The Tricks I Use to Determine if Other Parents Are Nuts
Photos by Jef With One F
Like most Houstonians I woke up over the weekend elated to see that Mr. Sun had been kicked hard in his thermonuclear nutsack by the first true cold front of autumn. For the first time in months I could venture outside without wondering if I was in one of those horror movies where the ending reveals you were in Hell all along. Elated, I decided to take a walk with my daughter to Willowlake Park so my wife could study without hearing the Powerpuff Girls fighting crime and advocating communism muffled in the next room.
It really was a gorgeous weekend. The rain cooled things down, and while it did make hauling a wagon filled with everything the little empress deemed necessary for a two- hour jaunt as well as her own precious self a little bit more exercise than one out-of-shape writer was counting on, I was just knocked out by weather and sheer happiness of not being bathed in hateful radioactive fire.
We fed ducks and snapping turtles a stale baguette, explored some woods, sat and read Snow White under a tree, and ate a snack in a gazebo that has happy yet vaguely ominous graffiti about a sun god drawn in chalk on its floor. I was just about to suggest another promenade around the jogging trail to the Kid With One F when a young girl of the same age and her mom walked by.
The Kid is fearless when it comes to other children. She's shy around adults, and has been taught never to go anywhere with a stranger unless it involves a blue police box. With other children, she immediately asks if it is OK if she goes say hi, and I always tell her it is.
Though I encourage her to be open and friendly with other kids, I am always a little leery of just walking up and introducing myself to the corresponding child's parent. Number one, I always want to give the kid a little room to start a conversation that doesn't involve me, and I detest formal rituals when meeting strangers. To me kids making friends should basically involve walking up and finding something ridiculous to do together while the parents look on.
Eventually, though, you have to interact with the other adults, and this can be problematic because lots of parents are nuts. They don't check if you have any screws loose before they let you out of the hospital with a baby. Hell, they don't even check if you've installed the car seat right and that annoys me because they totally told me they would and I practiced with that thing like a NASCAR pit mechanic. So I always use a set of verbal tricks to establish whether or not I need to make excuses to leave.
The first thing I do is make sure I mention my wife, my hardworking, beautiful, wonderful wife as soon as possible. This is for two reasons. The first is that nothing is more annoying to me than to meet someone who thinks that having a penis capable of producing a child also makes me incapable of taking care of said child. You find a lot of folks holding onto outdated gender roles when you're a man alone with a kid, and I don't need the little ninja picking up any more of that than necessary.
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The second is because I always like to establish myself as off the market as soon as possible. Not that I'm so adorable that women go all Axe-commercial in my presence, but we all grew up on blended family TV and movies. That sort of thing is always in the air.
The next thing I'm usually keen to drop in a conversation is a hot-button parent issue, but to do so in a way that is both personal and non-advocate. Having a kid turns a lot of people into fundamentalists about aspects of birth and child-rearing that leaves them intractable to other viewpoints. I don't mean coming around to other viewpoints, but being completely unable to allow other viewpoints to exist without open scorn.
Usually I mention my wife's C-section. Fond as I am of the face and blond curls that adorn it, my daughter has a really large head. We can both wear the same hat, and underneath my own brown locks is a skull worthy of Bonk. Basically my daughter was born the same way that rescue crews remove an obese person from a house with a small door during an emergency.
Some people find the idea of C-sections cheating. Real birth only counts through the vagina, and the more competitive of parents I find insist that anything less than a 100 percent natural, no-drug experience is the "right way." If you mention a C-section, or a circumcision, or breast-feeding and receive only polite and reasonable questions and comments in response, you're onto a good start. If the conversation takes a turn where it sounds like a Jehovah's Witness spiel mixed with a mafia protection racket tone, then you've probably found a nut bar.
Speaking of religion, I am always put off by the question, "So where do you go to church" when it comes out of the blue like a comment about the weather. There's nothing wrong with church, as far as I know, but folks that just assume that you are a regular churchgoer tend to do a lot of assuming on other things. Those assumptions, I find, usually end up with me being accused of being immoral on many tenuous grounds.
Luckily, the mother of my daughter's brief Sunday playmate tripped none of those wires. She was a lovely girl content to walk with me behind out kids passing the time.
"Do you live near," I asked.
"About three blocks down in a third floor apartment," she replied. "It makes me feel safer as a single mom being that high up?"
"Sensible," I replied.
"Plus, you know, it's a good part of a zombie plan," she added a little hesitantly.
I paused, looked at her, and nodded my approval. There's the crazy you avoid, and the crazy you high-five over. Never waste the latter.
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