Other People’s Kids

“All unattended children will be given espresso and a free puppy.”

   …Sign in a Mill Valley shop window

I like the owner’s sense of humor and I sympathize. It’s a tiny store with narrow aisles and plenty of kids roaming among the knick-knacks.   In the past, I’ve avoided some stores entirely until the kids went home.

It’s not the kids’ fault.  They’re doing what comes naturally and that includes testing all the rules and wandering away from their parents.  They bump into things.  They pick up breakables.  And if their parents look away for one minute, they’ll even leave the store with the goods.  That’s how kids behave.

I was always the person annoyed by screaming babies on airplanes.  I knew they couldn’t help it, but since I’d already raised mine, I figured I deserved a break, so, whenever possible, I moved to a quieter place on the plane. 

I like kids, but I was never anybody’s Universal Mama.  I didn’t try to befriend every child I met and didn’t rush to hold every new baby.  I loved raising my daughter, enjoyed it more than anything else I’ve done, but after she took her adult steps into the world, I was content settling back into my own life.

A few years ago I was sitting in the boarding area at San Francisco airport with a baby screaming nearby and parents who didn’t seem able to comfort her.  Without warning, something inside me shifted.  My first thought wasn’t the usual I hope they don’t sit near me.  It was why aren’t those parents taking better care of that poor little baby?

This small town I live in is full of children.  Every other person in the checkout line seems to be attached to a stroller.  One day I found myself making direct eye contact with a spiky-haired toddler with a messy face.  I don’t know what manner of sticky cookie had attacked him while his mommy shopped, but he grinned at me through the gook and I grinned right back and felt a pang when he left the market.

Suddenly all babies looked cute.  Even the homely ones.  When I mentioned this odd development to my friend, Sueann, she smiled and nodded.  She asked, “Are you just now starting to follow strollers?  John and I have been doing that for years.”  She said it has something to do with getting to be grandparent age.  Nope, I said, it couldn’t be that because there’s not a hint of a grandchild in my future.  In fact, the odds are definitely against that happening.  “Doesn’t matter,” she said.

One day you’re minding your own business, steering clear of screaming kids,  and all of a sudden every small creature seems precious.  Maybe the universe is preparing a whole bunch of us for on-call nurturing duty because a new batch of vulnerable beings is arriving every day.  And nature has been known to turn unusual species into willing caretakers, so that babies and puppies and kittens will all find care when they need it.

Ó By Anita Garner

3 thoughts on “Other People’s Kids”

  1. In three weeks I turn fifty and in two weeks, my first child turns one. so at the point when many are grandparents, i’m now a parent and as such i will spend the rest of my life in cross-hairs of this subject. it is still too soon to know what it all means, but i already experience the pride and exhaustion that attends this part of life. I just need to explore my recently received invitation to the AARP and see what programs they may have for new parents.

  2. I will be 49 next week and my son will be 13 in December. I wanted to be the mom that all kids wanted to come to our house. Now I dread it when one wants to come over. Forget several. I am just happy to get the blog automatically so I don’t have to make the time to look for it. Thanks Hammy!

  3. I can relate to everything you have to say and I’m sure many others can as well. One time someone was trying to insult me and he said, “the only child you like is your own” and I had to say, “and what is your point?” I am also finding at this stage of my life that I have some warm fuzzy feelings for the little Moon Units.

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