One of my favorite pastimes has always been judging other people. Not only is it an excellent way to kill time — it’s also an ingenious technique of avoiding anything I’m supposed to be doing that is significantly kinder and more fruitful.
Of course, you’re not supposed to judge kids, mostly because they’re kids and, you know, all innocent and cute and stuff. At least that’s what you think until you have kids of your own. That’s when you realize your kids are all innocent and cute, but there are still some other kids out there who are decidedly neither innocent nor cute nor any other stuff that resembles anything either cute or innocent.
Like the kid who comes to your house for a drop-off play-date (the Holy Grail of play-dates when the shoe’s on the other foot because it’s at someone else’s house) and expects you to wipe their butt. Wiping the butt of a child is inconsequential if said rear is attached to your own child. When it’s the bottom of a strange child, however, all you can think about is how much better your kid’s poop is. Yes, there is a doody hierarchy.
There’s also the kid you see being not so nice to your kid on the playground or during drop-off or pick-up time at preschool. You don’t want to judge a small child because, after all, they don’t have the benefit of things like Xanax and Bravo TV to get them through daily life with, well, themselves. But you secretly look at that kid and their parents anyway and judge them like you’re getting Britney Spears’ $15 million “X Factor” salary, which is to say oddly, mildly inappropriately and as if you might get up and storm out at any second because you just can’t take the pressure of appearing collected anymore.
But here’s the thing: It’s nice to be on my side of the fence when it comes to judging. As in, I’m the one doing it all. (Sure, others can think they’re judging me, but I’m totally judging them more, and they don’t even know it, so I win.)
This will all change in less than a year, however, when my older daughter starts kindergarten.
I’m starting to get the sense that some of the worst people on the planet might be the parents of elementary school-age children. I base that not on the parents I currently know, most of whom are delightful, but on the ones I’ll be meeting come back-to-school night ‘13. I’m already starting to hear the murmurs of education-related politics that seem more fitting in a hotly contested presidential election than a place whose mission it is to teach our smallest and most open-minded citizens.
I can hold my own. You know, mostly. I get unusually intimidated by the people who hear jokes about people like Ingmar Bergman and Gustave Flaubert and don’t have to pretend to understand — and laugh at — the punch lines. People like that never seem to be impressed with people like me, whose claim to fame is reciting the first and last names of all of Brandon Walsh’s girlfriends on “Beverly Hills, 90210.” (Go ahead and judge all you want, but you know that you, too, wish you were one of those lucky ladies.)
I’m just enjoying this last year of being surrounded by parents and kids who are civilized and don’t actually require much judging. What I’m dreading is my daughter starting kindergarten and thinking others might start judging her — teachers, other parents and mean, older kids. If they want to judge me — for my intense lack of personal style, for instance — that’s totally cool. I just hate the idea of anyone speaking ill of my firstborn. That should be my job exclusively.
The thing about not champing at the bit to wipe another kid’s butt is that it’s not personal. It’s just fact that it’s an undesirable pastime. When kids get older, however, their annoying traits that are adorable to their families become more distinctive and less about hygiene (unless they’re actually about hygiene) and more about personality — leaving them wide open to be judged at places outside the home.
And when they graduate from preschool, kids become a lot harder to protect because our role as parents is to start letting our offspring have a bit more space and freedom to dip their toes in life and, yes, deal with getting judged by others.
I guess the most I can hope for at this point is that I’ve passed along the haughtiness gene to my older daughter and that she’ll be prepared to ignore and deflect the judgment when it inevitably starts coming her way. You know, basically, the classic hope and dream that all parents have for their children.
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