Cute stories about one's kid are like stories about one's dog or a slide-show of family trips to Disneyland: lovely to recall in the privacy of one's home but best not inflicted upon unsuspecting readers.
(Besides, my now-nineteen-year-old doesn’t relish his mom giving away his secrets...like how he used to prance around the house in the nude, brandishing his Nerf bow and arrows. Or how, when he deigned to put on clothes at all, he dressed as Robin, complete with cape, for a little over two years. He would tell all who would listen that Robin was very important, because Robin was Batman’s psychic --by which he meant sidekick. Cute, huh?)
Okay, enough. Sorry about that.
(Above, my boy with his grandma. No longer Batman's psychic.)
So instead, I’ll just ‘fess up: I never used to like kids.
I mean, I liked the concept of children. They're the future, they're full of wonder, they're innocent miracles, etcetera, etcetera. But when it came down to actually spending time with kids...not so much.
However, since my own kid was a kid, and I liked him, then I liked kid. And now whenever I see children I remember my boy at that age, and I get all gooey and nostalgic, and end up not unlike a big old puddle of melted candy.
Here’s what I learned:
- Kids are nuts. It’s like they’re on drugs, or drunk, or schizophrenic. Or all three at once. They talk to themselves, see imaginary people, twirl around until they throw up just to see what it feels like. Seriously, watch a kid for a while in a public setting, and then imagine a grown up acting like that. They’d be arrested for their own protection.
- In order to talk to kids, it’s best to act crazy yourself. If a kid’s wearing a pink dress, go, “Duuude. Nice pants you’re wearing. I like that color green.” Usually this inspires them to correct you, which give them the satisfaction of knowing that even though they still pee in their pants, at least they’re smarter than a certain grown up they could mention. If, on the other hand, they just stare at you with an uncomprehending look on their face, they’re not worth your time. If they laugh and get the joke, you should make a note to check in with them ten or twenty years down the line, as they might just turn out to be a really interesting human.
- As a corollary to the above: kids are boring if you try to talk to them about anything important. They couldn’t care less about recent events in Egypt, and they have absolutely no opinion about the use (and overuse) of adverbs in fiction. But if you go with the crazy, they’re highly entertaining. Bored at a party? Find the six year old and ask them when they were last on Mars. Or how long they think horses can hold their breath. Or whether the Cookie Monster and Elmo should get married. They’ll have an opinion, guaranteed.
- Kids are little savages. They have no idea how polite company works. It is their parents’ job to train them in the ways of our cultural norms. Unfortunately, many parents fall short in that regard, so a lot of kids don’t know they’re not supposed to sit on top of the table while sticking a fork in their eyes and spitting into the gravy. Sometimes, you have to be the force of cultural tradition, which is an uncomfortable place for those of us who like to think of ourselves as iconoclasts and rebels. In short, children act like children. And sometimes adults act like children. And that means YOU have to act like an adult, which is a major drag.
- Children don’t actually need a reason for stuff, and they’re easy to trick. I didn’t want to fall into the “Because I said so” trap with my son, so instead I’d say “I’ll tell you later. Like when you get to college.” This became a useful trope in our household. I would tell my son: “Don’t pick your nose. That’s for college.” “Don’t sit on the table and put the fork in your eye and spit in the gravy, you can do that all you want when you’re in college.” “Don’t pee in your pants….” You get the idea. By the time they actually get to college, peer pressure will do your job for you. Plus, this way kids grow up thinking college is this awesome hedonistic world of pants-peeing and nose-picking and sitting on tables while spitting and inflicting injuries. In addition to taking care of your immediate explanatory needs, this method causes them to aspire to a university education. High expectations makes for good parenting, or so they say.
Just remember to keep it in check while in public, or you’ll be arrested.
(At left, the author as a kid, with her dog Princess-- otherwise known as a talking horse from Mars.)