Sometimes I sit back and wonder if I'm missing out on life by not having kids.
That's when I usually remember that I'm laying on my couch eating a Twix, playing video games, and listening to music at an irresponsible volume. And then I have my answer: "No, I think I'm pretty good as is." Still, whenever I log onto Facebook and invariably see someone's predictably adorable infant doing something predictable adorable, I occasionally catch myself going "aww," and that scares me a little.
I'm barely equipped to care for my two cats, let alone a human child. And let's face it, when compared to human children, cats are WAY more intelligent and responsible. Even the wee-est of kittens knows how to groom themselves and whereabouts to poo. There's no school clothes to buy, no valuable life lessons to impart, and no bad examples I could possibly set for my cats. They seem just as fine with a lazy couchbound life as me.
But the older I get, the more my friends keep popping out offspring, and the harder it gets to relate to their new lives as parents. Heck, a couple of my friends are already GRANDparents, a concept that blows my mind entirely. Worse yet, as a NON-parent yet someone who's been unwillingly pulled into an age of responsibility, I'm faced often with an entirely new dilemma: What to do when I witness bad parenting by someone younger than myself?
Last week, I told you about the recent roadtrip a friend and I took to the town of Galena. I didn't, however, tell you about lunch.
On the advice of some Galena shopkeepers, we found ourselves in a small eatery on the edge of downtown. I guess it was more of a bar than a restaurant, but their lunch menu was outstanding and the place had a quirky charm despite being nearly empty. The only other customers were a pair of twenty-somethings and a hyper 3-year-old who presumably belonged to at least one of them, though you wouldn't have known it based on their behavior.
The couple were deep in conversation and one hundred percent oblivious to what their kid was doing. I wondered if perhaps the sign outside had said "Bar / Restaurant / Child Care Center," because it was clear these two were completely off the clock from parenting. While they had a relaxing lunch, their kid was toddling all around the place like a caffeinated dust devil.
At first it was a fun distraction watching this little Weeble wobble all over the restaurant completely unattended. At some point, though (the point of pastrami being set in front of me,) I got distracted from the distraction in order to focus all my attention on the sandwich at hand. My friend and I were strategizing our shopping plans when suddenly a look of horror came over her face as she stared past me and over my shoulder.
"Oh no. That kid's totally gonna do it," she said.
"Just look. Wait for it."
I tried my best to non-chalantly spin around in my seat, as if turning completely away from my companion was a perfectly natural thing to do on a lunch date. But she was right. It was too good not to miss.
Behind me, the toddler had come across a shiny brass railing that lined the row of tables at the front of the restaurant. She was captivated by this railing, and you could tell by the look in her eyes what was about to happen.
Lllllllllllllllllllick. Llllllllllllllllllllick. Clearly, this toddler had a taste for the finer things, and taste them she did, from one end of the railing to the other and back again. Once upon a time, one of my cats spat a dead mouse onto my chest while I slept. Up until this moment, that was the grossest thing I had ever witnessed. But this girl sucking face with the railing had just stolen the crown.
The bar was definitely quirky, but it definitely was NOT clean. This didn't stop our new friend, who swiftly moved from the railing to a table leg in a serious effort to lick every square inch of furniture in the place. My friend and I just stared in a trance of heebie-jeebies. That's when Mom spotted us.
Now, imagine this scenario. Just prior to making eye contact with the child's mother, she had caught a glimpse of us staring at the corner in revulsion. But as her eyes moved to the corner to follow our gaze, that was the precise moment her daughter stopped French kissing the home decor and instead was standing there like an innocent cherubic angel. An angel that my friend and I clearly found abhorrent by the look on our faces. Mom spun back at us with eyes flaring and shot me a look told the whole story.
"How DARE you look at my child with disdain! A pox on your family!" her face seemed to say.
With age comes responsibility. Young Shane might have laughed the whole thing off, but Wise Old Shane felt he needed to explain himself, which I proceeded to do through facial expression in reply.
"No, no," said the look I attempted to shoot her back. "You just missed it, but moments ago, your daughter had her tongue on about 40% of the furniture in this establishment, and it was a bit off-putting. My sincere apologies to you and your beautiful daughter." That was at least what I TRIED to convey with my eyes. But by the look of shock on mom's face, I failed spectacularly.
With growing horror, I realized what I had just done. In my attempt to silently alert mom to her daughter's activity, I wisely chose THIS method of communication: First I looked at mom. Then I looked at the kid. Then I looked back at mom, stuck out my tongue, and licked the air a couple of times while staring at her knowingly. In hindsight, I'm pretty sure people have gone to jail for less. That's right, in a heartbeat, I went from "jerk eyeballing my child in judgement" to "skeevy pervert making vulgar gestures of an unspeakable nature."
Needless to say, the couple high-tailed it out of the bar... as did we, in the OPPOSITE direction. I want to be a responsible adult, I really do. But perhaps I'm better suited to a life of video-game playing and litterbox-changing. A life where maybe I'll still go "aww" when I see you post cute pics of your kids online -- and a life where the only wisdom I can impart onto tomorrow's generation is to try the place with the great pastrami next time you're in Galena. Just don't touch any of the furniture.