I'm writing this post because of a dare, and while I think it's a perfectly reasonable subject to blog about, I want everyone to know that I blog this with the full knowledge -- indeed the dare -- of one of its main characters.
That character is P. (It's appropriate to call her a character, because when one writes about someone, that someone is as much a character as a person -- actually a little bit more character than multi-dimensional human, which is sometimes an unhappy and always a confusing situation.) In any case, this post isn't actually about P. as much as it's about how adults who don't have kids relate to and view the actions of small children.
P. doesn't have children. She likes children, she's very playful with my kids and adores her nieces and nephews. However, when it comes to children in public places or how people with children in this city act with their own kids, she, like many, has some very firm opinions and preferences. Like, if you're at a restaurant having brunch with your kids, your kids shouldn't make loud noises. I say, sure. And I also say I'm sure most parents would agree with this ideal, but struggle with achieving it in reality.
Now, I've blogged before about how people in this city can be child-unfriendly. And I think adults in this country pretty much hate the inconveniences and disturbances caused by children, humans, under 5, even if they're similar disturbances to those other adults can create.
When I took an Amtrak train with my kids, grown men rolled their eyes, refused to move, and made rude jokes about us -- as if they themselves had never been small or as if the sounds from woman across the way yacking on her cell phone wasn't more disturbing than the noise my children made. A few weeks ago, I was walking alongside another woman and we were both pushing single strollers. A man approached us and, saying nothing, simply waved his hands so we would know our job was to separate and create a space for him. It was horribly rude (and I told him so). Would he have done the same thing if we'd been walking dogs? My bet is no.
This brings me to the subject of this post. So the other day I was at P.'s apartment with my daughter Helen. Helen had some flowers with her that we'd picked in the park, they included one a big marigold that we shouldn't have picked but did and why we did is a long story that's not relevant except for me to disclaim that it was reasonable to pick it. Anyway, towards the end of our visit, Helen, who is 3-1/2, started plucking orange petals off the flower and dropping them on P.'s rug. Granted, not ideal behavior, but not exactly the end of the world. But before I noticed what Helen was doing, I saw that P. was eying Helen with a funny look.
Now, before I go on, let me say that Helen adores P. and P. loves Helen. This is not abut their relationship. It's about how people perceive and categorize the actions of small children.
Back to my story. I notice P. watching Helen and I ask her if something is wrong. She says, "Nothing. I'm just wondering if those things (the flower petals) are going to stain my rug." I said no. I bundled up Helen and said we were going. We were laughing, but P. could tell I was annoyed and that's when she dared me to blog about this. (We'd been talking about my blog and what it's focus should be.) So, here's what I'd like to point out in this dare-post.
I would point out that if P. herself had bought some mums or dahlias or Gerber daisies and if those flowers had started to die and lose their petals on her rug, she wouldn't have worried about her rug getting stained. But people see small children doing things in a house and they assume that what they're doing will stain something, break something, mess things up. Because that's what small children do, right? They make messes that make stains.
Like the men on the Amtrak train who assumed my kids would be noisy and disturb them more than an adult on a cell phone; like the man on the street who assumed he could wave a small group of humans away with a flick of his wrist and not even a please or a thank you; like the people who think children in restaurants should always be seen and not heard and complain about it loudly to their companions, never mind that that woman at the table over there has a grating laugh or that that man over there is arguing loudly with his table mate; if children do something that's in the same category as what adults might do - make noise, make a mess -- it's worse. P. seemed to assume that because a child dropped the flower petals, the consequences would be childlike. Which is to say not just messy but stained. Because at least with adults you can have the fantasy of saying something about behavior that seems unacceptable. With children, there's no recourse. Besides, it's hard to control children and it's hard to talk about the ways that we wish adults would control them and the ways we think we would control them if only they were our kids.
I was wrong not to notice Helen plucking the flower petals sooner. It was a mistake not to ask her to stop and not to clean them up when we were leaving. But I wasn't mistaken that they wouldn't stain. Petals on the rug, whether they fall from a dying flower or a child's hand just lie there. It's just that an adult is ultimately responsible for and can control one, and the other, not so much.