The great divide

in AdLib Mom by

I cringe when I hear myself say: “If you don’t have kids, you just don’t get it.”

Yes, it’s true: non-parents don’t get it. They call you whining about how tired they are, how hectic their schedules are, how they never have time for themselves. They tell you you “need a break” and think a late-night party is the kind of thing that will do just the trick. They show up at your house and get your kids wild-eyed and sugar-high and then leave you in the bedtime fray.

Sometimes they frustrate you to the point where you want to tell them how self-absorbed they are, how they just don’t know, they just won’t know, they just can’t possibly know how insignificant their lives are until they have kids.

But hold on a second: who do you think you are, parent? What gives you the right to be so smug?

How can you expect someone who has never experienced this major, irrevocable change to “just get it”? And, if you put it into perspective, why should they have to?

Can’t you see I’m a VIP?

For me, it started when I was pregnant. Swollen with child, riding a packed Vancouver Skytrain in the stinking summer heat, I was appalled that no one would offer me their seat. The only ones who ever did were older East Indian women who themselves had three or four kids in tow, or who clearly had once been where I was. It made me venomous to see 30-something men in business suits glance at my belly and then quickly avert their eyes, hiding behind the music inside their headphones.

Non-parent strangers probably don’t even like your kids one bit.

Because there was nothing, in my eyes, that could have been more important than the life I was housing. When you have children, your entire world revolves around them. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the rest of the world doesn’t and that non-parent strangers probably don’t even like your kids one bit.

I forget how kid’s birthday parties felt like circling in Limbo in Dante’s Inferno and how annoying it was when parents blathered on about their kid’s “advanced vocabulary” or “tremendous hand-eye coordination.” I forget about wanting to punch the eight year old sitting behind me during the Mr. Bean movie in 1997. I forget about the time I cried and gagged when my sister tried to show me the contents of her baby’s diaper.

I judged parents whose kids threw tantrums, ran amok in restaurants and shouted all the time. Now I see it’s not so cut and dry.

Empathy, not apathy

Sure, I’d love some of my friends to show up at 3 o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon with a casserole, make me a sandwich and take my kids outside for 20 minutes while I do laundry/take the garbage out/change milk and pee-stained sheets/lie prone on the kitchen floor and imagine I am wearing eyeliner and smoking at an outdoor cafe in Paris.

But how can I expect this when suddenly I’ve become so high and mighty, acting more parent to them than friend?

Next time my baby pees on someone, I will at least offer a hand-towel.

I need to stop acting like my Secret Parent’s Club is so obviously the best place to be on earth and their lives have such little meaning. I need to learn to listen, not half-listen. I need to shut up about my kids for a minute and ask them about their sexcapades and drunken shenanigans. I need to make them feel welcome amidst the craziness.

Next time they complain they’re wiped I will not balk. Next time my baby pees on someone, instead of saying, “Oh don’t worry, it’s just pee” I will at least offer a hand-towel.

Life without diversity is a drag. I love the idea of group gatherings of old and young and single and partnered and those with children and those without. I can’t hide behind my parent friends forever. And the childless: they need a good dose of reality every now and then, too.

Because strangers do not even have to like your kids

Sometimes, though, I have to admit — segregation can be a godsend. There was a place called Little Nest in our old ‘hood in Vancouver, a grown-up cafe, with wicked coffee and farm-fresh brunch. It didn’t cater to kids; there were no chicken nuggets and french fries or blaring cartoon characters in sight. It catered to people with kids. It was packed with families and it was loud but oh was it ever relaxing to not have to worry that we might be disturbing someone.

If my kid is kicking the table while singing a song about, say, bums and willies … please find some empathy.

Until there’s a place like this in St. John’s (any wealthy benefactors out there like to sponsor me? I’ll open one), we’ll have to learn to get along, and share some of the same daytime haunts. So if my kid is kicking the underside of the table while singing a song about, say, bums and willies, and I look mortified, please find some empathy. It’s not as simple as just asking him to stop or peaceably removing him from the premises.

But if I’m oblivious to you tearing your hair out over your thesis as I marvel at my kid’s innate sense of rhythm and clap along gleefully — my sincerest apologies. Non-parents: sometimes we don’t “get it” either.