Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Fake sincerity

You know, I really need to improve my fake interest in people's children more (specifically, my co-workers and strangers. My friends' children I have a great interest in because it's still bizarre to watch these people who used to do the most insane things reproduce. It's like an ongoing sociology experiment). My lack of interest is going to get me killed one of these days. Halloween is much like Christmas in that parents feel compelled to bring in pictures of their children, especially if they're less than two, in some kind of get up. Quite frequently the kid looks really unimpressed.

And yet, the parents will zip around waving the picture as if it is the most adorable thing ever committed to a memory card. Others will gather around, coo and make all these wonderfully adorable noises. And then, inevitably, they show the picture to me.

The thing is, I'm really bad at faking interest in something. It would likely make my life easier if I could do it, but I just can't do fake sincerity. Waving a picture at me while I'm trying to work of a kid that has only just grown out of the whole "Winston Churchill phase," trussed into an outfit that makes them a clown or a princess or something and he or she looks mightily unimpressed by this whole turn of events and then asking me "Isn't he the most adorable thing, ever?" is a recipe to get me into a lot of trouble.

Because as I've discovered, the whole "Ummmm, sure" is not the thing to say to recent parents. They take it poorly. It is somehow insinuating that their spawn is, in fact, not the most adorable child to grace the face of the planet, especially in his handmade costume that the mother spent three weeks making. And that you are a wretched specimen of humanity with a lump of coal for a soul to dare think otherwise and express it to them.

So yeah, that got the morning off to a good start today. Thankfully, most of the mothers also brought in chocolate to give away lest they eat it all themselves. So that worked out well for me. I just had to wait until they were away from their desks. Because evil people who do not adore their precious bundle are unworthy of a mini Kit Kat bar.

Look, I have a mixed reaction to the whole children thing. In some ways Boo is an excellent scientific experiment. If I can handle an irrational creature that won't do what I tell it to do, pesters me when I want to have some quiet time and makes an ungodly amount of racket when it gets riled up, then maybe, maybe I can handle having a kid one of these days.

But right now, that ain't happening. Nor am I getting any younger. So we're going to see about the whole having a kid thing. It will be several years before any serious discussion happens. Because I want to be ready for it. I want to have to patience for it.

But mostly, right now, I don't want to be the dad who trusses up his kid in a Batman outfit, blows out a 6 gig memory card and then takes all the photos to work makes his co-workers fawn over them...

...because if that happens, then the lot of you are going to come back and crucify me with this post. And then tell my kid what I was like in university.


Melissa said...

Hi Craig,

I have something to say about your post. Brace yourself. :)

First of all, I would imagine that many parents feel perplexed or annoyed by your "Ummmmm, sure" - not because they feel you are "insinuating that their spawn is, in fact, not the most adorable child to grace the face of the planet, especially in his handmade costume that the mother spent three weeks making" but because you are blatantly refusing to play a popular and harmless game of "pander the parents". Being the creator/sustainer of a *life* makes people get a bit wonky and defensive about things related to that life. You just aren't playing nicely and that's confusing.

Second - and I hope this doesn't sound too bitchy or superior - when people show me photos of their ugly/boring kids and say something like "isn't he the most adorable thing, ever?" I promptly reply with a "yeap, he sure is!!". And I reply that way, not because I enjoy "fake sincerity" or because I'm better at "fake interest", but because I think it's just basic, plain, old-fashioned good manners.

I refused to dress Hayden up and take her photo for Halloween (really, I hate that shit too and I also don't think it's cute) but I don't expect other people to feel the same way or to hide their snapshots from me. Not everyone can be as cool as me. ;)

Anyway, I don't think taking a few seconds to practice good social skills is the same as being fake.


Wha. That's a long response. Hope this doesn't come across as being too mean or cranky? If it *does* then I apologize. Just put it down to mommy hormones and remember that you're my favourite Townie Bastard!! :)

Owen's Mom said...

Ummm, yeah. You might want to stay away from my Blog this week.

Little Man *is* the cutest little elephant ever.

And I think that you could find a standard response to people that is not offensive, and not impolite. I'm with Amah on this one, you have to at least try to find some social grace. Kinda like Myrick's "Good Luck!" whenever he finds out that someone is getting married or expecting a child. A quick "looks just like you" would do the trick.

And I'll only say once that this problem *may* be a result of you being an only child. Because if you have siblings, you learn at an early age that there is value to sometimes saying something just to "get along".


Helmut said...

Uh-oh, you're hearing from the Mommies!

Craig, I used to feel the same as you. (And I have wonderful siblings, so it's not an only child thing.)

Didn't like kids. AT ALL. Didn't like my friends' kids. In fact, at one point I truly believed the my friends were RUINING THEIR LIVES by having them.

Didn't want to play with them, be around them, listen to suburban moms go on and on about them, etc. They totally cramped my style.

But now I have a little girl, and she's growing on me! ;-)

When I came into work yesterday, I was asked if I had any pics of Holly's Hallowe'en adventures, so I gladly showed people the ones from a recent blog post. I often put personal pics on my blog for my friends and family who live away. I'm not a writer; My blog is oftimes my personal photo journal!

I generally don't thrust pictures or anecdotes in people's faces, but I do try to be understanding when they are thrust in mine.

At the same time, it's a two way street. I know people who will monopolize the conversation about their kids. I don't care what most mommies think, it's simply not good manners. Most people -- with or without kids -- don't appreciate it. These people who go on and on tend to find their own children fascinating and often miss the rolled eyes and efforts to change topic.

Let me say I am definitely not someone who tells people "YOU MUST HAVE KIDS!"

I don't think that you must. I think you'd be perfectly fine without them... if that's what you want.

But you know what I think? I think you are kind of interested in having kids. Perhaps maybe? You don't know for sure, it's a big decision, and you like your life the way it is right now thank-you-very-much.

I'm not trying to crystal-ball you, but the reason I say this is I see a lot in your attitude similar to the way I was just before I pondered the kids' question.

I dunno. Don't think too hard on it. If you have to weigh every factor in the child question you'll never ever decide to have them. Or not have them. Whatever.

I think you'll have fun either way.

Geoff Meeker said...

I find Craig's attitude confusing as well, given that he is not shy about posting photos of that boring white dog all the time. He actually subjected us to several hundred words debating what to name the dog (even expectant parents are wise enough to discuss such things in private).

Yes, I am sure the dog would be far less boring if it were MINE... but isn't that the point? If we are polite enough not to roll our eyes at your indulgences, can't you do the same for us?

vickyth said...

Hmmm. How to approach this one... Basic manners dictates that you be supportive of friends and coworkers, which includes saying things like, "my, what a cute kid," or "that's a great tie," or "what a cute dog." You don't have to be honest, (since when is being polite about being honest?), but you do have to be kind.

That said, I'll let you in on a secret. Other peoples' children are never as interesting as your own and no one with kids truly realises this. In fact, it is possible to have a child, be a good parent and basically not like most kids. Frankly, I can't stand babies. Someone asked me to hold one the other day and my initial (but silent) reaction was, "oh christ, I thought I was past having to deal with one of these." What I said was, "my what a beautiful baby. You'll be right back, right??"

Katherine I can handle. My nieces I quite like. Random kids? Not so much. Until you have a reason to know a person and an interest in them as a personality, kids in pictures are just like people in any other boring family photo of a family you don't know.

An additional consideration: the pushing of cute-kid photos in your face may also be a part of the conversion attempt by folks with kids. People with children cannot understand why other people don't want them. I can't quite figure this one out because having kids is really not for everyone. The best theory I can come up with is that this tendancy must be a corollary of the "misery loves company" theorem. Or the Religion of Parenthood. Whatever the case, ardent parents can be as high-pressure as ex-smokers. I'm still getting hammered regularly with the "you should have more" litany.

Just smile and nod. Parents will eventually leave you alone if you do the token minimal admiration. And when they don't see any signs of your imminant reproduction.

towniebastard said...

I kind of knew I was going to get beaten up on this one...that's fine.

I fully admit to being wired a bit differently. Not badly or anything. I'm not psychotic or whatnot. And I don't know if it's an only child thing or not. But a lot of the social niceties I find...strange. Small talk has always been a challenge, especially with strangers.

And most other people's kids...I don't find them as fascinating as they do.

I know, I know, that's no excuse. I should try harder. I just find some of this stuff bizarre. And sometimes I can muster the defences to pretend to be interested. I guess yesterday was the day I didn't have them up. And was kind of annoyed that people were annoyed because I didn't oooh and ahhh over the baby pictures.

And yes, the puppy might have been the same (nice one, btw, Ed. I was cursing on you a bit for that one).

All I know is that I was feeling a touch...martyrish, yesterday. I think people without kids get that a lot in the workplace. Especially up here, where kids are a very big deal. I'm not saying they're not in other places, but moreso here. It's not uncommon to have kids in the office for several hours.

Anyway, I don't want to get into work too much. And I really do understand that parents love their kids and want to show them off. I just wish I wasn't made to feel bad because I don't show undying, insincere enthuasism...

pat the wench said...

Sorry Townie, but I have to agree with the other comments. I really do try not to wave pictures of my kid around, although I'm guilty of it more frequently than I care to admit. I honestly don't think parents want your "undying enthusiasm"; being polite is enough.

Have you considered the possibility that many parents of small children have no lives, and this is the only topic of coversation they have left? That maybe they are trying to strike up a friendship? Does this sound like the bitter musings of a pregnant toddler mommy who falls asleep on the couch by 9:30 most nights?

Mireille Sampson said...

Wow, you got a beating. At least it was mostly funny.

While the "kindness" aspect is all very well and fine -politeness makes life go smoother and avoids ruining cheerful moods, I often find the whole polite thing (in general here, not talking about kids) gets overdone to the point where it is insincere - which, honestly, is just as much of an insult.

If someone is enthusiastic about something then fine, a few small words of encouragement don't go astray. But I'll give a few thoughts from the other side of social BSing.

I don't have kids so I can't write from that persepctive.

I tend not to talk about my art to random strangers or neighbours (I have no co-workers)I have no reason to believe want to hear it. Problem is, one of the most common questions a stranger/new acquaintence asks a person is: "So, what do you do." I think that standard piece of politeness ought to be changed to: "So, what do you love to do?" Let's face it, plenty of people don't like their jobs and why would they want to chat about it at a social function? They've left work, break out the damn booze and party music already.

When I reply that I'm an artist the stranger tends to try to prove to me that s/he is everso cultural. Like I'll think less of them if it's really soccer that's their passion instead of sculpture. My interests don't make you interesting, your interests make you interesting. Oftentimes the only art the stranger can discuss is something some homeless guy on the street was making, something they tripped over. It would be more fun to have a conversation with someone who collects old toast burnt with the images of saints and holy family members.

Then there's the ones that try to say their jobs are just like art. No, a dental filling/crown is not in fact something I consider to be sculpture. Perhaps this is why parents don't like it when childless pet owners compare little kitty to a little kiddie;)

The photos you post of Boo, well, you put them on a blog where people are free to visit or not or skip over posts and they are not expected to comment with ooohs and aaaahs, though you know Colette will.

Jesus, that was a rant.