Last night I went to dinner with some other science fiction nerds and writers, went to a reading, heard great stuff, talked to people, petted the bookstore cat, read my vile, filthy, ridiculous parody called “Klah Whore of Pern” out loud to people who got the jokes, and played briefly with Liko. (The reading was a benefit for the Speculative Literature Foundation and Strange Horizons.
Moomin gets hauled to poetry readings and stuff all the time. He’s now old enough to where he knows that “poetry reading” means “A place where boring grownup stuff happens, and no one will pay attention to me, but I might get a bribe of chocolate and a new book.”
Liko’s almost two! I got to hold him while his dad, Jeremy of Daddy Dialectic, read a sort alternative mythological origin story, and his mom Shelley took photos. I always think that children in public places should be more of a Thing… we should have better manners about it collectively. Like, if everyone paid a few minutes of attention to the kids then the kids learn better manners and feel included, and the parents get a helping hand. It changes the tone and pace of life. I don’t always want to be doing it, and it’s nice to have grown-up time. Still, once the kids are there, it doesn’t work to ignore them. It means there are interruptions to conversation… Hanging out with other parents, you develop a collective ethic of taking care of each others’ kids, and each other.
Think of it as being like talking to emissaries from an alien planet… one where it’s socially acceptable to pee your pants, lick the cat, shriek loudly at random times, and eat squashed grapes off the floor. One can politely overlook such moments of culture clash, meeting the alien ambassador halfway and gently modeling the desired Earth-like behavior.
To encourage non-parents, I provide this handy list of techniques.
How to make friends with a small child
– smile at it shyly, then look away
– stick out your tongue, then look away as if completely innocent, then look back and smile
– encourage it to do something slightly naughty, yet harmless
– give it something fascinating and forbidden, like keys or a cell phone
– draw funny pictures of animals. Everyone is an artistic genius for a 2 year old.
How to make friends with a slightly older child
– rather than asking intrusive questions, make a remark about your likes, dislikes, areas of knowledge, or personal experiences.
“I ate a worm once when I was little.”
“I read the last Harry Potter book six times.”
“My favorite color is purple, but I also like black. Wouldn’t it be cool if everyone had to wear only their favorite color, all the time?”
“Once I broke my arm and the bone was sticking out and it was really gross.”
“I can wiggle my ears, and also, my little toe separately from all my other toes.”
This is how kids talk to each other, mostly. A slight element of boasting will not go amiss. The response will likely be a mutual sharing of strange bits of information. You will learn count-out rhymes, see feats of double-jointedness, and perhaps have details of scabs revealed to you.
The whole “how to deal with children” dynamic is brought to a head in small enclosed spaces where no one can get away, like airplanes. You’re there, you got seated next to a little kid… and you can either get all grumpy about it and curse your fate, and act mad at the kid and the parent who didn’t anesthetize it or put it in the cargo hold or teach it better manners, OR… you can whip out your own manners, and play with the kid to keep it quiet and amused.