Well, I’m not having any children, that’s flat. Having finally, maybe, achieved a level of maturity that would make me a good(ish) parent, I find I am now both too old and broken-backed for it; but I don’t want them anyway. (A few years ago, baby-sitting a certain precocious darling, I realized that if I had kids, it would probably be years before I had either time or energy to read a book again; that sorted that out.)
It’s not that I don’t like kids, generally speaking; indeed, I am very enamoured of several of my friends’ children, one hilarious and irresistible toddler in particular, who I’ve had the pleasure of knowing since she was about 16 hours old. I’m really auntie, rather than mamma, material when it comes down to it; condoling with exhausted parents and taking distant amusement in children’s difficult, mysterious, tiring, and perplexing behaviour is my best bet.
Yesterday, my husband and I were riding a fairly crowded streetcar west (to where most of the good vegan food in Toronto may be found) when a woman and her 3-year-old boarded. She instructed her boy to take the empty aisle seat directly in front of me; the window seat was occupied by a quiet young woman gazing out the window.
The child did that cute thing kids do when confronted with getting themselves into seats made for giants: he climbed it like a tree, with the exaggerated movements of a Saturday morning TV cartoon character or a poorly paid child actor starring in a commercial for parents wracking their brains over which diaper to wrap their adorable lil pissers in.
Having scaled that public transit mountain, he proceeded to smash the curly-headed, short-legged sweetness he’d just established to bits and pointy shards by loudly commanding the young lady next to him, “MOVE!!!” His mom, all patience and excellent elocution, informed him that this was not how we introduced ourselves to strangers; rather, “Remember? When we meet strangers, we say hello and tell them our names; and then ask their name, if they want to talk to us.”
“Move,” he roared, “MOVE,” brandishing the stubby branch he clutched in his little punching fist.
It quickly became apparent that this mother is an angel of patience, sent to earth to humble not only her pushy offspring, but also everyone on the streetcar (except my husband and I, who were shaking with quiet laughter, and the guy behind me who I couldn’t see but whose high-pitched giggles rang out in tandem with our suppressed ones). The shaming was a masterpiece of rhetorical sophistication and emotional manipulation:
“Now, you know you can’t poke people with sticks, it hurts them.”
*poke, poke, poke*
*The quiet young woman by the window looks with alarm at this tiny monster’s mother, silently begging for help*
“No, you don’t poke people, or animals, because you could hurt them, right?”
“You can poke inanimate things, because they don’t feel pain, right?”
“Except cars. Those are inanimate too, but don’t poke them either because you might cause scratches and that would make their owners upset, right?”
“You know cars aren’t living things, don’t you? They’re not alive. You know cars aren’t alive, yes? And actually, don’t hurt plants either. It’s okay to have your little branch, because you found it on the ground, but it’s not okay to tear one off a tree because the tree is alive, too. But if it’s on the ground, it’s already dead, and so taking it is okay.”
“Now, why don’t you introduce yourself to the nice lady?”
“Okay, then, I’ll introduce myself if you won’t…”
Introductions were sufficiently charming and prolonged to distract the child from his thwarted desires. They also made it clear that this mother’s ability to maintain such frothing equanimity in the face of 1), having spawned a demon and 2), having to take him out in public regularly is something almost super-human. She disarmed the young woman and everyone on the streetcar while the boy, presumably, hatched plans for future world domination during which rivers of blood would figure prominently. Except…
Shortly after everyone had succumbed to this woman’s charm offensive, it was time for her and the boy to leave the streetcar and without further prompting, he half-turned to his victim and said quietly and sadly, “Sorry, lady.”
I didn’t notice her response to this belated apology; I was too busy being thankful I didn’t have kids, in part because there’s no way I would have been as persistently even-tempered as this mom, who clearly comes from a planet more patient and generally much more amazing than this one.
Maybe if I hadn’t been exposed, at a very impressionable age, to demons from Hell masquerading as human children, I’d be more amenable to producing and living with some of my own. Two kids, to whom I had repeated and traumatizing exposure when I was a teen, are probably the reason my biological clock cut its own throat so many years ago.
The first one I met only a few times in the capacity of baby-sitter. It was pretty clear it was going to be a bad scene the first time I took care of this boy, who was maybe 8. I arrived while his parents were still getting ready for a Halloween party they were attending, and didn’t try at all to hide the raging, vicious argument they were having either from me or the kid. The kid was loud and obnoxious and attracted to breakable things, but his parents ignored both of us to bitterly eviscerate one another in preparation for what must have been a grand night out with friends; there was something especially discomfiting about the fact that as they cut each other down, the dad was dressed as a vampire and the mom was putting the finishing touches on a Charlie Chaplin costume.
I can’t recall what happened that night, but I do know that I gave that scary household only one or two more opportunities to pay me the mad cheddar ($3/hour!) commonly associated with baby-sitting because the last night I baby-sat him, that kid threatened me with a kitchen knife. He knew where the sharp end was, too, and waved it at me while shrieking like a hell-hound whose voice hasn’t broken yet. I didn’t need the money that badly, it turned out.
The other demon child I saw much more of–I wasn’t in a position either to walk completely away or control when he came into my space. When I was 17, I got a fun job working with super-fun and hilarious young people in a middle-age to old lady clothing store. One of our most regular customers happened to be every clothing retailer’s worst nightmare: she bought things and always returned them, but only after having worn them once. It happens, sure, that you really don’t know whether you like something till you get it home; the problem was, she had some kind of serious body chemistry disorder because she smelled so bad that not only could mere choices of personal hygiene or diet not account for it, but it was also so overwhelming that she invariably forced everyone’s gag reflexes into overdrive. We had to stay at least 4 feet away from her or we would literally puke.
Sadly, dealing with her offspring was worse; yes, we had to take it in turns to cart her stinky returns home to wash them before they could be returned to the sales floor, but that was merely uncomfortable. Her horrible 5ish-year-old son, Tony, was a positive danger. Running around the store screaming and tearing clothes off racks, he liked to run up to unsuspecting sales people, and sometimes customers, and punch them in the stomach or leg, depending on how tall they were. My fellow employees and I became adept at dodging the little fucker, but it was still terrible having him around because, of course, all the delightful (or at least neutral) customers would leave.
One day, as young Tony wrought his running destruction on our previously well tidied store, my assistant manager broke. No matter how out of hand he got, his mother’s attempt to manage him consisted wholly in barking “Tony!” at him over and over and over again, but in no way physically restraining him or explaining why he should reconsider his social interaction strategies. And one day, my beloved coworker decided she’d rather give vent to her feelings than, possibly, keep her job (for, the customer is, after all, always right) and yelled, “He’s not answering you because his name’s not Tony! HIS NAME IS SATAN! IT’S SATAN!!!”
This, of course, resulted in exactly nothing–neither a cessation in Tony’s reign of fear and loathing, nor in my manager losing her job; hell, Tony’s mother didn’t even notice, nor did she notice later, when there were two, the second being Johnny, that Johnny liked to put plastic bags over his head and breathe deeply. All this also, likely, resulted in the nothing that is happening, and will never happen, with my reproductive organs.