we had a picnic with some people as a sort of start to the season kick off kind of thing somewhat related to greg’s work. the food was good, the people were strangers pretty much to me, but nice, and the day couldn’t have been better. needless to say, when we have to get ready for something like this, our entire life becomes harried and displaced and usually very messy to boot. it was the end of the (very long) day and i was standing amongst a pile of the leftover refuse of the party that still needed to somehow be shoved into our tiny corolla, and, as we were saying “goodbye” to the last stragglers, they hit us with this: “your kids were so well-behaved! trust us! we have friends with kids the same age that are much worse!” they gave us a good-natured wave, jumped into their car and sped away, having no idea that anything was amiss. meanwhile, i stood there, sort of absorbing the shock of their statement, dumbly waving, uncertain somewhat plastic smile in place.
here’s the thing. the other side of five years ago, even less time than that, and i could fathom myself saying the same thing and thinking that i was paying the people a very nice compliment.
now, however, i don’t feel that way at all. first of all, i don’t think any sixteen-month old can be “better-behaved” than another. i mean, they are all pretty much the same at that age. i’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, though, and assume they were mostly talking about ruth, who, at four, is still pretty much crazy and unpredictable at best, totally off the wall at worst, but who doesn’t have a bad-natured bone in her body, a premeditated thought in her head and takes the world as it comes, full of curiosity and excitement mixed with uncertainty and fear of the unknown.
i can’t be sure what they were basing their judgment of her (or joel’s) behavior on seeing as how my main effort and goal for the cookout was to make myself with the kids as scarce as possible and let greg alone to cook and mingle with associates.
the first thing i did after arriving and greg unpacking the car was to load the kids back up and drive over to the nearest park for an hour. after that, i let the kids play in the parked car, i let the kids play in the parking lot using the parking blocks for a beam, i let them molest other people’s cars, i let them play on the ropes sectioning off the parking area, i showed them the boats on the river, i took them to the bathroom multiple times, i let them throw things into the lake and get dangerously close to falling in (joel) just to keep them happy and not yelling and away from the party.
i think the kids were only near the picnic area for twenty or so minutes tops when we actually started to eat, and i’m pretty sure joel climbed up on the table and started to try and eat out of all of the community potluck dishes with a giant spoon and then cried and thrashed when i took him down. ruth started yelling that she didn’t want a bun on her burger and then started yelling when joel tried to eat off her plate but other than that, ate relatively contentedly.
i myself saw the evening as a great personal success in keeping the kids happy and distracted so that the thing could go on at all. i don’t mind if i give myself a giant, well-deserved pat on the back. whew. we made it. i was just finally relaxing for the first time since greg stepped away to begin the prep work at 11 that morning, when that couple hit me with their “compliment”.
so, the kids not even really being around these people for them to say one way or the other how well-behaved they actually were, i have to assume that their compliment basically meant, “your kids didn’t bother me too much” in a pleasantly surprised sort of way. and i find myself astounded with how children are seen by society.
surely not anything as idealistic as “the future of society”. not anything as kind as “new people trying to figure out themselves and the world around them”. not anything as optimistic as “young minds discovering wonder and enjoyment in every moment”. in fact, it seems like people don’t even really see them as people at all, more like pets to be trained. or some sub-category of people.
crazily, as i said, i could honestly see myself thinking along the same lines not all that long ago. thank god i’ve waked up to reality.
no single person is to blame, but rather the culture at large, which to me is completely backwards regarding so many things, mothers and children possibly the most abused and undervalued members of the current system.
i could have told these people all this. but i didn’t. i just laughed awkwardly and let them on their way.
one day if and when they have kids, they will probably understand (although i feel like some people don’t even then). and they may one day find themselves on the receiving end of one of these “insults disguised as compliments” we parents are often thrown as consolation for having our lives turned upside down by our progeny.
me? i just kept moving to the rhythm of my crazy life: packed up the car, buckled in the kids, passed food around, rolled the windows up, rolled the windows down, turned the radio up,turned the radio down, and just enjoyed the ride home.