station rather than my usual NPR, because the dude on the radio announced that They Might Be Giants—one of my very favorite bands of all time—was giving a free concert that day in Golden Gate Park in nearby San Francisco.
It wasn’t even a question. I got to work, made my apologies, and drove to my ten-year-old daughter’s school, signing her out for the day so she could see TMBG live.
Arriving at the park, we spotted you, Big John—John Flansburgh—right away. You stood a few yards away from a rope line near the stage talking with some guy. My daughter was utterly beside herself. She stood at that rope line waving, hoping to catch your eye. She waved and waved and I stood there with her watching as you finally…well, “condescended” is a kind word. You…condescended to wave to her, which sent her over the moon. She loved the concert. She had a great day.
Here’s what I saw: My little girl standing there waving, smiling, thrilled to see you and you, John, turning to us with a look on your face that said, “I can’t fucking BELIEVE I have to do this,” an eye-roll that most certainly offered you a view of your own BRAIN, and a wave that couldn’t have been more exaggerated if you’d thrown your shoulder out of socket and could not possibly have communicated more disdain for this tiny fan.
My daughter turns 33 next year. She rolls her eyes at me when I tell this story. She was thrilled that you waved at her. She was too young then to understand that you were not saying hello but saying, “Jesus, kid, would you fuck off, already?” And so, it didn’t hurt her the way it hurt me.
20 years later, telling this story to someone I know, I realize that it still hurts a lot.
I have friends who tease me about my “grudge.” But dude, you were mean to a kid. My kid. That’s not the kind of thing a mother gets over. And also? I loved your fucking band. I bought every album and went to every show I could. I took my child out of school to see you that day because she loved you, too, and I thought it would be a good experience for her. Thankfully, it was. Thankfully, she wasn’t hurt by your behavior. But she could have been, and I think about other kids who came to see you. Were you mean to them, too?
I like to think that this was a one-time thing. I like to think that you later realized what a jackass you’d been and felt so guilty that you started making kids’ records to atone for your behavior that day. I know that’s ridiculous, but that little fantasy has given me some measure of comfort.
The more likely truth is that you were probably just exactly the egotistical jackass you seemed to be. I wonder if you still are.
My daughter’s love for music, partly fueled by listening to your records, grew into a talent. She’s an amazing singer and songwriter, and she and I were in a band together for a few years. This month we’ll sing together at my 50th birthday party.
Though you kinda broke my heart that day in 1994, I’m just glad you didn’t break hers.
All of this illustrates a few things: my ability to hold a grudge for 20 years; your capacity for being an utter dickwad to fans; the fallibility of our heroes and our tendency to put humans on pedestals…but I guess more than anything it’s about a mother’s love for her child.
You don’t fucking mess with my kid.
I have failed her in so many ways, so maybe telling stories like this one (you’re not the only person I’m still angry with over their treatment of her, in case that makes you feel any better) is just my way of proving to myself that despite all of my failures as a mother, I am a mother who loves her child fiercely.
Dear John: you owe my daughter an apology. I owe her a few, too, but that’s between us. If you and I ever meet, I’ll tell you this story and ask you to extend that apology. I don’t really expect that you’ll comply, but I’d do anything for my kid. Even write a silly blog post about a grudge I’ve been holding for two decades.
Today my friend Anne is on the receiving end of all sorts of criticism for the post I shared with you yesterday in which she bravely considered a future when her son might cross a line despite her best efforts. You see, Anne realizes that even though her little boy is two years old now and loves his mother more than anything, one day he will experience–as we all do–a need to go his own way and take his cues from sources that do not love him with all their hearts and want him to be and have the absolute best.
I have known Anne less than a year, but in that time (in addition to getting to know her personally and coming to call her a friend) I have read many of her posts on The Belle Jar and have been at turns moved to tears, anger, nostalgia, a strong sense of simpatico, and fits of giggles. Her ability to bring herself–her personal stories–to her constant struggle to contribute to the greater good means that her work (on TBJ and elsewhere) reaches more and more people every day. And that means that in addition to the thousands of people who need her stories and words–either because they weren’t quite awake and she splashed their faces or because, like me, they’re out here fighting the same fight and desperately need the solidarity and ideas and perspectives and common vocabulary to do what we do–there are those who will tear her down.
Some of these people just don’t get it. Others are on a crusade to expose the evils of feminism. As for the former, I can only hope that some seed has been planted and germinates even now in the depths of their brains. But the latter? Allow me to submit that they are the true measure of the impact Anne is making. I don’t envy her the negative attention, the stress, the bad feels that I know even now are making it hard for her to do the important work she’s doing. But I, for one, want to say that I’m counting on Anne to take what strength she can from all of us who love her, love what she does, love her stories and her strength and her courage, and remember that what all of this means is that she’s doing something right.
And I’ve known that all along. <3
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