As the parent of two small children, I’m fascinated with my kids, but that doesn’t mean I’m fascinated with yours. Maybe that’s something I’m not supposed to say, but there it is. I know, I know – as a parent I’m supposed to be in tune with my inner nurturer. It takes a village to raise a child, and I’m supposed to see all children bathed in the light of a beaming father. But that hasn’t exactly been my experience. I’m comfortable being relatively uninterested in most other kids because most parents, if they were being honest, would say the same thing to me. I’m totally cool with that.
This is exactly why I hesitate to write about my kids much, despite how much I love them. I think that people who don’t know me don’t particularly care. People have their own interests and their own families, and kids are not exactly an original storyline. Our kids make my wife and I laugh all the time. They are incredibly funny, but it’s all inside jokes. No one else would get it. They are a comedy club that seats two, with room for family and friends on special occasions.
This isn’t to say I’m not interested in my little niece and nephew, or our neighbors’ boy, or my co-workers’ kids. I like my friends and relatives (for the most part), and I like seeing and hearing about their kids. Kids change you – they soften you, sharpen you – they become a part of you. That’s interesting, and if I’m interested in the parent, I’m interested in their kids.
But there’s nothing significantly compelling about the random child I pass in the mall. I’ll accept and reciprocate the pleasant, knowing smiles of parents who want to be supportive of other parents. God knows it isn’t easy, and a little acknowledgement is greatly appreciated. But if some unknown kid looks at me like I’m going to steal his candy, and then he buries his head in his mom’s shoulder, I don’t see a bundle of joy with infinite possibility. All I see is a missed nap.
Maybe I’m unusual. There are definitely a lot of parents out there who can’t seem to grasp that all people within a 25-mile radius might not get excited to soak up every little bit of information about their kids. I half-expect to get spammed with kid-related email by these parents, or to see them on cable access with kid-devoted shows, or to receive Christmas cards from people I don’t know, with 17-page letters all about little Johnny included, delivered by bulk mail.
“Little Johnny was born painlessly after 20 minutes of labor, and isn’t little Johnny baby-model-handsome, and little Johnny slept through the night when he was 10 days old, and little Johnny can play Bach on his toy piano perfectly. Precocious little Johnny writes in his own blog already too, and you should check it out at www.ourbabyismoreadvancedthanyourbaby.com. Happy Holidays!”
I’d be more willing to give these stories about little Johnny more of a chance if his proud parents didn’t seem so fulfilled by their perfect, effortless child. Forgive me if I’m skeptical when someone tells me that birth was a mystical experience, and their kids never cried as infants, not once, and they eat whatever the parents are cooking for themselves and ask for seconds, and they are just about the easiest kids to raise in the entire upper Midwest. Well, aren’t they lucky.
Stories like that are both irritating and unbelievable. Do people say these things because that’s what they think they are supposed to say? Do they think that divulging any parenting difficulty shows that they are bad parents? I don’t know, but either I’m getting a lot of cleaned-up, edited versions of what it’s like for other people to raise kids, or my kids are the hardest kids to parent in the history of man. I’m not stupid or selfish enough to think that it’s the latter. I’d much rather hear someone gripe – it makes me feel like I’m not insane.
Parenting is crushingly heavy work, and I’m pretty sure it’s like that for everyone. I love my kids, not because they are perfect little angels with whom I had an instantaneous emotional bond, but because we struggle and grow together every day. I love them because I rocked them to sleep through colic for six months. I love them because they need help getting through that first scary experience of projectile vomiting. I love them because they wrap their arms around me and say “I love you Daddy,” just when I think I’m about to succumb to exhaustion.
It’s such hard work that the real reason for my other-kid disinterest might be that there really is no room left in my brain for more kid input. I’m so busy thinking about their naps, nutrition, behavior, development and future that other kids just don’t figure. Tell me about how your kid woke you up at 4 a.m., and I can muster some energy to commiserate, but try and tell me about your child’s perfect sleep patterns, and I’ll tune you out like you’re a telemarketer.
So, to all you parents out there, if I ignore your kids, you can certainly ignore mine. Fair is fair. We all should have a healthy respect for each other, but beware: because the parental experience isn’t unique, the danger of oversharing is alarmingly high. You may think I’m just humorless and insensitive. You may think I’m saying all this because I’m just tired and crabby these days. But I’m a parent – what else would I be?
The Head Fake is featured on Twin Cities Daily Planet and The Bridge. You can email Jay Kelly at jk@the headfake.com, or visit his web site at www.theAheadfake.com.