La La Love (A Song Of Sentiment)

baby daughterMy two-year-old daughter Eve says she loves me.

Really, Eve sings, “I la-la Mommy. I la-la Mommy.” For her, love is a song. Is it taking the metaphor too far to follow with something embarrassingly predictable like, “And my heart sings”?

One day, Eve will probably shrink at my sentimentality here. Because I do, too, it’s easy to forgive her upcoming adolescent eye rolling.

But Eve’s song is beautiful. I wonder why sentimentality is perpetually passé, the stuff of so-called low art? A sometimes academic and always a bibliophile, I understand the literary reaction to 18th c. sentimental novels. But that backlash happened two hundred years ago. We’ve since read a lot of realism. So why is sentimentality still considered a simplicity for the masses?

Maybe sentiment’s for the masses because the masses are parents. For parents, sentimentality is more than aesthetic preference. It’s, well, sentiment. Our children’s sighs, their unsolicited kindnesses, their smallest gestures, send us.

In De Profundus, Oscar Wilde famously insists that “a sentimentalist is one who desires to have the luxury of an emotion without paying for it.” But parents pay. I was pregnant, I gave birth, I gave myself, give myself, my body, heart, attentions, creativity, sleep, my anything. Take it all, I will gladly give anything. But forgive me my sentimentality.

Wilde continues his judgement: “The intellectual and emotional life of ordinary people is a very contemptible affair.” Ordinary, maybe. But contemptible?

My feelings aren’t affectation. That’s why they’re called feelings, not performances. I suppose Eve’s song could be called performance, as she has an audience: me. And my musings here have an audience (theoretically). But I’ve heard Eve singing “I la-la mommy” when she’s alone, and if I weren’t writing here I’d be journaling for the girls. Sentiment is more than audience and expectation.

Sentiment is Eve’s song – a celebration of feeling. She’s too in la-la love to be self-conscious. Me too. My daughter’s sincerity impresses me more than a famed aesthete’s contempt.

Nevermind how good The Important of Being Earnest is. Oscar Wilde is wrong. A sentimentalist is someone who admits to emotion. Someone who declares love, who ignores the tragically hip, who admits insecurities and embarrassments, who doesn’t scoff at tender moments or mock endearments, who isn’t afraid to sing and dance and does so often and with abandon.

I’m describing Eve. A young child, she’s not yet been taught to be embarrassed by her feelings.  So that’s my aim: to be more like Eve.

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