Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Hipster: TNG

A couple weeks ago, as my mom and I were in the car, she made fun of my old-school music choices. I had grabbed some Elton John and Talking Heads for the ride into Port Elgin. She told me a story about how, when she worked at an architecture firm, she brought some tapes into the office, inadvertently impressing her cool-kid workmates by showing up with David Bowie and Patti Smith. Then I looked down at myself and realized that everything I was wearing was something my mom had either bought for me or second-handed my way. And it occurred to me that maybe, my mom is cool.

A few years ago, there was a media bubble about the idea of hipster parents: folks who had been involved in their city's music/arts/food/fashion/activism/whatever scene, and who had maybe met and married in a punk-rock/delightfully twee wedding ceremony. Now they were on the verge of parenthood, and wanted all the accoutrements of coolness in size 0-6 months. They were obliged with family-friendly eateries that specialized in both small children and 100-mile-diet fare, with tiny black onesies, and by kid's music that wasn't totally cloying and terrible. The hipster parents got their druthers, and a mini-industry was created to serve the parents who, along with reading and potty-training, introduced their offspring to chicken vindaloo and accessorizing.

My own parents have remained pretty cool throughout their children's lives, although my dad has had a series of weird haircuts that escalated in badness until he just shaved his head. A lot of childhood is just unbelievably dorky: selling cookies door-to-door, fleece jackets, french-braids, piano lessons, dolls, orthodontia, playing "the floor is lava," and throwing up in the car on long trips. Even the most Williamsburg of parents don't get to escape those unhip years. They morph into "cool parents" who will wax poetic about Band of Horses one minute and then hold a tissue up to a drippy nose with instructions to "blow" the next.

My mom is, of course, "a cool mom": she invites my friends to the cottage and drinks wine with them once they arrive. My dad is a cool dad: he gets us sushi and insists on buying Viva Puffs long after his kids will admit to craving them. They're both very good at being parents. They're encouraging without being pushy, have unshakable faith in their family, and love us regardless of how many times we've screwed up and started land wars over control of the television.

But my parents, especially my mom, are also cool sort of empirically. My mom wears these headscarves which she claims are to cover up her haircuts, but end up making her look all bohemian and beachy. She listens to music, introducing her kids to bands like Midlake, and is hip to young artists like Basia Bulat. She's a fantastic artist, which she would dismiss as malarkey except that it's true: examples range from gorgeous quilts to hand-painted cribs, and her design eye is unimpeachable. These are all qualities highly prized by the hipsters of my generation: arts, music, fashion. If I met her as a peer, I would be intimidated by her. Since she's my mom, I just steal her ideas.

That isn't to say that my mother isn't also a good human being. She's funny and thoughtful, so generous, smart, sensitive, opinionated and a good listener. Her friends and my friends love her. She tolerates my dad's ugly home office chair even though it looks like it fell out of a Dilbert strip into her otherwise sophisticated home. I know any relationship, including marriage and parenthood, is one of compromise and give-and-take; both my parents manage to do that without sacrificing themselves, showing me and my siblings that it's possible. Which is, when you think about it, very cool without being hipster in the slightest.

But there are these little details about her that make her kind of hipster-cool - she's refused, in her fifties, to get frumpy, oval-shaped, or stock the fridge with I-give-up foods like creamed corn or bologna. She wears a little scarab pendant from Egypt. She once, in her youth, went to Poland with my dad, her then-boyfriend, and got too freaked out by the small-town women and their chicken-killing ways to help them murder that night's dinner, so she took her shy self inside and drank vodka with the men. When she travels, she rents convertibles. She runs art classes for kids in the summer. She once called a town councilor at his home at six in the morning to complain about a super-loud town maintenance crew. She is a badass, and a role-model, a fashion template, probably a hipster, but totally a mom. She's the coolest mom I know.

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