I love that the construction site across the street entertains my son long enough for me to suck back a cappuccino at my local coffee shop. He stands transfixed in the front window, short enough to fit under the counter, watching the action. Recently, I asked a man in one of the two seats at the counter if other seat was taken before allowing my boy to assume the position. He was visibly, albeit mildly, annoyed, which irritated me right off the bat. After a while, my son whizzed over to me to report on the site’s activities. In the process, he knocked a few fliers off the ledge. I asked him to put them back and, misunderstanding the request, he attempted to hand them to the man at the counter. He stood there, little hand outstretched, smiling at the man, who ignored him. I tried explaining again, but he gave up, dropping the cards unceremoniously next to the man’s breakfast. With obvious disdain, but without even acknowledging my son, he removed the cards. I flew over, grabbed them and hissed, “Sorry you were so put out.”
The shocked man just responded, “Excuse me?” And that was that. It didn’t escalate but I was so pissed, and I’m sure he was stunned I felt the need to say anything about his rather benign rudeness. But I had had enough, and that guy was in the wrong place in the wrong time. I heard later that in his retelling of the story of the “crazy woman yelling at him,” he said, “Well, you know I don’t like kids, but I just didn’t engage with him, I wasn’t going to be mean to him.”
I hear people say that all the time, as though it is a perfectly fine thing to say. But the reality is this: it is not okay to say, “I don’t like kids.” Of course it’s a free country, so you can say whatever the hell you want, but it makes you sound as bad as if you said, “I don’t like [insert racial or ethnic minority group here] or I don’t like gay people, or I don’t like old people.” If you say these things, you sound ignorant and small-minded. If those labels don’t bother you, great. But if you don’t want to be lumped into the same category as any other racist/sexist/agist person, then don’t say it.
I was recently appalled by the treatment a young Hispanic woman received in a country grocery store. The clerk made eye contact with me and rolled her eyes at the woman’s difficulty understanding English, as though I would obviously commiserate. I mean, right? How annoying to have to enunciate for this idiot. And the woman behind her in line was no better, ignoring the woman completely when she tried, in halting English, to apologize for taking too long. I felt my face flush with rage, but I said nothing. Afterward, I was so angry at myself for not calling them out on their awful behavior. Next time, I vowed. It just so happened that the next time someone was treated as less than human for not having a complete grasp on the English language, that person was my two and a half year old son.
I feel like this is a thing now, saying “I don’t like kids,” especially among younger adults, but spread throughout the childless demographic. You don’t want kids? Great! I am all for that for so many reasons –most importantly because if you don’t want kids, it would be a terrible idea to have them. Also, the planet is all filled up at the moment, so not wanting kids is environmentally a sound choice. But to say you don’t like kids? Really? Like KIDS is a single entity, a big blob of sameness? They are small, developing PEOPLE. They come in all shapes, sizes, and temperaments. The one thing they have in common is that they are all new here, and trying to navigate their way through all the newness to figure out what is right and wrong, what they like and don’t like, what kind of person they want to be. They stumble from time to time, they are sometimes confused by their own feelings and have trouble expressing themselves. They are sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes they want company and sometimes they don’t. You know, like PEOPLE. Saying something like, “I don’t like this kid,” though not very nice, is very different than saying you don’t like all people under a certain age. Doing that makes you a bigot. If that label makes you uncomfortable, then maybe you want to rethink your stance on the matter.
To the man at the counter, I’m not going to apologize for standing up for my kid, although I wish I had been more articulate and less blinded by protective rage. And I wasn’t just speaking for him, or even just for kids, really. I called you out because I don’t want to sit idly by anymore when someone is mistreated or even just ignored based on their age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc. People deserve to be judged on their personal merit, and not on some ludicrous lumping together.
We’ve got enough hate in this world, don’t you think?