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bad girls have always enjoyed a certain cachet. they're wild and fun, dress provocatively and act with damn-the-consequences abandon. and now it seems mommies have gotten into the act. currently, it is cool to be a "bad mother."

fifteen years ago when my first child was born, the manhattan mommy bar was set at perfection. the big brag around the 76th street playground was that no one's kid drank tap water or watched television, and 2-year-olds were overscheduled so their mothers could lay claim to the high achieving child ("monday's sports, tuesday's french, wednesday's?"). there were the mothers who couldn't tell you fast enough how many words their children knew, or which celebrity's child was in their class, as though that somehow raised the profile of their little one. i even had a friend who made her own baby food because she questioned whether gerber, with their more than a half century in business, could actually be trusted to mash the peas.

and who was i to mock? i who framed (not hung on the fridge with alphabet-shaped magnets, but framed) every crayon squiggle my child put to paper, then directed visitors to appreciate the "art" the way a docent would signal, "this way to the picasso."

more power to today's new moms who apparently don't have to live up to this june cleaver-on-crack standard of parenting-but is calling oneself "bad" any better?

first, let's define "bad." for my money, that would be the one who drowned her kids in the tub, or the ones who let their boyfriends backhand their children into comas or worse, or any who graduated from the joan crawford school of wire hanger parenting.

according to the "bad parent" column on though, the bp is someone who lets her child play video games, which turn the toddler into a skilled gamer; gives her child non-organic food (a.k.a. regular, pre-packaged, off-the-shelf stuff) so there is more money for things like tuition and new shoes; and walks around the house naked, but says it's helping her raise an uninhibited child. sounds more like backdoor complimenting than anything that connotes badness. perhaps "unconventional" is really the word they're looking for.

then there's "bad" according to that horror of a television show in the motherhood, where three jaded, kind of mean, disdainful mothers are rude to other mothers as well as children. these characterizations are supposed to be acceptable because the program's storylines are based on true mommy tales shared on the abc website. i checked out some of these video confessions. someone's kid had a meltdown in sears. another's daughter said something embarrassing at the grocery store. then there was the one who didn't like picking up her kid from school because the teacher would assault her with a rundown of her child's daily misdeeds. how does this make these mothers bad?

last but not least there are the mothering books touting this theme. the most popular seems to be bad mother, by ayelet waldman. even though the title jumps on the bad bandwagon, the book itself points out the anxieties that riddle motherhood, while actually encouraging women to give themselves a break.

i'm all for that. and i think new york city moms can start said break-giving by not calling ourselves names, particularly ones that use "bad" as the adjective.

perhaps when this bad fad is over, the new trend will be to call us what we are: "doin' the best i can" mother.


lorraine duffy merkl's debut novel, fat chick, will be published in september by the vineyard press.

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