Sunday, March 20, 2005

The Book of Judgement

Recently, at a party, I could not take my eyes off the outfit of another guest. She was wearing a snug ankle-length skirt, leaving little in the way of guesswork as to her underwear choice. The matching top cut so widely and deeply at the neck that I needed to glance at my nails whenever she leaned over to fix her platform shoes. This outfit was compelling to me for two reasons:

1. It seemed dressy for a Sunday morning birthday party at Build-a-Bear,
2. The wearer was six years old.

After a while, I simply had to find her mother, to see what possible justification there might be for letting a child out of the house like this (Although, to my way of thinking, the only possible excuse was going to be: “my daughter has incriminating Polaroids of me with the termite guy”). I sidled up to her mother and said something neutral like, “Wow, your daughter’s outfit. Did she pick it out herself?”

She smiled proudly. “Oh, yes. She has way more taste and style than I do”.

I was left so completely speechless that my response went something like, “Oh…sure. I…(breathe)…Look, a spider!”

She looked where I pointed, and I danced off, ostensibly to peel my daughter off the bear-stuffing machine. But, in truth, I needed space to have the following interior monologue:

Well, there’s one girl Daughter will never see socially. If she is dressing like Heidi Fleiss’ newest intern now, and her mother thinks that’s fine, she is already ruined for life. That child will have the Sex and the City DVD set for Christmas, and a diaphragm for her eighth birthday. Next thing you know, she’ll sneaking away at Bar Mitzvah parties to give the Bar Mitzvah boy a very special Coming of Age Present. High school will be a procession of alcohol-based blackouts and STD’s. She will then attend a state college known for partying and get her degree in Radio/TV/Film.

I drank my juice box and considered my inner judge. Was I always this horrible? Would I want to be judged this completely by a single act of mine or my notoriously headstrong daughter? Admittedly, this child’s outfit was a huge statement, but maybe these were basically good people who suffered from some genetic defect that prevented them from knowing what appropriate clothing looked like. The style equivalent of color-blindness, perhaps. I vowed right then and there to give all parents and children the benefit of the doubt.

It lasted a week.

Daughter and I were at a bookstore event which involved lining up and waiting to dress up in Olivia’s wardrobe. If you have no children, or they are over ten and you don’t know who Olivia is, she is a pig with an extensive wardrobe. Lining up and waiting are two things children do not do with any style or grace – especially when they sense that the box in front of them contains many tiaras – so it was a mildly stressful environment. The parents were, for the most part, keeping their children within “hissing threat” distance, with the exception of one father. His little girl kept cutting ahead in line, trying to insinuate herself into some family closer to the almighty Olivia clothing. The father said “Maya, sweetie, come here” (Maya wasn’t her name, but I allow her anonymity, because she can’t help having a stupid father). His tone was so ineffectual we all understood he had no back-up plan for when she completely ignored him. She wormed her way into the next family and attempted to appear African-American. He sighed and looked at other parents for sympathy, as if a five year-old girl was as impossible to control as lava.

My inner judge whipped off her gag and set right into work:

This is why some people shouldn’t have children. If he can’t get his daughter to respect him while waiting in a relatively short line, he is going to be completely outclassed when she figures out the alarm code at their house. She’ll be sneaking off with her biker boyfriend, while he stands at the front door saying “Maya, sweetie, you might want to rethink this”… Oh look; now he’s on his phone. Because nothing says Involved Dad quite like watching your child power-grabbing a feather boa out of the hands of another child while you arrange your golf game this afternoon. Why don’t you just hire someone to raise your kid for you so you can make your two o’clock tee time?

I winced, but I smiled. I had missed my hostile little friend. It was good to have her back. There is a snake in this Eden, though. As vicious as she can be to outsiders, she is even more unforgiving of my own missteps. Perhaps, if I were to refuse to accept the things she said about other people, I could stop listening to the things she finds fault with in me. On the other hand, I would never again get to hear “You like splashing water on my kid, you little toad? Let’s see how much you like water when I am holding your head underneath it for a few minutes”.

Oh Lord, give me tolerance, but do not give it yet.


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