Monday, July 11, 2011

On Talking to Children

I just turned 27. And part of being 27 means that I am going to be asked more and more pressing questions about the state of my uterus. You see, when you're 27, and in a long-term, live-in relationship with a man as wonderful as Mr. Caterpillar, people begin to take great interest in your uterus. They ask things like "Why is your uterus still empty?" and "Will you be filling up your uterus anytime soon?" and "Did you know that in a few short years, your uterus is going to get harder and harder to fill?"

Tick-tock. Tick-tock.

The thing is, though, I'm perfectly fine with my uterus the way it is. In fact, it's not even empty - it has a fabulous thing inside it called an IUD! Whose sole purpose is to ensure that no one else is going to crash the uterus-party. The IUD is the current tenant of my uterus, and this landlady's only rule is for it to keep out unwanted guests. And then, one day, the lease will be up for renewal and I might decide to trade it in for two or three other tenants - one at a time, please - for nine-month leases in turn. But don't ask me when that day will be. Because I honestly don't know.

So my uterus is still, at this point, fetus-free. And that's cool with me! It's also cool with Mr. Caterpillar, if you were thinking about asking him. Neither of us is in any rush. And unfortunately, I've come to realize something about myself - I have no idea when I'm ever going to be ready for THA BABIEZ becaue I seriously have no idea how to talk to kids.

Babies are fine to deal with. When people have newborn babies, I'm one of those screeching ladies that is all for holding your kid and petting its hair and never ever putting it down, while I coo and freak out over absolutely everything. Tiny blankets and pillows? OMG. Cute little clothes with ducks in rainboots on them? OMFG YES. New high-tech toys that didn't exist when I was a baby? ZOMFGWTFLOLZ *crash* internetspeak implosion.

But then the babies start growing up and becoming real people, and you are expected to talk to them. Like normal-people talk, not that high-pitched, overly excited "SUCH A PRETTY DRAWING OF A WHATEVER" kind of talk for toddlers that anyone can fake. When kids enter into kindergarten, they're going to start to pick up on your condescending crap. And now you have to learn a whole new skill that no one taught you when you were learning math and friendship and how to braid your hair: Talking to fucking kids.

I don't know how it's done, but I'm convinced it's an art form as highly innate and unlearnable as being able to sing nicely. And I hate it. I do eventually want my own children, but it's more than that; I love kids. I especially love my friends' kids, who are adorable, hilarious, brilliant little prodigies that I swear are going to all grow up to be Ministers of Awesomeness in the Canadian cabinet. And I do think that they like me; maybe not as much as I like them, but they're usually pretty excited to see me. So I really want to be good at kids. I just don't know how to talk to them. If anyone ever wants to see a display of awkward, just watch me with someone else's kids for a while.

First, there's the swearing. As you may have noticed if you've been reading my blog since the beginning, I have something of a potty-mouth. And I am not around children often enough to have a ready-on-a-moment's-notice censor. If I had a penny for every time I've been eating dinner at a restaurant and I've screamed out "cockshitting bitchfuck ass!" just to realize there's a family of seventeen right behind me and every child is under the age of four, I would probably have...well, not that many pennies, because that was obviously an exagerration. But you get the point. Parents give me horrible dirty looks. My friends are always cowering in embarrassment at my poor vocal control and deliciously but inappropriately salty vocabulary.

When I'm around kids that I know are there - like when I'm hanging out with my parent-friends and their families and everything is planned in advance and I wake up in the morning ready to be Family-Friendly Caterpillar - I might be slightly more capable of censorship, but never as censored as I should be. I will let a "fuck" or a "bitch" or a "cock" slip out (that's what she said) and then I'll blush beet red and the parent-friend will either laugh it off and say whatever, the kid's a fucking baby, babies are stupid and they don't know anything; or, if the kid is in fact not a baby, they'll humbly appreciate that at least I care that I fucked up. That's because my parent-friends are, for the most part, awesome, and they understand the risks in bringing their children around me. They have already mentally prepared themselves for the string of curse words that their child is going to learn from Auntie Caterpillar.

But that doesn't mean that I myself don't feel ashamed. And worried. Because how does one stop something as innate and as fun as swearing? Swearing is awesome! It's colourful. It's sinfully good, like double chocolate cake or sleeping in on Sundays or Bobble-Head Jesus. It's even medically advantageous. So when I have my own kids, I'm pretty sure they'll be flipping the bird at the doctor in the ultrasound X-rays. Which is horrible, right? It makes me feel like I'm going to be one of those white-trash trailer park mommies who sits around in a ratty old metalhead T-shirt with a beer on her belly-shelf yelling "cocksucker" at the neighbour because his dog shat in my garden while my kid sits and listens and learns to be just like me.

But then I think, "no." I'm better than that. I'm not going to be that kind of mother. I am sophisticated, dammit. I keep my many shoes in three different closets and I have multicoloured purses for every occasion and high-end brand name makeup and organic skincare products. I recycle and use my green bin like a responsible middle-class liberal. I occasionally cook tofu and I order extra spicy bloody ceasars at the bar - I even eat the celery stick. I am a classy bitch.

But then that brings to mind another conundrum with kids. I don't really think I'm all that fun. When Mr. Caterpillar and I were at a family function a little while ago, his cousin's new girlfriend was there and she was meeting the family for the first time, and the kids loved her. She was chasing them around and playing with them and they were shrieking with delight that someone so utterly awesome could be amongst them. And I'm sitting there, watching her, sitting in my heels and my pretty dress with my legs crossed, raging internally with bright green envy. While I was spending all that time getting ready to go see his family and making sure I looked impeccable so I could make a good impression on people I'd already met many times before, she was chilling and threw on some nice jeans and a simple top and then just showed up and was awesome.

Don't get me wrong: as far as I know, Mr. Caterpillar's family likes me just fine. He's told me as much, and it shows; his relatives are warm, friendly people who've never hesitated to welcome me into their lives with open arms. And I like them very much in turn. I would simply like to be better at repaying the favour of their kindness by being completely and utterly awesome around their children. I want to be funI want to be so fun that children everywhere cry real tears when I'm leaving. I just don't know how. And it seems that the older I get, the less able I am to relate to little kids.

After all, it's of course not just about being able to bite my swearing tongue around kids, or having the energy and the sensible footwear to be a Super Fun Grown-Up. It's about just knowing how to talk to them. I'm overwhelmed by kids. Their curiosity, their humour, their weird TV shows - it seems like so long ago that I was one of these wide-eyed, sensitive little creatures that didn't really know what the point of taxes is and watched shows like Captain Planet with complete, unironic sincerity. I try to find a balance between condescension ("Oh, wow, a teddy, that is probably the coolest toy that has ever or will ever exist!") and treating the kid too much like an adult ("Hey, you know who you look like in that hairstyle? The chick from Saw 4 who gets her scalp ripped off by her ponytail."). But that line is becoming harder to walk, because the older I get, the more I become simultaneously distanced from my own youth and surrounded by other grown-ups having children all over the place.

I feel awkward around kids. I feel like they're so fragile and under development that anything I say or do could potentially affect their ability to live successful lives as independent, well-rounded adults. I also know that this is a load of narcisstic crap, and that hanging out with my friends' kids once in awhile is hardly going to turn them into foul-mouthed blibbering morons who have nightmares about Jigsaw slicing their limbs open. Yet I can't make that inability to relate to them go away. My fear is always present in the back of my mind.

So I am going to put out a call for help to all my parent-friends out there. What's the secret for kid-talk, guys? Maybe Alice could write a blog post on it? Or one of my other friends could just give me a nod of encouragement when I do something right, or at least not horrifically wrong, in the presence of their children?

I honestly adore hanging out with you, parent-friends, and your lovely families; I even had the pleasure last year of babysitting my friend's two kids while she and her husband had a night out to celebrate their anniversary. I was happy to lend a helping hand and give them some well-deserved alone time, just like I was happy on another occasion to (with another kidless adult present, mind) take a different friend's son out to a movie one afternoon when a local theatre was showing The Adventures of Milo & Otis and we realized this kid had to experience that movie. And in both cases, I think the kids enjoyed themselves just fine, and I know I did; parent-friends, I will gladly help you out again. Don't read this post as any resentment that I've been asked occasionally to participate in your kids' lives, because it's been an honour and a joy to know all of your fantastic children that I love dearly and am thrilled to watch growing up.

I just hope that I'm actually doing a good job with them, because my uterus is going to stay kid-free until I know I haven't broken your kids beyond warranty repair.

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