The same thing happens everywhere we go.
Strange kids come running up to my wife and myself, imploring us to “watch me,” or “look what I can do,” or “check me out!” It happens everywhere. The playground. The neighborhood pool. The waiting room at the doctor’s office.
Your kids want US to watch them. Watch them climb up the slide backwards. Watch them do a crappy somersault. Look at this dumb toy with the detachable attachments. Watch them run around in circles and fall down. Basically, they want us to look at all the stupid kid stuff that they’re doing.
We’ve looked. We’ve examined this phenomenon. These kids don’t just go approaching adults willy-nilly. We’re not random targets. They seek us out. They find us. Like tiny heat-seeking missiles with grubby fingers and Cheetohs dust on their shirts, they abandon the swings and the slides to come get in our faces.
It certainly isn’t because we care. Well, I shouldn’t speak for my wife, but I certainly don’t care. I would be hard-pressed to care less about anything anybody’s kid does, anywhere, at any time. Hell, I can barely summon up enough Fargos to give when my own kids do something mediocre (oh, good job, you stacked some soda cans on top of each other! Oh, wow, look at that formless scribble you drew on the TV Guide! [just kidding, who even has TV Guides anymore] Wow, listen to that garbled nonsense that just poured out of your mouth!). The only reason I do care when my kids manage some dubious toddler achievement is because I’m biologically compelled to do so: some bizarre alchemy of genetics and instinct overrides my default response, transforming a gruff “leave me alone” into a half-hearted “aw, that’s great!”
But I have no such genetic hard-coding when it comes to your kid.
I don’t love him. I don’t hope for her well-being (outside of a general, future-of-the-species vaguery). And I double definitely don’t give a sharknado about your kid and the fact that he can spin around in a circle until he falls down, or that she can almost but not quite balance on one foot for two seconds. I just don’t. And the only reason I won’t tell your kid exactly that is because society frowns on shouting at children, unless those kids are your own. Instead, I will summon up an even more (or would it be less?) half-hearted smile than the one I give my own kids, show them my teeth, and hope like hell inside my head that they just go away.
But they keep coming. They keep approaching me. Showing me dumb things that nobody cares about, seeking my attention when my own kids have already used up all of it.
Why are they seeking out my attention?
Because they don’t have yours. The only thing I can count on just as much as a strange kid coming up to beg me for a few seconds of attention is that while said kid is bugging me, I can cast my gaze across the playground/waiting room/pool pavilion and see that kid’s parent completely ignoring him. You got your kid to the playground, cut him loose on the slides, and buried yourself eyeballs-deep in Facebook or Twitter or whatever the cool kids are doing these days. You took your kid to the pool, slapped some floaties on her, and dove into a real deep discussion with your neighbor about your nails or your hair or the way that other part of the neighborhood is really going to sharknado. You got to the doctor’s office, and doctor’s offices are BORING, Goldfingerit, so you picked up an issue of Sports Illustrated from three years ago and became real interested in the Packers’ midseason woes.
Meanwhile, your kids are looking for somebody, anybody to pay them an ounce of attention. Just a wisp, a hint, an inkling on a summer breeze that somebody gives a damn about who they are and what they’re doing.
And why are they coming to ME for this vindication?
Because my wife and I pay attention to our kids in public. We have to. I mean, what’s the alternative? We follow them around at the playground — mostly to make sure they’re not running up to other kids’ parents and getting on their nerves. We get into the pool with them, partially because it’s fun, but mostly because they could slip an arm floatie or overturn their dumb float in half a second, and we want to make sure the kids don’t waterboard themselves. We keep an eye on them in the doctor’s office because that’s bloody GERM CENTRAL, and we don’t want them bringing home more of the plague than they have to. We are there. We are present. We pay attention to what they’re doing, and as a result, OUR KIDS DON’T BOTHER OTHER ADULTS. (The unfortunate by-product is: your kids think I care about what kids are doing in general. Sigh.)
I get it. You’re tired. Every parent is tired. Every parent wants nothing more than to disconnect for a few minutes and not have to hover over every little thing their kid does. To just kick back and read for a minute. To sneak away and drop a deuce in peace, even. But you can’t do it at the playground. Ignore your kids at home, where the only other person they can bother for attention is the cat.
Not to be preachy, but when you’re out in public, that’s when you need to pay attention to your kids THE MOST. Not just because they’ll go up and talk to strangers (obviously they will), but because a few seconds is all it takes for somebody to make off with the little bundle of joy that you’re ignoring. And while that might not be a big deal if you’re the only people on the playground, when you’re there at midday and there are twenty kids flying around and a dozen parents on cell phones around the outside … I mean, really? How hard would it be for me to walk off with your kid? Or, let’s make it less sinister — how hard would it be for your kid to just follow me and my kids off the playground?
Look. I’m not out here trying to abduct your kid (as far as you know). The two I have already drive me up the walls six days out of seven. And those are kids that I love. That I’m required by law to care for.
I don’t care about your kids.
It’s your job to do that, so they don’t come looking for vindication from me.