I’m gonna be upfront about something. It’s pretty politically incorrect. Here goes… I don’t like kids. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I want to be Carrie from Sex and the City 3…
I’m just saying that, odds are, in a random sampling of children, I’m not gonna like ’em. It’s not their fault. It’s yours. You’ve spent their entire lives clapping over their bodily functions, giving them trophies for 11th place, and telling them they can be anything they want to be, regardless of aptitude or drive. Of course they’re irritating.
When I was six years old, my daddy made sure to tell me that that trophy wasn’t a real trophy, because we weren’t in first, second, or third place. When I got an award for having all A’s and B’s, I was reminded that I’d probably have all A’s if every one of my report cards didn’t declare that I talked too much in class. The A’s I did have were never high enough. I’m pretty sure that the day I took my first steps, my dear ol’ dad responded with “Yeah, but can she run?”
No, daddy. I really can’t.
Now, some would say the man was too harsh. In fact, I’m pretty sure he would have put himself in that group, the day I told him I’d called Gail crying because of the 98.5% I got on that project. Maybe he’d be right. Okay, fine. He’d be right. The point is, he made me work for things and that included his praise. If more parents took a page from his book (but only one, y’all), maybe kids wouldn’t be so obnoxious. If society would stop pacifying the next generation with unlimited electronic entertainment to get them out of our hair and combating bullying by telling them that they can all be supermodels, maybe we wouldn’t be destined for Disney’s Wall-E. So, in an attempt to be the change I wish to see in the world, I’m practicing on Layla, my five-year-old niece… and you know what? The kid freaking adores her Aunt Belle. Just yesterday, she begged to come see me, hug attacked me on sight, and was ecstatic over the $2 coloring book I gave her. So, I must be doing something right… and therefore, I’m qualified to advise you with the following anecdotes.
Layla’s on the left.
Last summer, for Layla’s birthday, my Gramma, my mother, and I took Layla on a Day O’ Fun. We went to lunch, made a stuffed pony at the mall, ate cookies, and played on the playground. She was in five-year-old heaven. So, naturally, she thought she’d begin by asserting her authority, when we stopped at Arby’s for a bathroom break. Now, in my defense, I only antagonize the kid when she’s already being annoying. I mean, I’ve already tried to make the situation better, failed, and making it worse is the most amusing option left. So, as Layla sat on the toilet, having clearly finished her business several minutes earlier, but getting a thrill out of making me wait, I began to provoke her.
Me: “Darlin’, you’re not doing anything. You’re done. You’ve been done. Let’s go.”
Layla: “No. I’m not finished.”
Me: “Alrighty, then. You stay here and sit. You don’t need me to watch. I’ll be in the car.”
I turned the doorknob, moving as if to open it.
Layla: “NO! CLOSE THE DOOR!”
Me: “Okay, okay. I won’t wait in the car. Me, Mo Mo, and grandma will all go to the mall and make a stuffed animal for you, then we’ll just swing by and pick you up on the way home. You have fun!”
It was at this point, that Layla decided that she was, indeed, finished sitting for no reason, washed her hands and came out to the car, promptly declaring to my mother and Gramma…
Layla: “Aunt Belle said she was gonna leave me here!”
Layla: “I am not!”
Me: “Are too!”
Layla: “Am not!”
Yeah… I’ll let that trail off.
When I’m not blatantly riling the child, I get quite the kick out of making references that no five-year-old will understand.
Layla: “I don’t have a best friend. The other kids don’t like me.”
They don’t like her because she’s bossy and mean, but I don’t tell her that. See. I am nice.
Me: “Well, darlin’, you have to be nice to people if you want them to be your friend. Just be nice to the gentlemen fancy, and they’ll be nice to you.”
Layla: “But I’m nice to the gentlemen and the ladies!”
C’mon. That’s adorable and she has no idea I’m referencing a famous country song about prostitution.
Every time I see my little Laylabean, I tell her how much I love her. If she’s wearing a pretty dress, I compliment her. When she colors inside the lines, I tell her what an awesome job she’s doing. I always tell her how pretty she is. I don’t fabricate encouragement, because it’s not necessary. She has plenty God given graces from which to pull. It’s because of this, that I refuse to lie to her… which is more than I can say for my Gramma.
Me: “Layla, is that the watch Aunt Dee gave you for Christmas?”
Gramma: “She can tell time. She tells all her little friends what time it is, at recess.”
Me: “What? She can’t tell time.”
Layla: “I can, too!”
Gramma: “She can, too. She’s smart.”
Me: “I’m not saying she’s not smart, Gramma. I’m saying she’s five and she can’t tell time on an analog clock.”
Layla: “I can, too!”
Me: “Is it a digital watch? Layla, let me see your watch… that’s very pretty, Layla.”
Gramma: “She can tell time.”
Me: “Darlin’, what time is it?”
Me: “No. It’s 4:28. That’s okay, though. I don’t know any five-year-olds who can tell time. They don’t usually teach that until second grade.”
I am not going to tell my niece that she can do something she cannot do. Congratulating her for a pretend accomplishment negates all of the genuine praise I regularly provide. It’s just like when I was six and told my mother that she’d act just as amazed by scribbles on a paper as she was by actual effort. At least I knew my dad’s praise, though rare, was legitimate. If that makes me the evilest aunt ever, so be it.
Sometimes, though, it’s just fun to mess with the kid, because she is the most epic drama queen ever. At a year old, this kid would screech at the sight of an ant. Four years has not mellowed her, nor has her Mo Mo (my Gramma) playing into her every whim. Recently, I had gone to my Gramma’s to see Layla and we were sitting in the living room, watching some children’s movie about animated fairies and witches. Now, Layla was legitimately terrified of The Great and Powerful Oz. I don’t know what her mother was thinking taking her to it. Witches scare her. She’s five. That’s fine… or it was until the animated witch, in the movie she’d seen at least 20 times came on screen. Layla immediately got up, turned all of the lights off herself, crawled back into my Gramma’s lap and started crying about being scared.
Layla: ::shoving her face into my Gramma’s shirt:: “Ughhhhh! Close the blinds! They’re scaring me!”
Me: “Layla, you just turned off the light. If you’re scared, turn it back on, but quit bossing Mo Mo around.”
Layla: “Close the window!!!!!!!!”
Me: “Layla, stop telling Mo Mo what to do and close the blinds if you want them closed or turn the light back on. You turned it off.”
Gramma: “Oh, leave her alone. I don’t mind.”
My Gramma obediently gets up to shut the blinds. Layla curls back up in her lap, whimpering and sniffling. A couple of minutes pass and the room is still dark and now silent.
Gramma: “Damn it, Belle!”
What can I say? I am my father’s daughter.