Here’s the thing about other people’s kids: they’re not your own.
I know that seems obvious, but it’s a really important fact to keep in mind as you encounter them throughout your own parenting journey.
Take for example, the infant years. After giving birth to my son, “we” joined a mommy’s group. I bared my breasts and every single insane post-partum emotion with women that I’d just met. Whether or not we’d get along was beside the point; this was a baptism by fire into the world of other people… and their children.
Luckily we all got along pretty well, and it turned out that breeding at the same time was enough to keep us together at least for that first brutal year. We spent endless hours hashing over all that ails us First World peeps: how to get the kid to sleep through the night, break a pacifier habit, wean, and move on to solid food.
For the most part, I quickly learned that what worked for others seldom applied to mine. I took comfort, however, in discovering this basic fact of life: Everyone struggles. And nobody sleeps. This remains true probably until the end of time.
Still, when it came time for me to watch someone else’s baby, I couldn’t help but feel frustrated when I found that what worked for my kid seldom applied to others. The toddler years were no different — in fact, they tended to be a whole lot worse. This is when discipline came into play, and it’s sort of amazing how expressions like, “use your inside voice,” and “please stop hitting my kid on the head with that wood block,” are easily misinterpreted by someone else’s kid. I mean, seriously, no comprende at all.
This was around the time when I began to loathe the term, “parenting.” Activating a noun is never a good idea. A million years ago, there was like one or two books on how to raise kids (thank you, Dr. Spock!); now there millions of books cashing in on the billion dollar parenting industry. And none of them tell you that all bets are off in the face of peer pressure — and that applies to not just your child, but also to you.
Moving into the elementary school years, other people’s kids often were the bane of my existence. Scary Mommy put it best in her blog, “50 Ways Other People’s Kids Suck.” From giving your kid the flu before family vacations, to teaching your child bad words that even you don’t use (not so easy in my household), and making a mess that they refuse to cleanup, to the parties they have where they don’t invite your precious baby, and the havoc they wreak on your house but would never dare to in their own home, there are lots of ways you can resent other children horribly.
Middle school and high school take the children on a different kind of ride; friends become enemies in a blink, and then all established dynamics are abruptly thrown wildly off-kilter. Of course us parents have already strapped into the seat right beside our kids, so we all go flying up and down on that evil hormonally charged roller coaster (theirs and our own) as the frenemy thing flails us around ’til we all have emotional whiplash.
I’m not going to lie here; there have been times I’ve flipped off children behind their backs, cursed out a kid to my husband, and held several uncomfortable pow-wows with parents who are equally as sure that my kid is the problem.
Yeah, other people’s kids often do suck… but then again, they are also the sweet little faces that fill your photo albums alongside your child. Before you know it, you have as many pictures of them as you do your own.
And then one day, you open your Facebook page, and those kids that you’ve served mac ‘n cheese to, cleaned their scrapes and bumps, picked up their dirty socks, and maybe even changed their stanky diaper are now wearing graduation caps and gowns. You suddenly recognize that you are feeling a swell of pride in knowing this person who is now an actual adult, moving into the world with grace and a giant grin on his or her face.
Then you shed a tear (or two, or six), because you realize that child is someone you’ve actually parented from time to time, and you are feelin’ the love.
For me, the kids that are popping up in my Facebook feed are the older siblings of my children’s friends, and so there is a window, which I know will close quickly. But I have these moments of other window closings all the time…
Take for example this past weekend. Our BBFs came to LA to attend a wedding with their two girls that are the same age as my pair. The kids always ditch us adults, and being that they are in the tween/teen scene, they spend most of their time together engulfed in a cone of silence.
Sunday night my BBF’s kids emerged from their cocoon like little butterflies, all dolled up for the wedding. The eldest took my breath away — literally. One second ago she was the newest member of our mommy group, then she was a funny toddler who liked to play with my son in his crib, then a beach baby, an amusement park lover, and now suddenly… a beautiful young woman in a full length gown and towering heels, with the perfect up-do and makeup to complete the look.
All I could think was, “All grown up.” And also: “How the hell does she walk in those shoes?”
Seeing my BBF’s child like that made me mentally strap into my own emotional roller coaster — it was almost too hard to look at her oh-so-adult deal.
Later that night, after she’d returned from the wedding and decided to crash in my daughter’s room, I heard her call for me. Her own mom was sleeping in our guest bedroom, which is physically outside of our main house (don’t ask). She was feeling sick, and now, with the makeup scrubbed from her face, hair down, pink PJ’s on, she looked so small. So young.
I sat with her in the bathroom for a long while, getting her water, medicine, and trying to distract her with jokes, but nothing seemed to help. Finally, she said, “Can you get my mom?”
Of course my friend and her husband jolted awake, even before I really said anything. Intuition does that to you sometimes.
As I watched my BBF stroke her daughter’s hair, speaking to her softly and leading her back out to go to sleep, I saw the child physically relax into a sleepy ball. In that moment, I felt a flood of relief in knowing all was well — I needed her mommy, too, to make sure it would be all right for a kid I love like my own.
So if you see me taking a few extra snaps of your child here and there, just know that damnit, it really does take a village. And these are the village people — both yours and mine. So pass the headdress, and I’ll join you in a tribal celebration of your precious baby any time.
And now for a little levity, I bring you Louis C.K. on Other People’s Children: