…life on the synaptic firing range

Location: Los Angeles, United States

Bent but unbroken Southern California native seeks understanding, companionship, and resonance along and off the beaten path. Teresa plays well with others and makes every effort to perform to her potential. Usually. *processed in a facility that processes nuts and nut products

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

children, my not liking them

I was in the waiting room this morning at my therapist's office, which is actually a vast waiting room for many therapists' offices. As my appointment time approached a very adorable baby was brought into the glassed-in receptionists' area, after which secretaries and off-duty therapists gathered like cats to a can opener and commenced to cooing all about him. As my own therapist passed by the area on her way to retrieve me, she too was arrested by the sight of the small human and stopped to pet his kitten-soft hair. I was pretty taken with the sight myself, and so it was that my therapist caught me staring and came out apologizing for getting sidetracked. "This is what happens when grandmothers find themselves in the presence of babies," she said. "Isn't he adorable?"

"He is," I affirmed.

"Oh, but you don't care for children, do you," she said, more a statement than a question.

I'd like to set the record straight on a pervasive misconception about me. Though I have a complicated relationship with children, I like them very much. They are often very cute. Besides which, they are our future. I hope that clarifies the issue.

I've been told a number of times how I feel about children, always with a negative slant, and I'm not entirely sure how this rumor about my distaste for young people grew legs. Yes, it is true that I'm uncomfortable being left alone with children under the age of, say, 25, largely because I don't know what to do with them and they don't know what to do with me, which makes me feel like a big freak. But that's about me, not them. I'm worried that I'll somehow corrupt children young enough to be impressed by adults, and I'm terrified that I'll break children young enough to be held. Children old enough to elude the above categories are frightening for reasons all their own.

It's also true that I've gone on rants about poor parenting. When a child, in full view of his parents, runs squarely into me, responding if at all with a nasty glare as though he had been cleared for takeoff and I was just so much debris on his runway, and nothing is said to the child about apologizing to the weird lady or watching where he's going, that's poor parenting. When a child walking with his mother sucks down the last of his Slurpee and casually tosses the cup into my yard and he's not immediately told to go pick it up and hold on to it until he encounters a proper place to dispose of it—like maybe atop the abandoned sofa at the corner of my property—that's poor parenting. But it is the parenting I fault, not the child. As much as I would like to live in a world where children have an innate code of values and ethics that compels them to search their young souls to determine right from wrong—and come up with the correct answer every time—I know that children rely on their parents and mentors and juvenile caseworkers to instill such values in them. It's therefore hard to fault them entirely when the little nubbins light your hair on fire; they don't know any better, until you light their hair on fire back.

This is all ever so easy for me to say since I don't have children of my own. And I've never wanted any, nor have I so much as engaged in teenagedom's oldest profession: babysitting. Long before I realized I was a lesbian I remember telling my mother that I didn't think parenting was in my future. "You'll change your mind," she said. But I never did. And after I came out I thought I was off the hook, but now that spawning and adopting babies is all the rage with the gays even my partner and I sometimes feel the pressure to procreate. It was easy enough to derail my own mother from looking to us for grandchildren: All I had to do was gleefully tell her that if I were the one holding the turkey baster, I could be listed on the birth certificate as the legal father! Having her own deep issues regarding my gender identity, she never spoke of childrearing with me again. My partner's mother still lobbies us from time to time, but even she realizes that we're aging ourselves out of the market. Biological-clock issues aside, even adoption starts to get sketchy after 40, unless we wanted to adopt a teenager—and, really, are you kidding?

Friends of ours replicated in the fall, and confirmed childless couples like ourselves sometimes panic that such an event can't help but change the dynamic, that from now on any social life with the new parents will center on the baby, or, worse, that they'll start to feel more connected with their babymaking friends—and less connected to us.

The dynamic has changed. Whereas we used to go to restaurants, we now order in. And where we might once have gone to see horrifically bad local storytellers perform, laughing about the event for months afterward, we now chat in front of their plasma TV, which they bought when they thought they were never going to have a baby and therefore deserved nice things. As we chat, the new mother nurses, and I've gotten to know her breasts a lot better than I did before. I've also gotten to know her placenta, which is in her freezer for reasons all her own.

I like the new dynamic, and I like that Baby J's kitteny hair can be manipulated into a widow's peak or a fauxhawk and stay that way until you smooth it against her innocent forehead. And I like her teeny hands and her teeny feet, and she has the most inebriating smile I think I've ever seen. And sometimes, when I've asked my 42nd question of the night about how her developmental stages are going or what their Yorkie thinks of her, I get a vague sense that the new parents wish our whole social life didn't have to center on their baby.

Just in case you're wondering, I haven't changed my mind about having children. It's just not my destiny. But I'm awfully glad to have friends who are willing to do it for us.


Blogger treecup said...

Baby J just told me (in her secret language -- by blowing a raspberry then flailing her arms in a seemingly random yet complex linguistic action akin to the way dolphins communicate) that she likes your not so teeny hands and your not so teeny feet too.

8:41 PM  
Blogger sporksforall said...

See, I think kids are great in practice too, but they have to be the right people's kids. It's the random sticky ones at the mall that turn me off. My mother still wants us to produce some child of some sort.

10:24 PM  
Blogger bryduck said...

I'm with you 100% on most of this, Scout. I, too, am at a profound loss when confronted with a pre-verbal child, and am sure I'd break one if allowed to hold him/her. After having worked in retail/customer service for over 20 years, I have come to agree that parenting skills have sorely declined since I was a child. (Nobody seems willing to discipline their children anymore--indeed, the lack of an apology for intrusive/rude behavior on the part of their offspring bespeaks of a larger lack of concern for others these "parents" hold. Perhaps they're more tired than our parents were; it is a more difficult age we live in, and the economic pressures are mounting, not lessening.) They are our future, but if their parents are any indication (and of course, they are virtually the entire indicator set, whether you go for nature or nurture), the decline in civility and altruistic caring will only increase as we grow older. Yikes.

11:54 AM  

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