I have had the pleasure of enjoying other people's children this past week or so. And I already knew that other people's children are so much more fun that my own. Because they still think my jokes are funny and they listen to me and when they scream and throw a temper tantrum, I just think it's cute and adorable. Because I can just walk away.
The only thing that went right for me today while I was hanging curtains was the entertainment. There was a seven year old boy at the house who thought I was kind of fun and cool. And he read me parts of the Guinness Book of World Records and I guessed who held the record or what state the World's Biggest Ball of Twine is in (It's Kansas. I knew that because I've been there. And I totally stepped up a notch of coolness with the kid when he found that out.) Anyhow, it was fun and entertaining and he made me laugh, which kept me sane while the curtains were falling down around me (but not reaching the floor, apparently).
His mother was amazed and I think a little confused. And she kept checking with me to make sure that my own children talked back to me and were naughty and fought with their siblings and stuff. And that I hadn't cast a spell on her son.
I was reminded of the countless times I've talked to girlfriends who've lamented that their kids are perfect when in the care of others, but act horribly the moment that they return to their parents. You know, when you go to the church nursery to pick up your child, and the person there tells you about how wonderful and charming your child was and how they always said please and thank you and ma'am. And all you can do is stand there, confused, the entire time she's speaking to you. And then the lightbulb goes off in your head and you say, "Oh, you must be mistaken. Mine is the child in the red shirt. The one who won't share and smashes the crackers in the carpet and laughs maniacally."
But here's the thing. They only act perfectly because they are trying to impress. They don't know if the new caregiver will like them. So they put on the behavior that they know will get the desired result. It's a little like dating.
But with Mom, those kids are safe. So unbelieveably safe that they can act up in WalMart and be certain that their mother won't leave them there. They have a temper tantrum and Mommy will still tell them she loves them when it's all over. They can test the limits of acceptable behavior with Mom and she won't give up. She's in it for the long haul. It's a little like being married.
The problem with such behavior is that it's really hard to be the recipient. It's so hard to be the one who has to love the person who tells you they hate you in one sentence and then only a moment later come crying to you to kiss their owies. It's so hard to be the one who has to stand strong during a temper tantrum and not give in, no matter how badly you want to. I've found, however, that it's a little more palatable when you come at it with the attitude that it's only because they are so secure in your love that they'll give you their worst and best. It's a rare form of flattery that can only be bestowed upon you by your own favorite people.
So, no matter how much I love interacting and having fun with children who aren't my own, I know that the thing that I love most is that my own children are so safe with me that they don't have to put on their public face. That I get to see into their souls when they give me more than just their best behavior.
But please, please, remind me of this next week when they're back in my care and we're on an airplane together. Promise?