[This is what happens when you leave your phone unattended and fail to put a passcode on it…]
There’s this thing about kids that I’ve realized, and it’s that they hurt your feelings without meaning to. Adults usually mean to. Or at least, they mean to more often. I’ve got a handful of non-hateful mean things kids have said to me over the years, and with my elephant memory for tiny hurts, I’ll probably always have them tucked away somewhere.
When I was a babysitter in high school, a little girl said to me:
“Where are you from?”
“I’m from town. I grew up here,” I said.
“Huh. I thought you were from somewhere else. Your eyebrows don’t match your hair.”
And she spun around and ran to the swing set.
Now, at the tender and hideous age of 16, I was pretty bummed by her astute observation. It’s true: my eyebrows indeed do not match my hair. I dye neither, but somehow, God didn’t get the memo that if you’re from Massachusetts, your hair and eyebrows should be the same color. Maybe if I were from England or Colombia, but not Massachusetts.
And I thought about this for days.
I went home and told my family, who laughed.
I thought about dying my hair brown. Then I thought about bleaching my eyebrows, but the upkeep seemed horrendous.
Then, slowly and finally, I accepted the fact that my eyebrows are dark and my hair is light and I look like a foreigner.
~ ~ ~
These days, I babysit for a different family, and a different little girl has made the same observation. She said it quizzically, as though I were a specimen to be studied, and it seems often that I am; there is a mixture of wonder and confusion on her face when she looks at me, but she doesn’t always hold back her less-than-stellar thoughts.
“Why don’t you brush your hair more?”
“Why can’t I paint your nails?”
“Why don’t you curl your hair?”
“Why do you always drink water instead of soda?”
“Why don’t you have a boyfriend?”
It was that last one I always tried to answer in a way that a seven-year-old would understand.
“I just haven’t met anyone I liked enough.”
[Sort of true, sort of not.]
“Seriously?” she asked skeptically, her mouth hanging open a little in disgust.
“Yeah, and I mean, it takes a lot of time. I have to really like the person if I’m gonna give that much time and energy to him.”
I could tell she still didn’t understand because she looked at me sideways before demanding I tell her another story about when I was little.
Two weeks ago, I was babysitting in the winter, which is rare. This same girl who thought everyone over the age of 15 must have a boyfriend was sitting across from me in a cozy restaurant. Her bangs had grown and were tucked behind her ear, more teeth had fallen out, but she was, overall, very much the same precocious strawberry blonde.
“Tell me a story,” she said as our buffalo chicken wings and fried pickles arrived. “I’ll give you a category.”
Her category was “something new that happened,” and I paused.
Should I tell her?
What would she think?
It might be opening a slew of questions I’m not interested in answering.
“Well, you know, actually,” (and it took forever to finally say), “I have a boyfriend now.”
I swear she stopped chewing her fried pickle and stared at me.
She did not smile.
“Remember that day I got a phone call? The last day of summer when we were at Canobie Lake Park?”
“That was him. He asked me out on a date, and now we’re dating.”
She didn’t ask a question.
This was not at all how I imagined she’d react. I’d pictured excitement and interested questions and “when can we meet him?!”
I, in my awkwardness, said,
“I think you’ll really like him. He likes hiking.”
He likes hiking?! That’s all you got?!
And then she steered the conversation in a totally different direction, asking for another story, one that involved a lot more animation and hand gestures. I started to tell it, surprised by her lack of interest. I don’t remember what the story was about or if it were even funny, but I know I was pretty engaged in telling it. She was enjoying it, her green-blue eyes big and her focus not on the fried pickles anymore.
I was just about to get to the good part — buffalo chicken wing brandished high in a dramatic moment — when she cocked her head like she does when she’s about to say something slightly critical.
[Remember: this girl is eight years old.]
“Catherine,” she said, “whatever you do, don’t let your boyfriend see you eat chicken wings.”
And she reached over and took her own chicken wing and dipped it gingerly in blue cheese dressing.
I laughed because what else can you do? and I said,
“Guess what? He’s an even messier eater than I am. And that’s so not fair! You can’t ask for a story mid-chicken-wing!”
“I’m just sayin’,” and she proceeded to nibble.
My latest in child-critiques. This one I’m not too upset about.
[Look, no buffalo sauce on my chin.]