The Smug Parents’ Club

A few weeks ago, I went to Pacifica with Jake. It was a Sunday night, and we were sitting outside under a heat lamp, drinking Patrón Silver margaritas, enjoying the fact that neither of us had to cook. (Scratch that. I never cook. Jake was enjoying not cooking, and I was into being out at a restaurant.) As I looked out onto the street, I saw Tracy, a woman I know, walk in with her new husband. The last I had seen her, a year and a half ago, she’d been single and frustrated. Since then, I had learned through the grapevine, she had met someone, married him a few months later, and had a baby. She was carrying the child in a pouch and wearing glasses, which I had never seen her in, and her husband, whom I had never met, looked haggard and miserable, like he was sleepwalking.

“Congratulations!” I said, cooing over the baby as the men introduced themselves. “This is so funny. You see what happens when you don’t see someone in a while? The next time you do, they’re married with a kid.”

“I know,” she said, smiling slyly. “We’re lapping you.”

As they proceeded into the restaurant,

I looked at Jake. “What does that mean?” I said.

“It’s a sports term,” he said. “It means she came all the way around and passed you.”

“But if it’s a race,” I said, “then what’s the finish line?”

“Death,” he said, and ordered another margarita.

I wondered about Tracy’s outlook on life: According to her, women chasing the bourgeois dream (getting married, having babies, buying cars and co-ops, renting summer homes) are winning, while the rest of us are losing. I had always thought it was the other way around. When I got married, I consoled myself with the thought that though I might have lost hipness in the eyes of my single friends, at the very least I was cooler than all the married parents out there. So maybe Jake and I didn’t go out all that much, or take spontaneous trips to Paris, but at least we could still stay up past ten at night. And yet Tracy was suggesting that we were coming late to the party. We were a young, hip, relatively fit, alert, happily imbibing couple, and we were being openly scorned by two walking zombies with a BabyBjörn. What had happened?

In the nineties, singlehood was so exoticized that even smug marrieds could admit that it might be sexier to be single than married. Couples pressed single friends for the down-and-dirty details, lamenting the monotony of their own staid (if happy) lives. Casual sex was hot, getting drunk and hungover was acceptable, and if you smoked you were in the majority. The great Sex and the City episode “The Baby Shower” portrayed a married young mother in Connecticut who longed to escape the suburbs for a night in a hot New York nightclub where she could flash her breasts at strangers.

But somehow in the past few years, with the baby panic, the IVF horror stories, celebrity-pregnancy chic, young families have become the new entitled class. Pregnant women look sexier than their svelte counterparts, and prenatal yoga beats ashtanga in cachet. The hottest guy in the park is not the slender flappy-haired emo with the Martin guitar but the slender flappy-haired emo with the Maclaren stroller. I know of two separate memoirs of hip parenting coming out next year. Everywhere you look, cafés, restaurants, and even bars offering “Tots and Tonic” have been overrun by Yummies and Yuddies—Young Urban Mommies and Daddies.

Perhaps all this ennobling of parenthood is women’s way of rationalizing how truly impossible it is. Like frat pledges who get locked in a trunk for eight hours and then insist it was all for “brotherhood, man,” people like Tracy must compensate for their own ambivalence by convincing the world that they are winning the rat race, or tot trot.

“I hope we never look that tired,” I said to Jake.

“We will,” he said. “There’s no stopping it.”

“Did you see how unhappy her husband looked?”

“Did you see the baby pouch? She was carting that kid like a trophy. You’ll never see me with one of those.”

Our entrées came, and we ate, slowly, tasting each other’s, talking about the coming week, and our parents, and this apartment we wanted to buy. Then he ordered a coffee and I got a Key-lime pie.

About 35 minutes after we’d sat down, I saw that Tracy and her family were coming out. I started to say something innocuous like “Isn’t the food great here?” because I was feeling guilty for talking about them behind their backs, but she jumped in before I got a word out. “We lapped you again,” she said, looking down at our plates, and led her entourage off into the night.

The Smug Parents’ Club