10 March 2011

The Kids Are Not All Right

On a recent weeknight, we took the Doozer down to the local library for a very special, nighttime event they were offering: a birthday party for one Dr. Seuss (or, Dr. Susan, as the Doozer called him). There was to be a Seuss book read (naturally), then there were Seuss-ian games and activities (making a paper hat to wear, coloring pictures of the Cat in the Hat), and of course, birthday cake.

Much to the Doozer's chagrin, there was a "Happy Birthday" sing-a-long, preceding the distribution of cake.

(Side note: Kids are weird. At least, mine is. He absolutely abhors the birthday song for some reason. Whenever he is offered cake of any kind, under any circumstances, his first response is, without fail, "I don't want to sing 'Happy Birthday.'" He's gotten into his head that to be allowed to eat cake means you must sing this song beforehand. And though he loves cake, the mere thought of the birthday song is almost enough to make him turn down such a sweet treat. Almost.)

So, we ate cake and listened to the story and colored the Cat before facing a miniature power struggle over the use of child-sized scissors. But almost everything that happened that night, for me, paled when compared to the overwhelming thought it inspired in me, as I surveyed that roomful of tykes and their parents/guardians.

I am not a fan of other people's kids. Mine is fine, but the others? Get them away from me.

It started almost the moment we arrived. I felt like Peter Parker with his Spidey sense, as I became aware of every sneeze and cough throughout the room. It was deafening, the sound of pestilence wafting through the air. "Filthy rugrats," I found myself thinking, or something to that effect. I no longer saw the library annex room as a site of celebration and frivolity, but rather a seething, festering pit of little people germs. And the little buggers were everywhere.

It took every bit of strength I had to not start shouting insane, lunatic warnings at my son: Get up off the floor! Don't touch those! Get away from there! Don't go near that kid—we have no idea where she's been!

But I refrained. I kept my neuroses in check. And I realized that there's this real struggle in parenthood between the empathy of experience and the feeling that you, as a parent, are entirely unique. Now being the parent of a child who can be noisy (and sometimes disagreeable) in the grocery store, I realize that all those other kids that I hear making noise in public are not necessarily the product of bad parenting. They're just kids. I have one now, so I get it.

But that empathy is not always readily accessible. It escapes me. I revert to the halcyon days of singlehood and the time of childlessness that was no so very long ago. Other people's kids are annoying and inferior. Especially when those people are strangers and their kid is trying to touch mine with their sticky fingers. Never mind that I get it, that my kid often has sticky fingers and does things I don't want him to do. Never mind that we are the same. In some ways.

Even now I find myself thinking things like Where are the parents? and These parents are idiots when I see kids running around in public. Again, being kids. I get it. Rationally, logically, it all makes sense to me. But emotionally, philosophically perhaps, I cannot get myself to embrace that empathy and live in it all the time.

Of course, because I'm having these thoughts and feelings, there must be people who are looking at me and my kid and thinking the exact same thing about us. Sure, more often than not our kid is amusing and entertaining and a pretty damn beautiful addition to the world, but of course I see him that way. To some other parent, he might just be a filthy rugrat with sticky fingers and a runny nose and a hipster doofus dad who has no business being a parent.

And they're probably right. Sadly. I fully acknowledge that I'm probably, possibly, a very horrible person.

But seriously, get your kids away from me. Little germy punks . . .

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