‘Go the F–k to Sleep’: What’s It Really About?
By now, you’ve probably heard of the latest publishing world sensation, a slim title with a seemingly kid-focused cover and the not-for-kids title Go the F–k to Sleep. The book, written by Adam Mansbach and illustrated by Ricardo Cortés, mimics the cadences and rhythms of a children’s book, mixing heartwarming and sleep-inducing images–”The wind whispers soft through the grass, hon. / The field mice, they make not a peep”–with the vented frustration of a parent hoping against hope that his or her little one will finally settle down: “It’s been thirty-eight minutes already. / Jesus Christ, what the f–k? Go to sleep.”
Funny, right? I thought so. My wife thought so. The thousands of people who made this book #1 on Amazon even before it was published must think so.
But Katie Roiphe doesn’t think it’s funny. Writing in Slate, she points to what she sees as “a certain nastiness” in the book, an “anger or hostility [that] is aimed at children.” It is, to her eyes, the tale of parents who’ve wrapped their lives so tightly around their children that they can see nothing else beyond the nursery walls and long, fruitlessly, for some TV time with their spouses. To these parents “full of rage,” Roiphe puts her closing bit of advice in the mouth of the book’s fictional kids: “If those sweet-faced children, so gorgeously drawn by Ricardo Cortés, could talk back would they say: ‘Put on a f—ing dress. Have a f—ing drink. Stop hovering over us. Live your own goddamned life.’”
But where Roiphe sees the rage of repressed dreams, I see something else entirely.
To me, Go the F–k to Sleep‘s hilariousness lies in its pitch-perfect dramatization of the powerlessness we adults have in the face of a kid who just won’t sleep. Whether it’s a newborn whose wails won’t cease or a toddler whose bladder has mysteriously become a fire hose, no amount of education, affluence, charisma, or any other trait will get that kid to go the f–k to sleep. We can sing, we can recite nursery rhymes, we can even try ignoring them, but they alone hold the keys to that kingdom.
And am I filled with rage by the fact that their sleeplessness interrupts my evening of Law & Order? At times, sure, I will cop to losing my cool with the 4-year-old who just wants one more kiss, one more trip to the bathroom, one more drink. But that rage is hardly the existential anger at a life mistakenly dedicated to kids over self. If Roiphe’s world is one where every evening is spent in a cocktail dress discussing Sartre over expensive cocktails, more power to her. I’d love to go out more than I do, but that failure is not because my kids won’t go to bed.
Nor is the father who sits by his sleepless child’s crib or bed waiting for his child to calm down “hovering.” Getting our kids to bed is up there with the most essential of parental duties, and having a nanny take care of my kids during the too-long workday, I choose not to outsource this one. But that doesn’t mean I love every minute of it, or that I’d rather be doing yet another pee run instead of finally having my dinner or watching those reruns or finally getting a full night of sleep. Hence, my knowing laughter at Go the F–k to Sleep.
No, the subtext of Go the F–k to Sleep is not the rage of too-involved parents resenting their choices. It’s the helplessness of the otherwise competent when they’ve been bested, yet again, by the small, still-forming products of their own genes. And that is f–king hilarious.Add a Comment