One of the couples we are friends with have a kid.
I don’t like kids too much. They’re impatient, they’re everywhere, you have to watch them if you don’t want them to break things, they can get violent when they don’t get what they want, they cry and you don’t always know why, and when they learn to speak, they say a bunch gibberish that you can’t always decode. They demand – and deserve – your attention and your time, but my time is precious. I’m a bit selfish like that.
Our friends bring their little 2.5 years old girl over to our weekly D&D sessions, and she’s always there when we go to the gym together. She’s messy, dirty, sometimes stinky, and apparently really likes me. I met her when she was 1 year old, and I wasn’t always happy with our friends bringing her over. She wouldn’t sit still, which is totally understandable, so she’d do the regular kid stuff – which is normal but annoying and even stressful for immature people like me – like run around the apartment, produce random loud child noises, make a mess and bother other people, especially me, and especially when I’m in the kitchen – even throwing things together for a salad can become a practice in pushing the child away and looking out of the corner of your eye for little fingers reaching for sharp or spillable things on the counter. She’s a fairly good kid, but not 100% of the time (cause, you know, no kid is), so her dad would often have to raise his voice to discipline her, or someone would have to put her in bed for her nap time, which she would often resist. It obviously makes roleplaying very hard. I felt bad for her, because she’d basically be bored for hours, surrounded by adults who mostly flick her off all the time, and I was one of them. Any time she’d stay over at her grandparents’ was a relief for me. Even today it still is, but I’m discovering that I can learn patience and find joy in interacting with her.
She’s really smart, so at 2 and a half years of age she can name basic colors, she even knows numbers from one to five and she gets them right 80% of the time. She’ll generally listen to you when you ask her to do something, or to stop doing something, though recently she realized she can say no, which is really funny. Like, sweet child, you really think you have anything to say in this matter? Or when something doesn’t go the way she wants to, she goes “no no no no nooo!” and grabs her head with her hands, like a little drama queen. I tell her to leave me alone when I’m trying to roleplay, because otherwise I won’t pay any attention to what’s happening (been there), but after the session is over and friends are just talking, instead of giving into the selfish part of me and locking myself away in my bedroom or ignoring the kid as hard as I can, I actually play with her. I treat it as an exercise in midfulness or patience, even though I’ve been praised for being extraordinarily patient as a teacher, but this is wayyy different.
All I want to do is leave her there and sit down at my computer, read some articles, or a book, or watch some TV. I want to join in the conversation my friends are having, or at least be able to listen when talk about things I don’t know anything about. Hell, I want to do something productive, like crochet, draw or do a quick workout. But I force myself to just stay, play with her, see her smile, give her my time and be rewarded with some laughs and a warm feeling in my heart.
Contrary to what it sounded like, I don’t actually hate her. She’s a funny little girl. It’s just that playing with her doesn’t provide any instant gratification. I won’t see any tangible results, like a finished piece of art or a crocheted flower I can pin in my hair and show everyone around. I won’t get any likes on social media, not even a pat on the back. I won’t get money for babysitting. Absolutely nothing. I realized these hidden motivations of mine recently and thought, “hey, that’s messed up!”. We live in the world of instant gratification for nearly anything we do, and it’s hard to break the cycle or even realize it exists. That’s why I try to take some time to do something for another person and get absolutely nothing in return. Nothing except her joy.
I took some time to think about this, because I have volunteered in the past. But now I realize how much of it was because there was gratification involved. In high school I was a volunteer for the Warsaw Rising Museum, where I’d spend 4 hours a few days a week walking around the exhibition to provide help to visitors and replenish materials that hang in various places of the museum for people to take home. Sounds innocent, but I enjoyed it and I now realize why: people would thank me. My commitment was being constantly acknowledged by others, sometimes by a simple “thank you” from a visitor looking for a bathroom, and sometimes by older people or my “employers” going on and on about how great youth like me are, sacrificing our free time to help instead of doing the usual useless stuff that young people nowadays do. It gave me a moral high. It felt good! There was also a more obvious aspect of that gratification: volunteering at the museum enabled me to help organize their events, like concerts, press conferences and once even a fancy banquet – I was an insider! By organizing it I could participate in the actual event for free.
Unlike the museum visitors, my friends’ little girl won’t thank me for playing with her. I won’t gain access to special events through it, unless you consider changing the diaper a special event. And you know what? It’s messed up that subconsciously I expected something, and knowing I couldn’t get it, I rejected her. I mean, I’ll still “reject” her sometimes, because I’m not a machine, and little kids have unlimited stores of energy, very much unlike weathered millennials. I mean, come on, child, we’ve been stacking dice on top of one another pretending it’s lego towers FOR ALMOST AN HOUR NOW! But then I take a deep breath, recall my child psychology classes from college, remind myself not to be selfish, and carry on.
To give, knowing you won’t get anything in return, may be one of the most formidable challenges for a millenial. You should try it!
And how about you, my readers, if you exist? Do you enjoy playing with little children?