I’ve noticed something strange when I meet new people recently.
When I used to tell people I was an actor/writer, they would look reasonably interested. Despite the fact that I was unemployed, had had very little success, was depressed and/or constantly struggling with eating disorders (or maybe because of this), people seemed to find a strange glamour, or at least slight interest, to me when I described myself as an actor/writer. And this was even after assuring them I had never been on ‘Home and Away’. Not to brag, but a boy I met at an online dating site, who was gainfully (and happily) employed as a teacher decided, after 3 dates with me, to chuck it all in and audition for NIDA. There’s a power and fascination to the ‘following-your-dream’ trope, no matter how dreadfully or unsuccessfully you are following that elusive dream.
However, now when people ask me what I do for a living and I say kindergarten teacher, people’s eyes tend to glaze over. There are no follow-up questions. If I attempt to speak about something amusing, or interesting, that happened at school, I look back at my dinner companions and find them staring at their plates, the wall, the floor, the door, calculating how long exactly before they can make their excuses and get away from the Woman Who Won’t Stop Talking About (Her) Children.
A. tells me the problem is that I don’t know how to filter between interesting/funny/horrific stories that hold their own and ‘Cute Kid Did Cute Thing.’ Stories in the latter category are as if I attempted to describe to you a video in which a child makes a hilarious expression after eating a lemon. Sure, it may be hilarious, but it kind of loses something in the telling.
My problem is that I find the children all-consumingly fascinating. It’s not just because they’re adorable (though, believe me, they are freaking adorable), and it’s not just that they smell good (but, Good God they smell good – sure the poop stinks, but the tops of their heads? it’s like the poop of angels and unicorns and fairies, which is to say THERE IS NOTHING ELSE ON EARTH THAT SMELLS THAT GOOD) and it’s not just that I’m probably the teensiest, tiniest, weeniest bit clucky myself (KEEP IT ON THE DOWN LOW PEOPLE, I HAVE A REPUTATION TO UPHOLD AND AM NOT READY TO GIVE UP MY STUNTED, RESPONSIBILITY-FREE ADULTHOOD JUST YET). Those things help, as do the constant cuddles, and the enthusiastic way they great you in the morning (why don’t we all greet each other by yelping with joy and then throwing our arms around the legs of our friend and not letting them in the door because we’re JUST SO DARN PLEASED TO SEE THEM?) and the fact that they think I’m a combination of cool/hilarious/talented/highly-skilled at everything as well as all-knowing and all-seeing and all-powerful.
But aside from all of that nice, fun, gooey, cutesy, sweet stuff, I find being around the children so interesting that I can’t help running off my mouth at dinner parties, even when I can see everyone else checking their watches. I’ve tried to break it down for you.
1) At the risk of sounding like an overly proud first-time mother, watching them learn every day and make little discoveries is both funny and fascinating. I’m not trying to convince you that my kids are any more special than any other group of kids – they’re not baby geniuses and they’re just doing what they’re programmed to do. But, I think it’s almost like watching a long-form documentary called ‘The Origin of Adults’. We all had to go through this at some point. We all had to learn how to walk, to speak, to eat, to make little hand movements, to make big body movements. We all went about it in our own idiosyncratic ways, we all had our own little stories and challenges. And let me tell you, all of this was much harder than you think it is now. It’s amazing we got here at all. We should all feel a lot more impressive for being able to thread a bead on a necklace. Or, open a yoghurt container. Or cross our arm across our body in a ‘Saturday Night Fever’ dance move. You are skilled, Adult. Never forget it (even if you’ve forgotten how you ended up getting there).
2) Watching them explore the world around them is hilarious. Adults spend most of their lives trying to look like they’ve seen it all, and done it all. If they don’t know how to use a thing, they will ask a trusted someone, who is guaranteed not to laugh at them, in private, in hushed tones, whilst hiding their face in shame. Or they’ll google it, which, I guess is kind of the same thing. Kids, however, are just like, ‘What is this thing? Will I shake it? Cuddle it? Scrunch it up? Push it off the table? Should I put it in my mouth? Or my ear? My nose? Perhaps all at once? Is that possible?’ If they’ve decided something goes in their mouth, then there is no stopping them, and, what’s more, they don’t care who sees them! That towel/key/plastic strawberry/misshapen and dirty rock is GOING IN THEIR MOUTH and they’ll very happily show you the results. It means they come up with a variety of inventive new uses for toys, as well as making toys out of previously dull objects and creating much more fun for all involved.
3) Kids are basically all emotion all day long. They swing from one pendulum extreme to another with barely a breath in between. It is sometimes exhausting to be in the middle of this kind of behaviour. But, from the sidelines, it can be highly educational. Most adults have learnt to control their emotions and to shape their behaviour so that it’s socially acceptable. So, even if they are feeling like bawling their eyes out on the U-Bahn because someone yelled at them in German, and they kind of understood it, and they kind of didn’t, and that kind of made it worse ’cause then they started filling in the gaps with the worst things they could think of (for example), they don’t do it and make everyone else in the carriage feel uncomfortable, they go to the cinema, buy a ticket for the saddest movie they can find and then cry silently in the dark for 2 hours over some stale popcorn and flat, fake Diet Coke. But, kids! Oh, the sweet, joyful honesty of the expression of children’s emotions! Kid doesn’t like another kid? Unliked kid gets pushed. Kid likes another kid? Kid kisses other kid. Kid stretches favourite elastic necklace until the elastic snaps and the cheap beads explode all over the room? Kid cries in horror at surprising unfairness of the world. I have a theory that the emotions we feel as adults are no more complex or interesting than the ones the kids feel every day, it’s just we dress them up more fancy. We come up with fancier explanations for what we’re feeling, and fancier reasons for why we’re feeling that way, and often do the fanciest of fancy, self-defeating, roundabout behaviours to attempt to address said feelings in socially acceptable ways, but in the end the feelings are the same. Of course, we (usually) factor in complicated, abstract things like empathy (‘I push kid, kid is hurt, kid cries = not good’) and reason (‘I push kid, kid is hurt, kid cries, kid tells mum, kid’s mum tells my mum, I get in trouble = not good’) and modify our behaviour accordingly. I spend most of my day attempting to convince the children to deal with their emotions in different ways, for social reasons or for empathy/reason reasons but I still can’t help enjoying it when they do things the way they want to do them (as long as it doesn’t involve them killing each other). Kid wants toy train another kid is playing with. So, kid takes train. I can see the logic.
4) Their enthusiasm for very basic things is awesome. Today, a kid got excited because I cut up his potato with a spoon in front of him. The amazed sounds he made would have made you think I had cut a woman in half and then put her back together. Yes, ok, so life is new to them, and so it’s easy to get excited by banal things, and, sure it could also be seen as exhausting or boring, but, no. No, I choose ‘awesome’. It’s awesome. There’s nothing like someone getting excited by you cutting up their potato in front of them to make you think, ‘You know what? You’re right. Potatoes are awesome. Spoons are awesome. Life is ok.’ And, no, I’m not saying there aren’t terrible things happening in the world, and, no, I’m not forgetting my privilege to live in a safe, happy city, or the privilege of the kids I’m working with to have spoons and potatoes, but, still. I think we could all stand to occasionally take a moment out from all the scary stuff to acknowledge how cool it is that you can make big things smaller by using a metal implement with no sharp edges and some gently applied force. Besides, kids get excited about silly, little things that adults get excited about every day, but no-one tells the adults they’re boring or exhausting or stupid, do they? Trains, new dresses, going on holidays, bicycles, babies, cake, ice-cream, Minions… these are just a few of the things the kids got excited about over the past week and which regularly grace the status updates of my fully-grown, highly intelligent and extremely classy Facebook friends.
I think, in the end, I don’t see the children as wild animals, or as needy, greedy crying machines, or as stupid humans, I just see them as what they are. Tiny people who haven’t grown up yet. It’s a weird thing to try and explain. But I often see them playing or talking or laughing or just generally hanging out and an expression will cross their face and you’ll think, ‘Yes. Yes, I can completely see what you’ll be like in 20 years time, because you’ll be exactly the same. You’re already exactly who you are.’