He's just not that into it
I met my friend Anne from high school today at a farm close to where we grew up. Anne was a year behind me in school but we worked together at a children’s museum and shared a love of Weezer-before-they-were-famous (and after).**
We only had an hour to spend together between when she could arrive (because of the kids) and I had to leave (because of Wally). Back in high school a rushed visit meant meeting after dinner and getting home before the town curfew of 1 am. This time we talked as fast as possible, in between treasure hunt questions, Wally’s disappearing acts (I am now accustomed to being greeted by strangers with a relieved “There’s your mommy”), requests for water and the like.
Anne asked if I can ever “get out on my own” while I’m visiting. I said not really, except during Wally’s nap and I'm in the middle of several freelance projects now so I use the time to write.
“Can’t your parents watch him for a while?” she asked innocently, as Wally stuck his hands in the chicken cage, gave a goat a kiss on the mouth, climbed up to the top rung of the sheep pen, and jumped on the roped-off hay ride wagon. Within less than a minute she had answered the question herself. Anne had a baby on her hip, a scared-four-year old wandering behind her, and was managing to push along a double stroller.
I made the mistake of saying how calm and well-behaved the girls were and immediately apologized. I hate when people do that, observe a child’s behavior for two minutes and instantly generalize it. We laughed over that tendency people have to collect a little data and, as Anne said, feel they’ve “nailed it.”
“He doesn’t like apple juice.” "She's so easy on long trips." “I guess he’s not interested in animals anymore.” Just because he doesn’t want apple juice right now doesn’t necessarily mean he doesn’t like it. Aren't there certain things you like that you don't feel like consuming right now?
Plus we can't always assume that a reaction is related to the variable we're focused on. Maybe a boy who loves cows and begged to see them for a week is crying even though he's right there in the barn with all the nice cows. Yes he does like cows--he still does-- but does that mean that when he's in bovine proximity nothing else can bother him at all? Like he can’t have a stomach ache, or be tired from traveling all week, or have really wanted to ride on that hay ride?
There seems to be this propensity for immediately classifying children and expecting consistent behavior. We don't do it with adults in quite the same way. They're not watching the World Series – they must hate sports. He wants to see Toy Story III--he's obsessed with Pixar. We don’t usually go from one incident to global proclamation. But with children we often do, refusing to let them be complex, capricious, impulsive, extreme in their emotions--all things we know they are.
Maybe it’s because they’re such mysterious creatures, seeming to be half human and half spirit, driven by unseen forces. Forces that infuriate--we came all this way for them to have fun and they're just not that into it--and ones that amuse--like the way they get the biggest kick out of the simple orange house cat sleeping in the barn, the way they shriek with delight when it jumps up to a higher haystack, eager to get away from their overzealous petting.
**(We went to see them open for Lush at Axis on Lansdowne Street in the summer of 1994. When we walked up to them afterward to buy t-shirts, they asked how we had heard of them, a question that by September surely wouldn’t have been posed to Tibetan monk.)