So, I have a kid, but I have no idea how to act around children. In fact, the only kiddos I am totally comfortable around are either the children of my friends, or any tot under the age of 20 months (the current age of my own kiddo). I hardly ever babysat growing up. I don’t have younger siblings. I think children of all ages are infinitely adorable, but I just never know whether to talk to them about their brunch preferences or global warming. And my husband definitely worried for a few years there that we might never have kids because I would be too (direct quote) “afraid of them.”
When a kid approaches me or my son on the playground, or in a cafe, or on the street, or at a political rally (you never know) and gets all up in my grill, I find myself freezing up and getting all clammy-handed and nervous like I’m on a first date. I just don’t know what to say to the child. Knowing what to say requires first knowing how old the kid is. Seven? Four? I have no idea, it’s impossible to tell the ages of young sprites they all look the same to me. Even if I did know the age of said child, do I talk to him/her the same way I’d talk to an adult I met randomly at the sandbox? Do I ask their name (or is that stalking)? If I engage with the kid, do I have to engage with the kid’s weird parent? Or are they separate entities? And what if the kid says something nonsensical (this is my greatest anxiety in life) like, “I have a polar bear family.” What then? It’s super, super stressful.
Here’s the thing: random kids seem to LOVE telling me about their secret polar bear families. But I never have a cool or witty response to their comments and queries. The other day on the playground, three kids older than my son started playing with the little red plastic Step 2 car that Leo “drove” over to the playground. Of course, I was more than happy for them to play with our toy since it’s common knowledge that any item brought to a public playground must automatically be shared with the masses. But my child is not old enough to understand this rule or why he can’t eat yogurt with a fork. So he started bawling when he saw them playing with it, certain they were stealing it forever, which I can understand since small children quite often do appear thief-like.
So I approached the would-be thieves and asked if my son could take another turn in his car, since he’s little and doesn’t really understand “sharing” yet. They nodded at me, compliant but also a little suspicious. One of the kids offered to push my son, and he adorably steered that car in a loop around and around the playground with the concentration of a one-year-old peeling off a coveted Dora sticker. At first, I trailed them, not sure how much I trusted the random kid not to tip my one-year-old headfirst into the bushes. But I felt totally awkward walking a few paces behind them and eventually gave up and sat down on a wall. As it turned out, the kid definitely did NOT need me trailing him; he was extremely focused on his task, and after a while I determined that the fact that he was WEARING A HELMET INSIDE THE PLAYGROUND spoke to his cautious nature. After they finished their final loop, I asked the kid if he had a younger sibling, since he was so good with my son. “No,” he said, looking at me strangely. “I have an older sister.”
Huh? I don’t know. I don’t understand kids. I’m not a cool aunt, and I don’t have ANY tricks up my sleeve when it comes to entertaining or being popular with children. Some of my kid-less friends are actually far better equipped to distract and delight my own child than I am! Which, incidentally, is totally fine. They can come over and babysit while I close my weary eyes.
Do you ever feel awkward or like the dorky kid in the corner when children try to talk to you? Do you do what I do, which is assume every child wants to engage in critical discourse on Harry Potter? xox