Recently my friend, the Social Caterpillar, put out a
call to arms bat signal plea for
help. She confessed the truth about another one of her lovable yet awkward
quirks that, if left untreated, could possibly do damage to the psyche of many
as well as directly affect the future status of her uterus. She admitted to
uncomfortable around children. Not because she doesn’t like them, quite the
opposite really. She wants to be super-fun, ultra badass, always-brings-the-LOLs
Auntie Caterpillar to all children she meets so that they will “cry real tears
when I’m leaving.” She asked me to write a post about how to talk to children
without making an ass of yourself and I said I wouldn’t mind doing so at all. I
just can’t promise that I have anything useful to say. This is because I too am
embarrassingly stupid around tiny humans.
Prior to having Thumper, I had zero experience with children. I never babysat when I was younger, mostly because there was no one to babysit. I’m the youngest of four, and have no younger cousins. My siblings didn't start having kids until the time that I surprisingly, but happily, found out I was expecting Thumper. So I went through life blissfully dim when it came to children. This is probably why everyone was so shocked when they found out I was pregnant. Well, that and the fact that I was known to like an alcoholic beverage or two (or seven) every now and then, as well as take off my shoes and/or cry over the inevitable piece of jewellery I’d break while consuming said beverages.
To say the least, my experience in Mommyland has been quite the learning curve. Having no reference point means taking everything as it comes and crossing my fingers that I don’t screw it up too badly. Since my child is still young enough to pronounce “you’re welcome” as “yelcome” and “grandpa” as “paca,” I have yet to encounter the awkward stage of talking to a child who can form full sentences and therefore carry on a regular conversation. The most interaction I have with an “older” child is with my friend's son, and he’s only three.
Truth be told, I was mildly bewildered when I first started hanging out with the aforementioned friend because her son offered a lot more verbal back-and-forth than Thumper did at the time. And before him, I had never met a three year old I felt the need to impress. But the pressure was on. If he didn’t get along with Thumper that was one thing, but if he didn’t get along with me, then I would’ve had to kiss my newfound friendship goodbye. So not only am I inept at interacting with other people’s kids, but my situation may be worse than the Caterpillar’s because people expect me to be good at it since I have a spawn of my own.
Since I’ve started working in a restaurant again, I’m faced with this inadequacy on a weekly basis. Before I was a mother, it didn’t matter if I was awkward with the kids I served. I tried my best to be cheerful and engaging but I think the expression on my face usually alternated between panic and exasperation. But that was okay because when you don’t have kids, people rarely expect more than the basic pleasantries from you. Now it’s as if people think I should be able to serve families with some form of grace and poise and a level of fun-ness unattainable to those without children. Say what? Having kids is not a gateway to any of those things. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Since having Thumper I generally live in a constant state of chaos and worry, where any hint of ‘aw isn’t that cute’ or ‘we are having so much fun’ is usually marred by objects flying all over the place in unhinged toddler rage.
So to answer Caterpillar’s question of what the secret is for kid-talk, I guess I say: I have no fucking clue. Let me know when someone has real insight for you because I could also benefit from it. However, I will offer this piece of potentially helpful advice: if you think that your sub-par child-rearing skills is a reason not to have kids, then you’re wrong. An acceptable reason to not have kids is if you hate kids or are prone to punching kids. Or, you know, if you do copious amounts of illegal drugs, I would strongly suggest you work that shit out before getting pregnant. At any rate, interacting with your own kids will always be easier than doing so with someone else’s, unless you’re giving a sex talk, in which case it’s proportionality awkward either way.
My other piece of helpful advice is to stop caring if you’re a big weirdo around kids. As long as you’re not being creepy-weird or rude, no one will judge you. Like I said, parents don’t expect non-parents to have a clue how to act because none of us did either until we were forced to figure it out when that baby was placed in our arms. I suppose I should listen to my own advice on this front. I do tend to over-worry that other people will think I’m an inadequate parent when I make a fool of myself in front of their tiny humans. But the reality is that being awkward in front of other people’s kids doesn’t mean you are or will be a bad parent. Similarly, being able to make other people’s kids pee their pants with your awesomeness and hilarity and fun-filled antics doesn't always equate a good parent. I hate to break it to you, but once that kid comes out of your vag, you will become as whacked out as the rest of us.
I'm sorry and you're welcome.