Polite Fiction

Evil Little Girl, Cover of my notebook

Evil Little Girl, Cover of my notebook

With forced cheer and social gatherings, the entire month of December is a prime time of the year for the fine art of social niceties—“The turkey isn’t dry at all!”, “What a thoughtful gift!”, “I’m looking forward to seeing you at Christmas!” and “This reindeer sweater is very slimming!”.

Even people who don’t celebrate Christmas or don’t feel the “Christmas spirit” tend to give in to it because it’s also the end of the year and, consciously or not, we tend to like to end the year on a high note.

Bitterness will be back in January.

Small white lies do make the world go around. But sometime, people spend so much energy maintaining the polite fiction that they slip into denial. Sometime, they start to behave a certain way just because this behaviour is sanctioned by media and society.

What do we hope to achieve when the standard becomes a sitcom script, where “characters” only drink orange juice, never swear, have a meaningful and fulfilling career, eat balanced meals and healthy snack (prepared on spotless granite counter-tops, goes without saying) and are always ready for—gasp!—family-fun activities?

The corporate world is full of people living the polite fiction. The world of parenting as well.

I first met these perfect people from another planet at the park, with baby Mark. As a new mom, I had been hoping to trade tips and stories from the trenches of motherhood. Certainly, I wasn’t the only one who found it challenging, right?

Apparently, I was. I stood there listening to mothers relentlessly stressing how “special” their bond was with the baby, how unique snowflake was, how their life had truly started the moment they knew they were expecting—cue in super romantic story of “the night they had conceived”.

It was terrifying. It was like they had it all figured out. Part of me wanted to be a better mother, like them, yet part of me couldn’t help thinking that these parents reminded me of people who try to get you to join these multi-level marketing programs. “I can never be away from precious snowflake more than five second!” sounded a bit like “I make $50,000 from home and I buy a new car every week!” It’s something in the voice. A slight edge, too much enthusiasm that makes the listener snickers and mutters “seriously?”

These parents are everywhere. A few months ago, I overheard two mothers chatting at daycare pickup time. “I miss my baby so much during the day!” one said. “I know, me too… she is such a huge part of myself.”

Meanwhile, Feng and I had just flipped a coin to decide who would have the pleasure to go retrieve Mark from the classroom deal with his evening crankiness.

I have a heart too and I love Mark. But I think it is healthy to spend time apart from your kid who is no longer a helpless baby but a pre-schooler. I don’t miss him during the day. I’m too busy working “behind the scene” for him. I have a job and hundreds of things to do. Days go by fast. The daycare is not an old-style British boarding school or a fucking alien abduction—he plays and learns munching on my world-famous lunch boxes while I try to keep the house under control and make money writing words.

I spent months feeling like a complete loser as a mother, second guessing myself and justifying every single one of my parenting decisions. Now I just choose to hang out with people who see parenting the way I see it—a fun and exhausting adventure with many questionable shortcuts and failed principles.

Outside the world of perfect parents, we also have the world of perfect couples. “I can’t stand those couples who claim that they never ever argue,” one of my friends recently admitted. “Secretly, I think they both cheat on each other. Come on, everybody argues!” I agreed with her. I don’t know anyone who never argues, no matter what your style is—constant bickering or Italian-style drama.

And then you have the perfect people who have life under control and let you know they do., They are time-management experts, they volunteer, work out, make a lot of money and their significant others always remember meaningful anniversaries. They look stylish and polished. They are successful. They are winning at life.

Perfect people bore me. I’m not even jealous—I tend to think they are from another world. They are just flat one-dimensional characters.

I love real people, with their flaws, illogical thinking, obsessions and little quirks that add depth and character. This is one of the reasons why I write about our messy lives—I write for all the things we, humans, have in common despite our cultural differences.

There is so much beauty in our chaotic lives, so many precious moments that come out of nowhere… why bother pretending to be perfect?

Life can’t be staged. Just embrace it—the good and the messy.


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. Alright, good one 🙂

    I think that’s a good mother, valuing personal space.

    I have questions though, so this sitcom you pointed out, which one is it? We’re you talking of friends and modern family?

    For a moment I felt you were the voice of Jeremy from peep show, lol

    You know, if you spend a little more time with the perfect people, you get to see the cracks 🙂 its kind of wicked.

    It’s uncanny though, but just yesterday on my way to work, I was having a very similar thought, like about everything that is how it is and how made up it is.

  2. That’s it. I could never put my finger on it exactly, but you nailed it: there is something exhausting, draining about how much energy here must be spent staging your life, staying in character, or dealing with people who do. Very often, I feel like an alien (after all, I am :), lost in the land where everyone seems to be playing a part, and enforcing the script, feeling self entitled enough to judge others incessantly, and out loud. (Are you sure your baby can breathe like this? You do know breast milk is best, right? Yes, lady, it’s actually breast milk in that bottle, but even if it wasn’t, you don’t know me, and it’s none of your business. Formula is not a form of parental negligence). I find this crazy pressure applies especially to mothers. On the one hand, Canadian society is very generous with mothers -1 year mat leave if you’re in a salaried job! – on the other hand, it holds them up to a series of unattainable standards: the indefatigable working mother who also has to home cook every meal, keep the house clean, and work out and volunteer, the stay at home mom who must enroll her kids in every possible “class” and bake elaborate birthday cakes that take days to prepare because it is assumed she has the time… It’s simply impossible to feel like a good mother. One always falls short of her peers’ expectations. Whenever a woman approaches me with a piece of unsollicited advice or of her mind, I usually smile and say thank you, and I think to myself “you’re the one who needs help, I think.” Maybe next time I’ll say that out loud, too.

    • It sounds very trivial, after all, no one forces us to play the part. At least that’s what I thought for a long time because I felt relatively immune to the “keeping up with the Jonese” syndrome. But for some reason, the parenting script affected me a lot, most the constant guilt tripping. It was just… ugly. I felt inadequate, constantly questioned, constantly not up to the standards–and I’m not quite sure who set these standards in the first place!

      In Canada, I feel like a terrible mother. I’m stressed out, I doubt. Anywhere else in the world, I feel just fine. There has to be an environmental problem!

  3. This reminds me of a Charley Pride song:

    “Crystal Chandeliers”

    Oh the crystal chandeliers light up the paintings on your wall
    The marble statuettes are standing stately in the hall
    But will the timely crowd that has you laughing loud help you dry your tears
    When the new wears off of your crystal chandeliers

    I never did fit in too well with the folks you knew
    And it’s plain to see that the likes of me don’t fit with you
    So you traded me for the gaiety of the well to do
    And you turned away from the love I offered you
    Oh the crystal chandeliers…

    I see your picture in the news most every day
    You’re the chosen girl of the social world so the stories say
    But a paper smile only lasts a while then it fades away
    And the love we knew will come home to you some day
    Oh the crystal chandeliers…
    When the new wears off of your crystal chandeliers

    A good phrase “a paper smile only last a while”.

    I remember a “perfect couple” that were more in love than any mortal people could be. They were always kissing and holding hands. Any conversation with them was always interupted by their kisses. If you are familiar with “The Stepford Wives” , you could call them the “Stepford Couple’ because they were acting like robots. One time, I was able to break through their romantic bliss, by switching hands with the boyfriend. We were sitting in a bar and she was stroking his hand as usual and conducting a conversation with her head turned away. When the boyfriend went to the bathroom I put my hand on her thigh in place of his. She didn’t notice and started stroking my hand. It was very funny because everyone else at the table noticed.

    You are right, we should find the beauty in chaos. Perfection doesn’t exist and even if it did, it would get boring after a while.

    • I’m laughing out loud at the thought of the woman stroking your hand… sounds like she was petting her favourite pet, i.e. dearest husband, out of habit!

  4. so I was catching up on your last posts I missed and I just finished reading this one . Thank You Zhu for calling it out !! Motherhood sucks at times. Good and bad days mixed all together. I realize that I am not a perfect person and I will always be a crazy black woman at times to my husband and son. Nobody is perfect ! I’m calling those perfect moms bluff !! sorry for the rant lol !

    p.s.= not a perfect wife either !

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