I have a lot of experience with children. I was a nanny for several years during college and am the oldest of 32 grandchildren. I have been watching other people’s children since I was 12 years old. You have to be especially good when the children aren’t yours- I mean, what makes a child want to listen to you when you aren’t their parent and therefore have little sway over their lives? Through all that, you pick up a lot: a lot of colds and a lot of tricks of the parenting trade. But, as my little sister so often likes to remind me when I give her parenting advice, I, alas, am not a parent. (My favorite come-back for that one is that she’s just an amateur while I was a professional.)
There are things that seriously irk me when I am around certain types of parents:
- children that are allowed to run wild in public
- children who should be perfectly able to eat with a knife and fork but are allowed to smear spaghetti all over themselves with their hands
- children who can recite rap lyrics (especially the really ugly ones) at 4 years old
- parents that tell a sitter, with an honest-to-god straight face, that their 3-year-old (who still wears diapers) WILL poop in the floor
- parents that are so regimented that their child has a schedule broken down into 10-15 min intervals
- parents that will plonk their child in front of the television for hours on end, day after day
- and, worst of all, parents (like my sister) who will tell me I have no idea what I’m talking about because I don’t have children. And then turn around and ask me to babysit.
Please don’t misunderstand me, I know that being a parent is a tough job. And I know that I only have one side of that experience. But there are just things that shouldn’t be so difficult.
Two things happened today to send me on this tirade. To start, we had a large picnic for an athletic organization at the farm today. I always dread these events because my grandfather can’t tell anyone no, he refuses to allow the rest of us to do things like they should be done, and he thinks he has to control everything. He always tells everyone they can use the boats and swim and basically run amuck with no rules or supervision. IT MAKES ME A TOTAL BASKET CASE. Secondly, my uncle needed me to watch my cousin Jake, who is 6. Jake has had basically no discipline in his life: his mother is a complete nut-job and his father is a thrice divorced bachelor who’s mostly confused as to how he’s supposed to raise 3 kids on his own, even part-time. Jake is pretty well-behaved for me because I was his nanny for a year and he knows that I am the furthest thing from a push over (I potty trained him in two weeks after his parents told me it was impossible).
So, the day was doomed from the get-go. Jake is a sweet kid, but he’s been exposed to a lot of things I would never let a 6-year-old be exposed to. There was this lovely conversation today:
Jake: “You know you can get a girl pregnant?”
Me: “Excuse me? Why did you say that?”
Jake: “Cause you can. You can talk her into it. But then she’s got you trapped and she’ll ruin your life.”
Me: “………….. Where did you hear something like that?”
Jake: “From the Heartbreaker.”
I have no idea what the crap the Heartbreaker is, but he kept talking about it all afternoon. What in the hell is someone thinking to let any 6-year-old hear something like that?
After a few hours of avoiding the lake, Jake finally won his argument for me to take him swimming. As soon as we got down to the dock, I knew I was about to be seriously unpopular. There were two young girls standing on the ends of a kayak, in the water, waiting for it to flip them off. There were kids who very obviously couldn’t swim jumping off the dock and barely making it back to the ladder (to be fair, the water is only about 4 ft deep there, but that’s enough to drown in). There were kids swimming WAY out into the middle of the lake. And, most annoying, there were kids stomping around on the islands where the geese nest.
I tried to let it go, I really did. I waited 20 minutes, watching parents completely ignore their children. I watched the mother of the two girls laugh and take pictures of her children sinking a not-cheap kayak. I listened to one man laugh as his kid disappeared around an island, with no life jacket of course, into very deep water. The last straw was when there was a little girl crying because she couldn’t swim and her life jacket was too big and her mother wouldn’t come help her. She just kept saying “Just come over here and get out. I’m not going to get my feet in that mud.”
So, I went and carried her out. She was obviously terrified and sobbing by that point. I had to tell her mother “Don’t let her back in the water if you aren’t willing to get in with her. The sign says ‘Swim at your own risk,’ not ‘Hope someone will save your kid for you.'” Then I had to go and swim the now mostly sunk kayak back to the shore. The little girls were sitting on the bottom of it, which was now on top of the water. I had to tell them that the boats were strictly off-limits to people who couldn’t handle them and that they weren’t to get NEAR the water without a life-jacket. Then I had to get in a canoe and paddle out to where all the little ruffians were tramping all over the wild goose nests and swimming way out-of-bounds and escort them back to the dock with a speech about respecting the rules, which were there for their safety, and how tramping all over wild bird nests was not only destroying an animal’s home, but very disrespectful to the person (me) who has spent so long making sure the geese have places to lay their eggs safely. And I did all this with a 6-year-old in tow.
The thing that makes me the most angry is that it’s not fair for these parents to let me be the bad guy. They all look at me like I’m a fire-breathing harpy because I dared to reprimand their unruly children. But the alternative is to let children drown or destroy my things and my home. And that’s unacceptable.
I HATE being made to feel like the crotchety old person down the street that sprays kids with the water hose if they walk on the grass. Because I’m not that person. All the kids that I’ve nannied or babysat will probably (hopefully) tell you that I am a ton of fun: I like doing activities and going fun places, I am a big fan of special treats, I do the best voices during story time, and I’m not opposed to the odd bit of eating cookies in bed way past bedtime. But I will NOT TOLERATE rude, disrespectful behavior, towards me or anyone else. And you know, it has always worked for me. Every single child I’ve ever watched has tested me at least once. And every single one of them has learned that it’s a lot easier, and a lot more fun, to just do as I ask. I’m not going to raise my voice and I’m not going to argue with an eight year old.
Is it too much to ask that parents do the same with their own children? I mean, if you don’t mind that kind of behavior at your own home, then fine. But don’t bring your child to my farm and let them do whatever they want. I don’t care how much you are paying for the privilege to be there. And why, for the love of god, do people have children that they are so obviously uninterested in investing time and energy in? I mean, being a parent is a huge investment- of time and money and love and energy and gray hairs. Why would you do that to yourself if you’d rather have a beer on the dock while your child drowns or if you’d rather let your child smack you in the face than teach them to respect others?
It baffles me and it makes me sad.
Hopefully that’s out of my system now.