I have what can best be described as an amibivalent attitude towards children. I do not, as I have been accused of before, hate children. There are many children I've met in my life who are cool kids and I've enjoyed hanging out with them. My problem isn't so much with individual children as it is kids in general. Babies freak me out because they're so helpless and unable to communicate. I mean, they cry and you have absolutely no reason WHY. And they're, you know, pretty breakable -- another check mark in the "freaky" column. Toddlers and pre-school aged kids can be a little better. They can at least speak (although sometimes their speech borders on gibberish which can be incredibly frustrating). My issues with kids this age is that screaming and sticky thing that they often have going for them. I hate walking through a store or sitting in a restaurant hoping to enjoy a pleasant conversation with a friend only to have some child screaming at the top of its lungs in the next aisle or at the neighboring table. It's like a dagger through my soul that sound. Older kids are a bit cooler although they can often be a bit on the squirrelly side. I mean, why can't they focus?!? I think I just find kids so baffling and that makes me uncomfortable. You can't joke around with kids the way you can with teenagers and adults. You can't talk to them at the same level. They're just such a challenge -- and sometimes a chore!
When I was in the process of moving into my house, I found out that the next door neighbors had an 8-year-old daughter. My friend George (who is the president of the "Mel Hates Kids" Information Society, having one night over our second or third bottle of wine turned to me and said, "I've never known a woman who hates kids the way you do") found this hysterical and had visions of me taking this child under my wings and turning her into my protegee. He said, "I can see it now. I'll come over one afternoon to find the two of you on the patio, reading a book, sipping martinis. She'll have glasses on and be dressed in a black turtleneck with her hair up in a bun. That poor kid!" I laughed even harder when I caught my first glance of the kid to see that she already had the glasses. Over the course of the week when I was moving carloads of boxes in at night after work, she would ride up and down the street on her bike, clearly watching and taking all this activity in. I dubbed her "Harriet the Spy" since she looked quite a bit like the heroine that adorned the cover of what was one of my favorite books as a child.
A week or so after I'd moved in, the doorbell rang one evening. I opened it to find Harriet standing there asking if she could come over and visit. She spent about 20 minutes or so that evening, sitting on the couch, quizzing me on my favorite doughnut flavor, and chatting away. Through our conversation, I gleaned that the people next door were her grandparents and she lived with them. She has a younger sister who lives with their mom elsewhere here in town. Her sister is often next door as well and has joined Harriet on several visits.
For the most part, I do enjoy Harriet's visits although there are times when it's kind of a challenge since Harriet really doesn't seem to have a lot of boundaries. She has no qualms with walking around my house and opening closets or cupboards to see what's inside. She was mystified to find that an adult would buy Rice Krispie Treats since "those are for kids!" She's astounded by things like having both a sliding glass door to my patio and a second, regular door. She's fascinated by the automatic garage door opener. She has that I guess you'd call it charming childlike ignorance. Spotting the picture I keep on my desk of me and Barack Obama (more on that in another post), she pointed and said, "Is that your husband?" I had to bite my tongue to keep from saying, "Have you seen that guy around? What do you think?" I then had to explain to her who it was, although she was on to another object of fascination before I'd even finished the sentence -- I think it was how lovely and soft the carpet is in my den. Once when I sent her on her way because I was supposed to go meet George, she wanted to know why she couldn't go, too. Saying that we had "grown-up work" to do (meaning we were getting together to drink a couple bottles of wine, eat some cheese, and watch an old movie), she announced she liked "grown-up work" and wanted to come. It took a lot of firm refusals to get her to give up on that idea.
Harriet tries my patience at times and yet I can't help but enjoy her company. There's something charming about seeing your world through the eyes of a child. It IS cool that I have 2 patio doors. The automatic garage door opener IS fun. And bless her heart for thinking I could be married to a man as handsome as Barack Obama. Maybe, just maybe, Harriet may be the thing that makes me stop cringing at the sight of children and actually being open to the possibility that they're pretty cool little people.