I’ve been around kids in some capacity for most of my life, including being a big sister, an involved cousin, a tutor, a nanny, and a person who does not exist in a self-made bubble where all human life begins at 18. I like kids (sometimes), but Jesus Christ sometimes they just suck. They say rude things, are poorly behaved, throw gross things at me, and sometime are just big fucking nerds who don’t even know about anything cool in the world.
When kids act poorly in public spaces, I think everyone sort of freezes up and doesn’t know how to deal. Certainly, there’s a lot of factors that would affect the situation–if the parents are trying to discipline the kid, being flippant, or worse, loving their little terrorist’s antics. There are cultures that collectively parent and have no trouble stepping in if someone’s kid is, say, pants-ing people left and right, but we prefer to watch disapprovingly, even when a kid is desperately in need of discipline.
Being charged with disciplining other people’s kids can be fraught and uncomfortable, because unlike seeing a total stranger, you do have some leeway. During my time nannying/teaching English to an adorable three-year-old from Taiwan name Lily, I was supposed to keep her in line. I absolutely adored Lily–she had learned English mostly from watching American TV, and would quote TV catchphrases all the time. Because I am a narcissist, I found it especially endearing that she quickly started mimicking my phrases and mannerisms, so this beautiful three-year-old would slump around saying things like “Um, I don’t know. Things are okay, I guess,” or “I really need you to not be such a w-a-n-g about communicating,” after hearing me say that to my boyfriend over the phone. I fell in love with her.
But Lily was trouble. She didn’t know the first thing about sharing, and would run up to kids in the park and hit them to try to steal their toys. When it would come time for me to leave, she would fly into screaming rages and pound her adorable little fists right into my ovaries, which she could reach when standing on tip toe. It was one thing when her mom was around, who seemed to be very over her head but would attempt to drag Lily off of me or a child she accosted, but it was clear Lily was running the show. When she and I were alone, I would calmly say “Why are you hitting me, Lily?” which sometimes disarmed her and sometimes led her to hit harder–it was a crap shoot. Had she been my own kid, I probably would have put her in a chair and talked to her sternly, but I never felt entirely comfortable with that.
The most aggressive disciplining I ever managed involved pulling her off a much bigger kid at the park, grabbing our stuff, and carrying her kicking and screaming out of the park saying “If you hit people, we have to leave the park. You can’t hit your friends.” She said “I don’t like anyone and they aren’t my friends!” My heart melted. We walked around for an hour until she calmed down, and I said “Lily, are you sorry that you hit that boy?” She said “Yes, because we had to leave the park.” Oh well. She’s not my kid, and I was 20. I did my best.
Things tend to get dicier when you’re not charged with the care of children who are being fucking idiots in public. With Lily and the other children I’ve babysat, if they punch someone, it’s on you to tell them to stop. But it gets much more complicated when you’re not in charge, such as when the parent is present or bafflingly, not particularly interested in reigning in their horrifying child. The inability to discipline kids who are for whatever reason being unsupervised psychopaths causes me to stew with fantasies of punching everyone in the room.
Just last week, I was sitting on the subway heading home to a glass of wine and a chocolate bar after one of those days where New York City keeps on shitting on me but I love it because of Stockholm Syndrome. I was slumped in my subway seat and trying to zone out the world for the 35 minutes by reading my book (what’s a cool book? Is Gone Girl still a thing? Pretend I was reading Gone Girl) when someone’s shitty preteen parked himself next to me and pulled out a loud gaming mechanism. I cannot believe this but I honestly am too old to properly know what those are called. It’s the thing the youths play their games on–like a giant Tamagatchi. Of all the empty seats on the subway, this pubescent nutcase chose to sit down next to me and play with the volume all the way up. In reality, I sat there fuming, but dream with me as I provide an alternate ending:
I asked him to turn it down–as if I’d ever be so bold in real life–and when he refused, I launched into a tirade about how much his life sucks and that if his only joy in life is pissing off a hardworking young woman in the prime of her life, then he likely will never know the feeling of a lover beside him. Then, using my considerable yet birdlike strength, I ripped his gaming apparatus from his hand, threw it to the floor, and stomped on it, breaking it into thousands of tiny pieces. I sneered “That’s why you can’t have nice things” as he broke into sobs, and I smiled like the bisexual maniac villain in all movies (I’m here to steal your husband, wife, and freedom).
In this case, there were no parents around to handle things, and that kid was a loud prick because nobody told him not to be. But five years ago (yes, this next one has stuck with me), a horrible demon child was openly rude to me in front of his parents, who not only said nothing, but seemed to enjoy it.
I was celebrating a Jewish holiday with my family when a precocious eight-year-old boy loudly called me out in front of everyone around the table for not saying the Hebrew prayers. His parents, two war criminals, I imagine, looked at me questioningly, instead of telling their kid to shut up. I replied that I didn’t know the prayers–respectfully and quietly. I wasn’t trying to interrupt our meal to talk about my inadequate Jewish education, although everyone had stopped doing whatever Jewish crap we were doing to watch this uncomfortable exchange unfold. He looked me dead in the eye and said “Well, you should.” His parents beamed with pride. Everyone shifted uncomfortably for a long pause before returning to the business of getting to eat. I wish I had had the wherewithal to say “That’s pretty rude. I didn’t grow up the same way that you did and not everyone grows up going to Hebrew school and that’s okay.” I imagine he’d give me the self satisfied smirk of a child who has spent time killing small animals, and I’d flip the table over. I think he’d be about 13 by now. His Bar Mitzvah will probably suck.
I know that it must not always be easy to regulate children at all times, since children are basically human ids running around shitting on things and asking people why they’re fat. I would imagine that most of the time, parents aren’t ignoring their kid’s bad behavior–they just spent the whole morning telling their kid to stop throwing knives around and they’re worn out. I sympathize. But I hate your kid.
To be fair, I was a shitty kid, too. I talked back, lied about school work, and was really genuine in my “discovery” of David Bowie. I was a precocious little twat who would comment on strangers’ conversations in the grocery line when I was three because I was really proud of my obnoxious vocabulary, and was egged on by my academic parents who hoped to raise an erudite little thinker like them (sorry guys). I would imagine that more than one person harbors fantasies about telling me off from my youth or last week, and I can’t blame them. But I also can’t promise that one day I won’t turn to the little girl next to me who asks me why I’m fat and ugly and say “at least there are people who love me who did not make me. Who loves you?”