Saturday, March 31, 2012

I Will Reconsider Parenting When It Gets Less Terrible

As it stands, I don't have any interest in children. Actually, that might be a misrepresentation, because it implies that I haven't made up my mind on the matter. That I see a child, sigh contemplatively, pat my uterus and whisper "One day" to it. Let me rephrase: As it stands, I hate children.

I have a reasonably good idea about how the majority of you will take this information. Some of you will agree with me, and to those people I say: hey, let's get drunk some time. Some you will dismiss me as a complete dickhead, and you're justified in thinking as much. But the vast majority of you will think: "Hey, I'm no big fan either. But some of them are all right."

Which is true. Some of them are all right. Some of them (this has never happened to me, but I'm sure it happens) wrap their tiny, podgy arms around your neck and tell you your their favourite aunt before taking you by the hand and running you down to the bottom of the garden to catch fairies. Some children are so nice that they give you a greater understanding of what it is to be alive.

This does not  make me feel any less uncomfortable around them.

At the end of the day, I feel awkward around kids. It's kind of like having a foreign exchange student stay in your house. I don't know what to talk to them about, and when I do talk to them, I have no clue how much they're even taking in. There's this constant pressure to do something with them. You can't just hang out with children, seemingly. You have to be hanging out with them AS A COWBOY and IN THE AURORA BOREALIS. Children need stimulation(!) or something (?).

As my opening sentence indicates, this is something I'm sure will change. Maybe ten years from now, I'll have come around to the idea of children. But parenting, as it exists right now: that, I am calling bullshit on.

As you might remember, my sister's husband knocked her up a little while back. With the due date imminent, I'm currently in Ireland, spending some much needed quality time with my sister. Mostly, we've been eating ice-cream and criticising the life choices of everyone who appears on 16 and Pregnant. It's hard to forget Jill is pregnant. Her belly is hard as rock, and referred to only as 'Gremlor'.

 Sometimes I catch her giving it light punches as we watch TV.

"What are you doing?"

"Making it move."

"You were giving out about it moving too much a second ago."

"I know. But when it stops moving for a while, I get paranoid that Gremlor's dead."

"God. Imagine, going through all this to give birth to a dead baby."

"I know. Nightmare."

Pregnancy is being treated as something we have to get her through, but it's easy to forget entirely that soon, she will be a mother. I remember this as I pad around her kitchen looking for Haribo, and find boxes upon boxes of Pampers. I guess this is normal, but what I'm surprised by is the variation of Pampers there actually is: dry, superdry, night-time dry, easydry. The word 'dry' has never been more prevalent in one kitchen in so many different forms. I'm amazed.

"What the..?" I begin, in awe. "How on earth are there so many different kinds? Don't they all do the same thing?"

"Ugh, I know." Jill has clearly been unsettled by the cacophony of choice also.

"It's kind of like condoms, isn't it? Like how there's 'regular' and then there's 'ultra safe'? It's like, shouldn't they both be equally as safe?"

"Al reckons that one sort is just for when Gremlor does a piss, and the other when it takes a dump. And then maybe a third when it needs a piss and a dump."

Take a guess.

Pissing and dumping of my future niece aside, the Pampers problem is somewhat representative of how strategic and boring parenting is, or has become. Parents seem to have forgotten how to improvise, and instead are just constantly having panic attacks in supermarkets. As far as I can tell, the major worries of the modern parent are:

 #1. Their child is under stimulated
 #2. Their child is over stimulated
 #3. As a result of their failure to over or under stimulate their child, their child now has Asperger's.

Sometimes I think that if I were an eight year old today, that some local governing body would have rubber stamped my forward with AUTISTIC, PROBABLY and stuck me into some after-school social skills building class four days a week. I probably met the profile: I was solitary, I said weird shit, and I couldn't tie my shoes until I was about eleven.

I'm not being flippant here: I realise that autism is a very real, and very serious problem. But I also think that a lot of kids are just weird. Why are they weird? Because people are, inherently, weird. But because "parenting" is no longer just a thing people muddle through and hope for the best with. "Parenting" is now a pseudo-science, an endurance test, and the yardstick by which you are judged as a human. People are so terrified that they're doing parenting wrong, that they forget that there is no way to do it right. To compensate for this crippling insecurity, people need their kids to have schedules, and classes, and second languages. They need to be watched, and their friend choices - hell, their everything choices - need to be monitored with clipboardish tenacity. And it seems like ass. 

The only real comparison I can draw is by remembering my own childhood. I feel lucky to have grown up in my family, and being home for a few days reminds me of this. My parents were good parents because they were never afraid to be bad ones.

My mother would pull us out of school on the sole principal that she'd have thought of something far more fun to do that day. My father created epic bedtime stories based around the comedic value of snot. We had picnics on the living room floor, and our house had ants for two months every year.

I once secretly kept a cat in the garage for two weeks, before it escaped into the house on Christmas Day. It was discovered in the kitchen, where it had eaten the unattended turkey, which it then shit on. We ate beans on toast. I don't remember being punished. We gave our parents a lot of grief over the years, but there was always an unspoken rule that if our misdemeanours were genuinely funny, we were basically off the hook.

Our parents made it up as they went along, and I'm sure at certain points during the kerfuffle, four kids under the age of eleven must have seemed like the dumbest idea ever. I asked my mum about this today.

"Well, it was hard. Of course it was hard," she sighs. "But it was so much fun."

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