The “Snoo” is an American Psychopath Incubator. This crib costs $1,200 to computerise the exchange rate between parental wealth and affection. This robocradle is equipped with sensors to detect the baby’s crying and then absolutely NOT notify their caregivers. It’s specifically designed to prevent human parents from paying attention to their own offspring. Instead it activates motors to rock the organic material back to normal status without requiring a human to go in and pick things up. You’ll see similar technology in any sewage treatment plant.
Rocking your baby isn’t always a picture of parental bliss. You’re tired, it’s screaming, all of that, but the whole point is that the baby wants to be reassured by its protectors. Also: babies shit themselves. Buying this device is a thousand-dollar endorsement of babies being stirred in their own shit before anyone even considers checking. The sewage treatment gag in the previous paragraph was meant to be a metaphor, not a childcare strategy.
Imagine watching a baby being rocked by a loving parent and thinking the key component was oscillation. King Midas would call that person an asshole. A Snoo auto-cradle is a physical failure of the Voight-Kampff test. Actually inserting a baby turns it into a Voight-Kampff Eraser, mechanically removing empathy from a developing brain.
“Don’t worry”, the motors gently buzz, “They don’t care. No-one cares. No-one is coming for you. Your parents spent over a thousand dollars specifically to prevent that. You’ve been spawned by sociopaths who view human beings as a shallow series of inputs and outputs, and honestly consider it affection that they’ve spent their money on a system to administer your signals instead of security to have you arrested, which would be their automatic response were you not their direct blood possession.” If even one child emerging from this e-motion substitution is anything less than Joffrey the parents can count themselves lucky.
Of course the Snoo also requires a specially branded “swaddle-suit” sold by the same company. The Snoo is the first strike in megacorps reinstating the old meaning of “brand”. The suit clips the baby into the Snoo. NON-EUPHEMISM-TRANSLATION: this product mechanically restrains the baby inside the machine. The branded “SNOO Sack: 100% Organic Cotton” costs forty dollars, and you know it’s great babywear when you’re eleven syllables into the name before it stops sounding like a menu item for trillionaire lizard overlords.
Kids scream in your face, vomit on your top, and stare you dead in the eye as they visibly shit themselves. Then ask for a hug. In any other relationship that’d be enough red flags to turn Earth into Mars. In parenting it’s Tuesday. But bulk fluid ejection isn’t even nearly the worst problem inflicted on carers. Puddles of goo are psychologically simple: you know there’s a problem, and you know the kid didn’t enjoy it either. You’re doing more work but it’s a shared problem, not asymmetric warfare.
The sneakier psychological problem is input lag: when a kid completely ignores your instructions for a while. If an adult just stands there blatantly ignoring everything you say then that’s the superstring theory of calculated insults, gigantically wasted effort on your part with absolutely no measurable results. In professional wrestling someone just ignoring another person means one or both of them are about to be slammed through a table. Infuriation bubbles up below your conscious thought like magma below Pompeii and with similar effects on how nice a day everyone is having.
But here’s the thing: the kid doesn’t know any of those words. The kid’s never even heard of those concepts. The first and most important thing about being upset by a small child is that you’re being upset by yourself, because of all the other pressures and plans your brain maintains as well as the tiny person. You’re losing a battle of wits to someone who hasn’t grown any yet.
Your thoughts are circuitry forged and programmed by decades of effort. Their mental material is still firework plasma. They’re still reacting to everything, everywhere, internal thoughts as well as external factors. Your brain is eighty billion neurons wired into the most sophisticated computation system in the entire universe. Theirs is still eighty billion light switches flicking on and off in the world’s most distracting rave. It can take a while for someone to push through that! But if you start a fight instead you won’t get anywhere. Better to appreciate the vibes while you’re there, that way you’ll get a better feel for how to get through and might even enjoy this free trip through a funner and much simpler world.
For example: a kid might technically understand the sentence “we have to get ready to go to town”, in that they can repeat those words back to you. But they don’t know why that’s important, or why you need to buy food before going to the office, or why you need to get to work NOW, or at all, or why you’re getting so upset instead of playing in all this awesome mud.
This is the input lag. And it is often lag – it just takes a while to push through to the result. Driving through mud means shifting gear and being more careful, not flooring the accelerator and screaming.
Luckily the solution is the same as the problem: you can think way more and faster than them. That’s meant to be an advantage, not a way of annoying yourself! You already have all kinds of complicated systems running in your head. The whole point of parenting is providing those for a kid until they grow their own. Hopefully helping them grow the right ones along the way.
Don’t treat a delaying kid as a disobedient enemy, but as a cute little alien you find at the start of the movie: talking to them at all is a big deal, take time to encourage them, just stick them in something with wheels and get moving if things are really urgent. And understand that all your patient effort will be rewarded when they later display terrifying new powers.
The Undearing Asshole thinks advertising their flaws makes them adorable instead of infuriating. They’re the romantic comedy dickhead who burns down some poor woman’s house then gets lucky because he erected a tent on the ashes. As the main character of his own movie he believes he can smirkingly shrug at his own shit, usually on your carpet, and get a laugh instead of a punch in the face. So let’s read Russell Brand tellingThe Timesabout his parenting.
He’s our first contestant in the BAD DAD OLYMPIAD and we might already have an eternal champion. He has two daughters, Mabel and Peggy, who were two years and six months old when he told an interviewer things that would normally be confessed to Child Services. He defines his parenting strategy:
“Yes, I’m very, very focused on the mystical connotations
of Mabel’s beauty and grace. Not so good on the nappies and making sure that
they eat food.”
He sat down and told The Times he was too incompetent to feed his own children. Not as a tearful breakdown in a post-relapse sympathy interview but as a smiley joke. A jolly old “Oh YOU know ME, leaving my starving children covered in their own filth!”
He uses his own children and their overflowing nappies to underline his own spirituality. Our very first entrant in the Bad Dad Olympiad sucks so hard he defines a new type of terrible. I award Russell Brand the first and foundational gold medal in DIAPERLESS DAD. If someone just refuses to change nappies their parenting strategy is literally telling their partner “YOU clean up this shit”.
Or, in his own actual “I’m talking to an interviewer who will report what I say to the world” words, he describes being a parent.
“When I looked after Mabel on her own,
she dropped two social classes in an hour. In no time at all we’re in a coffee
shop, she’s just got a nappy on, she’s covered in stuff because I’m not willing
to fight any of the battles. I’m like, f*** it, it doesn’t matter whether she
wears trousers, no, I suppose it doesn’t matter if she does that.”
Sorry he describes NOT being a parent. Not even a nanny. Barely a friends’ teenage child making sure they’re never forced to babysit everagain. In a battle of wills with an unfinished brain Russell Brand brags about losing.
Your attention might have been distracted from Russell Brand’s puddle-deep thoughts by the child screaming in a bag of their own filth, in which case congratulations on being a better parent to her than Russell Brand, but check out his exact words. “When I looked after Mabel on her own”. Special event. Singular. The way you might talk about The War, something that only happened once and you now bring up to get attention. Compare with:
“I’m very, very focused on the mystical connotations of Mabel’s beauty
Remember that’s the mystical grace of the starving naked child. There is a certain beauty to the hunt, true, but I don’t think feral infants chasing urban foxes for food, maybe to desperately re-invent fur as clothing, counts as modern beauty. But at this rate his kids will be lucky if they can count before they’re forty.
At this point The Times’ interviewer detects some slight flaws in Russell’s parenting, because by this point a cuckoo would be squirming and awkwardly checking under its wings to avoid eye contact. They ask how long Russell, in two years of parenting, has ever actually parented his own without their mother.
“That’s a good question, isn’t it? Well, OK. The two
of them? Well, not long, not long.”
What a spectacular answer. But I say that as a comedy writer part of me diving into the rich seams in the overlap of “an asshole completely fucking up” and “the same asshole absolutely refusing to accept it at great length”. The parent part of me is yelling and sounds pretty angry.
“Um, I’ve done like, a night. But they’re asleep
Congratulations Dr Brand on earning your PhD in The Most Desperate Answer. True, PhDs are usually earned by years of privation and struggle by the person actually earning it, not their children, but this occasion needs marking. In only ten words you’ve summarised more impressive failures to present positive evidence than the entire scientific search for dark matter. This is a rare case where “silent/y glowering at the interviewer” would have made someone seem more considerate and self-aware. “Fuck that” would have at least been honest. “I’ve only looked at them when they’re asleep” is not a reassuring answer. That’s never a reassuring answer! It’s the least reassuring answer possible without speaking through a human-skin mask!
Back to our interviewer:
Has he spent even 24 hours in sole charge of his children?
He looks at me as if I must be mad.
“No. She wouldn’t go away for 24 hours, Laura. She
respects and cares for their safety too much.
“My wife loves my
children too much to leave me alone with them” isn’t a real human sentence,
it’s a stress test to see if androids have developed empathy and refuse to
“Laura’s able to sustain and maintain domesticity in a
way that’s astonishing. I didn’t have much experience of how to organise domesticity.
I do whatever I’m told.”
I DO WHATEVER I’M TOLD! is another Bad Dad Olympian feat of fucking up at fathering. (You can read more about that idea here). This dude declaims “domesticity” as a special skill he can’t learn because in the game of his life he didn’t pick the “woman” class. Painting your own uselessness as your wife’s special skill is a neutron star binary of sexism, a collapsed lump revolving around the light of your life while draining it of everything until something explodes. Russell Brand is now in the running for three separate events in the Bad Dad Olympiad and he invented two of them during the first.
Russell is the loser-ass “I’ve got so many amazing ideas for stories I can’t be bothered writing down any of the mere details”, except instead of books it’s his children.
He breaks off, looking worried. “I would hate for you
to leave with the impression that I’m sort of sat watching television, peering
over the armchair at what’s going on. I’m not. Yesterday, like, I drove Mabel
to the playschool and I drop her at the playschool. But I’m sensitive and awake
and aware, so I have to dial a lot of shit down to go through normal life.”
Holy crap Russell noticed someone unimpressed with his poor performance. Get his wife in here! She’s never seen this! You drove your own child to the playschool AND dropped her at the playschool? Instead of, what, hurling her out the window? “Giving your child to someone else to take care of for a while” isn’t something you can claim as two tasks. When the best thing you can think of to tell a doubting reporter is “I don’t hire bouncers to escort my own child out of my house for me” you might not be father of the year.
Seeing my expression, he adds: “I feel like I’m doing
a f****** probation interview.”
BEHOLD the stinking signature of the Undearing Asshole, reacting to anything less than a standing ovation for subminimum effort as persecution.
PODIUM PLACEMENT: GOLD STAR
Russell Brand obviously gets a gold. Not a gold medal, but a gold star, a nice little participation sticker for heroically still bothering to live on the same planet while his wife looks after three helpless children: his two daughters and him.
Travelling with a
child is like flying down to an unknown alien planet. Leaving your calm and
carefully constructed environment, you must carry everything you’ll need, keep
constantly vigilant against unknown hazards, and no matter what you do the rapidly evolving
life-form causing all the stress will be in the vehicle with you. Except babies
are so much more terrifying than science-fiction monsters, because “They’re learning from everything you do and
growing new abilities from your genetic material” is an obvious fact
instead of terrifying revelation.
I just took TNG to
Ireland and back to visit my mother in hospital. (Don’t worry, she’s fine and
resting at home again). The first stop was my sister’s house and a family visit
hasn’t involved this many blades since Game
of Thrones ended. My sister is spectacular but her children are teenagers, the
incarnated opposite of baby-proofing. In the first ten minutes of toddling I out-dashed
any Olympic sprinter, and out-panicked the same sprinter stuck in a small
enclosure full of cheetahs who’ve discovered the concepts of jealousy and human
flesh. “I’ll just move this battery. And
these razors. And this carpet knife.“ was an actual quote, and scarier than
hearing it from behind the chair you’re tied to. Because at least that’s only
threatening you and really won’t be your fault. Everyone was awesome and
everything turned out fine but my heart rate didn’t drop below “person with a pacemaker wrestling power lines”.
We moved on to visit friends
with their own young children. Much more relaxing. NOTE: “more” is not
“entirely”. For example: a bottle of glitter is brilliant for a seven year old
but a flare pistol for a two year old: it immediately draws attention and can
cause absolute disaster if misused. Adorably stylish
accident averted, I could finally take a breath. Even take my eyes off my child
for the first few seconds in three days. And I’d need those moments of rest
when little TNG started screaming their way to sleep in a strange house that
morning at 1 AM. And I discovered an unexpected modern worry.
Soothing a small
air-raid siren in someone else’s house, endlessly crooning of comfort as you
cuddle the poor kid, obviously you’re worried whether they can hear. Less
obvious is their Amazon Echo. I knew they had one in the house. I’d seen it
safely shut in the downstairs kitchen, because household robots aren’t yet
capable enough for “the room with all the
knives” to be a concern. But did the damn thing have outposts up here? Was
that wireless light control a simple switch, or secretly siphoning up
everything I said?
following my shopping or scrolling my social media, if corporations can collect
the things that pour out of an exhausted parent stream-of-consciousing into
their distressed child at Early O’Clock then they’ve got the master plans of my
subconscious. That’s the psychological profile equivalent of the Death Star
plans. Next thing I know facebook’s foisting on micro-targeted ads so specifically
tuned to my brain that an apparently random smash of words makes me
automatically spend our savings into a new kind of cryptocurrency, because the
back of my brain interprets it through the logic of sleep deprivation as “soothe
my child” and the concept of rest.
Alien is the perfect parenting horror movie because it presents the psychological as well as physical effects. Far too many fetal-fear films focus on something being INSIDE you, ooooo, and all kinds of things emerging, because they’re mostly made by men who don’t already have to deal with that shit. And every other bodily fluid. Even Ashe doesn’t endure as much body horror as pregnant parents, and Alien is the one film to get birth scenes right.
Alien is the fear of an unknown new lifeform rampaging through and ending our lives in ways we could never expect. It’s not just that the Nostromo crew couldn’t deal with the alien, it’s that they didn’t want to deal with it. This was thrust upon them as a surprise they were now compelled to deal with, that’s the HARD MODE of parenting terror, and their original drive was still just “get this over with and go back to sleep.”
These weren’t Starfleet super-competent avatars of idealism, dedicating their lives to befriending new beings in an impossibly neat utopia. These were already extremely tired workers now annoyed by screaming and a slobbering monster they couldn’t ignore without risking death. This is real human suffering and endurance. Because “the ship’s gravity drive has torn open a tachyon portal to … something” will never be as terrifying as a sudden loud noise and “What NOW?”
All that horror and human parents should still be jealous of Alien. Not only do they have a better birthing strategy, they also enjoy zero post-natal care. They fob the entire pregnancy off on random passers-by, then the newborn alien scampers off to get out of everyone’s way and grow up all by itself. Within an hour that thing was fully grown and effectively captain of its very own starship and oil refinery*, making Alien Mothers even higher achievers than Tiger ones.
*technically considerably increasing its body
The least Aliens can
do is provide some parenting tips. Listed here!
The person actually dealing with things makes the short term decisions. It doesn’t matter what wonderful plans someone scheduled, if you’re right there and surrounded by slimy organic matter you get to cancel everything.
Remember when Ellen Ripley was sternly insisting on the proper rules, but Ash gave up because everyone was screaming and yelling? Remember how that turned out? The “easy” option often makes shit much harder in the long run. Don’t teach your kids that they can get their way by whining and/or biting chunks of your face off.
The cat’s schedule will be disrupted by the new arrival. If you don’t grab your cat and give it special attention you’ll pay the price.
A disinterested authority figure who has to be repeatedly poked to do anything sucks ass, Dallas. And one big dramatic physical effort to try to make everything better won’t work and will actually make everything worse. The sooner you start ignoring idiots who think they’re in charge the better it’ll be for everyone, including them.
Deal with things when they happen instead of just swearing*. Ask Brett if he wished he’d grabbed Jonesy the cat instead of having to wander into the alien-infested ship’s Main Ominous Chamber.
*This deliberately allows dealing with things AND swearing, but only until your baby is learning words.
The Alien is a simple being and will just keep doing what it’s doing unless you change the situation. This won’t usually be a starship escape pod, but future parenting technology may change this.
Of course it’s when you’re just about to go to back to sleep that the worst will happen.
WARNING: opening the door and hurling them outside not a valid parenting strategy.
Parker and Brett are worker icons. It doesn’t matter if your job is in deep space, GET PAID, do the work you’re paid for and not one iota more unless it personally benefits you. Extremely important advice for parents who now have one infinity more things they could be doing.
That scene where Ellen is screaming at the “MOTHER!” computer, cursing them out for doing exactly what they had to do? Yeah, that’s good practice. Sit through that a few times.
Sometimes you’ll feel like just blowing everything up. But that just leaves you having to deal with the same problems in far worse circumstances with much less stuff to help you*.
*Except in Aliens, where it works great, but you
need a squad of space marines and a gigantic robot exoskeleton to help you deal
with the baby. Which would help! I’d pay a lot of money to watch Colonial Marines and a Baby, if only as scientific research to see if
there’s anything they suck even worse at.
All of which makes Alien a perfect representation of
parenting: something brilliant and enjoyable which you can’t actually do
anymore while your kid is still awake.
An Alien chest-burster’s trajectory through your ribcage is a hell of an opening line. It’s the most iconic moment of body-horror ever filmed, despite delivering things faster and easier than millions of real human births. Much is made of Alien’s themes of sexual violence* but not nearly enough is said about the brutally obvious birth. Ignoring Alien’s obstetric implications is a more painful excision from pop culture than Darth Vader getting his limbs lightsabered off.
*as opposed to Aliens’ themes of violence violence, the most dramatic apostrophe placement in cinema history
scene couldn’t be more on the nose if the alien had emerged through his
nostrils. Kane collapses, thrashing and bleeding as a living thing emerges from
his body, and here’s the thing: he should have been fine. He didn’t die because of the alien, he died because he was
surrounded by panicking idiots and an actual corporate machine prepared to kill
people if that made more money*. If he’d been in an ER they might have saved
him. If he’d been in a maternity ward they’d absolutely have saved him, it
wouldn’t even have been the hardest work they’d done that week, and they’d even
have caught the alien because a midwife’s most primary skill is “not letting
slimy little things drop on the floor”.
* topical for Americans
For far too many
people the horror isn’t that an alien emerged but that it emerged from a guy.
Because on a scale of one to real human births this xenomorph’s emergence isn’t
even a three*. It broke through his ribcage, sure, but it was out and over
inside a minute. It was only the size of a decent shit. (Note: if you’re upset by
the sudden appearance of shit you’re REALLY going to have to get over that as a
parent). If it had just emerged through his digestive system he might not even
have noticed, especially if it had waited for the morning after their feast of
fast reprocessed food, booze, and an incredibly long cryogenic lie-in.
*though in the context of Alien three is
actually really bad
That alien baby punched straight out: no muss, no fuss, no biotopological yoga or umbilical lasso. And say what you will about xenocidal parasites knowing nothing but murder and reproduction, at least their offspring have heads the same size as the holes they have to push through. No pelvis-wrecking headbutts here. That thing was a birth-torpedo. It puts our reproduction to shame.
Some people see human childbirth
as a beautiful natural process. Specifically people physically incapable of doing
it and mentally incapable of empathy, usually proposing legislation which would
lock women in Harry Houdini-style style glass boxes full of chains submerged in
shark tanks until their due date. Childbirth is a natural process, because “natural
process” means “without a lot of expert help almost everything involved dies early”.
Nature is an neverending deathmatch we’re winning so hard some people forget
it’s fatal. “Natural” childbirth is leading a conga across a minefield: people started
off having fun together but now someone’s leading people into pointless danger.
Safe natural processes
don’t have dedicated hospital wards. There’s no sneezing ward. You won’t see a blinking
ward. Go to a hospital and you’ll find wards for intensive care, cancer,
neurological trauma, and childbirth. Most births go brilliantly now
specifically because it’s extremely serious and some spectacular people work
extraordinarily hard to help. If the Nostromo crew had included a midwife then
stringers of alien drool wouldn’t have been a horrifying reason to spend your
last seconds alive slowly looking straight up into a new camera, they’d be
happily dabbed with a tissue by a smiling parent.