Week Out of Time

Snapshots of Rock Camp week with T: She takes the neckline of my not-very-deeply-scooped scoopneck t-shirt and pulls it up. “Modesty,” she says. She takes down one of the framed pictures I have of AC and gives him a serious once-over. “Is this your boyfriend?” She answers the phone while I am, uh, indisposed. “She’s in the bathroom,” I hear her tell my caller. “I think she’ll be in there a few minutes.”

I say again that I had no idea what it meant to spend concentrated time with a child. To speak in a weird made-up language in public because she wants to pretend we’re foreign (I can’t put my finger on hers, but mine has a strong Arabic/African feel to it). To play the same game and answer the same question a thousand times. To have to make conversation about the Jonas brothers. To be told the plot twists of every movie before they happen. To not know when I need to hold her hand and when I can let her go. To ask every dogwalker on the street if their dogs are friendly and can T pet and coo over them. To put her to bed every night with her flashlight and the little floral cannister containing the ashes of the dog my brother had to euthanize not long ago. To get up in the morning and see her looking painfully young and adorable in her curled-up sleep.

I still can’t believe Rock Camp week has passed. T was here and, seemingly four minutes later, she was heading home. Just like that, snap of fingers, back in my real life. And that’s the thing happening here, isn’t it? My week with T gave me the tiniest taste of motherhood, the briefest glance at the world I don’t get to enter. Obviously taking care of a child for a week doesn’t come close to real parenting, especially with a child T’s age who has already learned the basic rules of the road long before coming to my house, who has already been taught manners, who can wash, dress and feed herself. I was really just a placeholder.

The week gave me a view of the world from a different angle. And I didn’t always like what I saw. I was a little sorry to see that it hasn’t been my imagination that people treat you differently if you have a child. The numbers of people who spoke to me when I was with T really surprised me. And I could have paid T’s first year of college if each of the gentle, understanding smiles I got from strangers had been a dollar. That seems so unfair. How does having a kid in tow make me nicer or more approachable? I’ve seen plenty of people with kids to whom I would attach neither label. And yet, clearly, being a caretaker gives people the sense that they can strike up a conversation ‘safely.’ As a person who travels without children every other day of my life, how am I less deserving of friendly interaction with strangers?

And I, too, am guilty of responding to and acting out of this difference. When I organized the playdate for T? In my first round of invitations, I only invited people with children, leaving out a good friend, leaving out my boss, leaving out … you know … the childless people. How could I have done that? It’s as if this awful exclusionary thing kicks in all on its own. So maybe I’ve been wrong to be upset with some of my parenting friends when I’ve found out about get-togethers they’ve hosted to which I (the sole childless one in that particular circle of friends) have been the only member of the circle who hasn’t been invited? I don’t know.

There’s more to think about here. Last week wasn’t just about the way other people responded to me, or the callousness of overlooking my friends when planning our outing in the park. I felt different last week. And I thought about things differently, too … or, to be more exact, I started thinking about things I had more or less dismissed. Now I have to see if any of that could or should lead anywhere …

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3 thoughts on “Week Out of Time

  1. I know I get approached far more when I’m with any or all of my kids, especially the baby. I think lots of people are socially self-conscious, they don’t know enough about you to know if you can have one of those pleasant quickie conversations so it’s easier to avoid it.

    When you have kids in tow, there’s a built in thing to talk about. Almost everyone loves kids and kids, even kids of different ethnicities, races, socioeconomic backgrounds, etc. are far more the same than their adult counterparts. So the ‘Oh, your baby is so pretty.What a polite girl she is.Oh, he is so smart, what a good looking boy.’Hold old is she?When does he start school? What a nice big brother. Is this your first?”

    Wouldn’t these work as good openers with just about anyone with kids in tow. It’s not that people with kids deserve more kindness or interaction-it’s just easier.

  2. Of course this makes sense. I also tend to talk to people with kids more than I talk to people without. It just really took me by surprise. I mean, even my neighbors, who talk to me all the time, were more sociable when T was here … although in their cases it may have been the surprise that they’d been seeing me around for 6 months and had never noticed that I had a kid. They probably just needed to reassure themselves that I hadn’t been keeping the poor kid captive in my apartment all that time! 🙂

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