I am as bewildered as anyone else to have discovered that I am suddenly Good With Children. I never used to be, but somewhere along life’s way my body chemistry mutated and all of a sudden they flock to me.
When did this happen?
Like most people, I had a pretty rough time in middle school. I was overweight and poor, I wore glasses and hand-me-down plaid bell-bottoms (in 1986). I was smart, but I hated the other kids in school so much that I made it a practice to skip every Friday, which led to me receiving my first and only D — in art. Hell, I probably would have gotten a low grade anyway — I suck at drawing. But it was mostly because we did weekly projects that were always handed in on Fridays, and I always skipped Fridays, so I never finished any projects.
I don’t care. It was worth it. Those were my mental health days. Children in middle school need mental health days more than anyone.
So throughout my adulthood I have looked back on those years and remembered how much I hated other kids at that age and drawn the conclusion that I still did. Babies were fine (who doesn’t love babies?) and toddlers were ok — although I always stood around awkwardly, afraid to touch or pick them up — but once they reached the Age of Unreason (puberty) I wanted nothing to do with them.
One of my major reservations about the idea of having a kid has always been that some day… some day… the kid would have to be a 7th and then an 8th grader. And I’d hate to be responsible for another kid having to go through that. Also, I want to be nowhere near that. Yeeks. Gives me hives just thinking about it.
Here I am, stage managing this play with all these kids who are in elementary school and middle school and high school, and I am shocked, shocked to discover that I am suddenly Good With Kids.
Without even trying, they love me. They come up and sit on my lap (the little ones, I mean), throng around me after rehearsal, and tell me their funny stories.
I’m just being grown up old me, and they love me. What the hell happened here?
Of course, I love it. Desperately. It is somehow stitching me back up inside where I used to hold all my old wounds from puberty. Suddenly this age group finds me funny and nice, and I’m blown away.
I think I know what’s going on. I think I’ve become the crazy aunt.
When I was a kid, I always had somebody — a teacher, a family friend, an aunt, whatever — who was a cool, funny grownup. Someone who broke the rules, and didn’t tell me what — or how — to be. Who seemed gently amused and indulgent about the whole charade of adolescence. Who somehow held out the promise that there was something better waiting for me, that adulthood was good, and fun, and worth the crap I had to put up with as a kid.
As Anne Lamott wrote about teenagers in her latest book, Plan B, “they need adults who have stayed alive and vital, adults they wouldn’t mind growing up to be.”
My question is this: Is it my non-Mom status that makes me this groovy grownup to them? And would having a child of my own cause me to automatically forfeit this status? Because I like this place I’m in, and I don’t want to give it up.
I’m kind of the good cop of grownups to them, and I’m finding it very rewarding.