Monday, November 2, 2009

Suburbs of Our Discontent

Daughters. From King Lear to John Mayer, everyone’s got something to say about them. It’s that special combination of innocence and danger.

Mother/daughter relationships get a lot of bad press, so it’s refreshing to read about Lear’s major screw-ups with his three daughters. I’m not saying I don’t feel sorry for him when his daughters call him senile and boot him out of the house. Or when he cries out “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child" (I.iv.271-2).

I’m just saying it’s a little break from the usual Bad Mommy stuff.

Our fellow blogger Desdemona who writes the fantastic The Elizavegan Page made a comment about King Lear’s “serpent’s tooth” that got me thinking. Desdemona’s obviously clairvoyant because over the weekend I was talking about snakes with my very own daughter. We were looking at her new book, The Scholastic Book of World Records 2010, and she was showing me her favorite picture: a Black Mamba (“World’s Deadliest Snake!”). My daughter was thrilled to learn that one bite contains enough venom to kill 200 people.

Daughter: “I really, really want that snake for a pet.”

Me: “Honey, but that snake likes to kill people.”

Daughter (brightly): “I know!”

Then she gave me a little smile, waiting for me to say the obvious (“you wouldn’t want the snake to kill us, would you?”). But I controlled myself and just smiled back at her. Stay calm. Do not show fear. Do not show concern. She is not a teenager plotting my downfall, I told myself. She’s just a little girl who’s very sweet and thankful and who might want a deadly snake.

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