Guilty pleasures

January 08,2009
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath( )

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

I've been thinking a lot about guilty pleasures lately. According to trusty Wikipedia, a guilty pleasure is known as something one considers pleasurable despite feeling guilt for enjoying it. I've been thinking about my own guilty pleasures mainly because of several comments I've gotten recently when people have seen me with this book:

and this one:

"Wow, you're reading THAT?" a colleague asked me yesterday at a faculty workshop, when I was rooting through my bag for a pencil and she saw me take out New Moon.

"Um, yes," I said, wondering why she had to say THAT in THAT sort of way.

"Oh."

"I'm really enjoying the series," I added, not wanting to let the issue drop. This surprised me, too, because a few years ago I would have cared very much about what a colleague thought about my reading choices.

She made a distinct face. I saw it. It was unmistakable. "I hadn't pegged you for a reader of teen vampire novels," she said.

I'm not a teen, that's for sure, and I don't normally gravitate toward fantasy novels, but I have to admit that I am thoroughly enjoying the Twilight series. The books aren't great fiction, and I'm not sure anyone who reads them expects them to be, but I finished the first book in two days and found the car steering itself in the direction of Barnes & Noble the other day so I could buy the second book. The guilty part of the pleasure I find in reading the books is that a large part of me is fully aware of all the plot/character problems (and Bella's pathological dependence on the men around her? Don't get me started on this). Yet a larger part of me just.doesn't.care.

This is the important characteristic of a guilty pleasure--not caring what others think--or rather, that not caring what others think far outweighs the guilt you might feel. For instance, another guilty pleasure I have is getting to read through People magazine when I'm in a waiting room (T.'s speech therapy place is always well-stocked with People). I don't really care what people think when they see me reading it, and I'll readily admit to being a little curious about celebrity fashion blunders.

I also like to eat ice cream out of the carton--it tastes so much better when you eat it standing at the counter, spoon in hand. And I also like to buy one of these

now and again, and I hoard it in my fridge like gold, saving it for a Friday evening, when the kids are in bed, and I can enjoy a small glass of red wine and eat about half the bar in one sitting (and I never share it with Scott). Do I feel guilty about it? A small part of me does, of course, but that small part is way dwarfed by the part of me that enjoys the chocolate way too much to ever care.

I think that the concept of a guilty pleasure is one only we grown-ups truly understand. When L. overheard me talking about guilty pleasures with Scott, he was completely perplexed. He could come up with lots of pleasures (playing Sim City Societies, playing Microsoft Flight Simulator, reading in bed), but the guilt factor was missing from the equation. It may be only the lot in life for us adults to feel guilt for what we enjoy, because we're way too worried about what other people think. Children are so innocent and transparent, and so unworried most of the time about what other people think. They tumble through life for a few early years, throwing themselves into the things they like, without worrying too much about the consequences. Guilt is a learned emotion, I think, and acquiring it is an important part of growing up--it gives us those checks and balances we need to make the right choices along the way. As we get older, though, we tend to live with too much of it. We worry too often about what others think, how we look, how others perceive us. As a parent I hope my kids learn how to balance the guilt, and how to enjoy the small pleasures in their lives without feeling weighed down by what other people think. I know I struggled with this is my younger years, worrying too much about how the rest of the world perceived me. Becoming a parent helped cure me of this--there simply isn't room for worrying about the rest of the world when you're busy raising your children, and sheltering them from life's ups and downs.

As I grow older (and wiser) myself, and life gets more chaotic, and time more in demand, I have learned to enjoy my guilty pleasures--in moderation, of course (it's a lot easier to eat more ice cream than you should when you're standing at the counter), and if--if--my car makes its own way to Barnes & Noble next week for Book Three? Well, I'll try not to feel a single twinge of guilt about it.

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I've shared some of my guilty pleasures with you...how about you? What are some of yours?