What would baby Match.com even be called?

9 04 2012

About six months ago, something pretty crazy happened in my family–the best baby ever was born to my brother and my sister-in-law. I know everyone feels that way about their nieces and nephews, but in this case it’s true. We can all stop looking.

Obviously, I love the kid like crazy. Therefore, I talk about her and force people to look at pictures from time to time. I try to control myself, honestly. Like I said, though–best baby ever.

I noticed something weird happens when you talk about a baby. Everyone wants to set them up on dates.

I’m sure you’re scratching your head, and I assure you, I agree. It makes no sense. But it’s an uncontrollable urge that apparently affects many. As soon as I mention my super cool adorable niece, people start saying:

“Oh, my son’s a year old, we’ll have to set them up!”
I don’t know you, and I’m sure he’s not good enough.

“She’s in day care? Any little boys got their eye on her?”
No, they can’t sit up unassisted yet.

“Oh, remind them they’re related!”
This was the grossest comment, in reference to my niece and her cousin wacking each other on the arm. I thought it was a cute moment, others thought we needed to turn a hose on the infants.

We’re going to leave the heteronormativity aside for the moment (though it would be nice to switch that up, please) and focus on the bizarre sexualization of kids. Little kids.

I’m not talking about criminal stuff. I’m talking about these weird comments that strike some unfunny people as the height of comedy. It makes sense, to some degree. The idea of babies as mini adults is kind of amusing, in the way that animals wearing hats is a bit funny. But we all remember that animals in costume is an unnatural thing that shouldn’t extend beyond a photo op. People don’t always remember this when it comes to their kids.

As soon as the girls spring forth from the womb, people tell their fathers that they should be locking them up because they’re pretty (it worked for Rapunzel’s evil witch-mom, right?) or that they shouldn’t let them date. The boys are told that they’ll be heart-breakers. Even weirder is when baby boys are called “tough guys.” Yeah, he just shit his pants and now he’s crying about it. Real tough.

I see this constantly in my work. As a youth worker at Anonymous Youth Center, I often assisted in pre-school. The teacher had to send a note home over the summer, requesting that parents not dress their girls in a “sexy style.” This is what it was called. I’m not joking.

I am not creeped out by a little kid who wants to be naked all the time, or little girls swimming topless at the beach, as there’s not anything for them to hide. But a triangle bikini with a metal ring between the “cups,” tube tops, mini skirts…where the hell did they even buy these things?

Don’t worry, it’s not just the girls. On more than one occasion I have heard a man proudly declare that he doesn’t need a DNA test, he knows that baby boy is his. “Cuz he’s well endowed, y’know?”

Actually sir, I do know. I assisted mom during a diaper change. If that infant ween reminds you of your own, I am amazed that you procreated in the first place.

One mother had the decency to tell her baby’s father, “Do not talk about my son’s package!” Normally I deduct points for use of the term “package,” but I let it go in this case.

Only moments later, though, the baby started fussing when his mother was getting his into his onesie. She assured him that they would be done in a minute. “Don’t worry, papi, almost done, you’re almost dressed, there we go, all sexy.”

Ew. What?

Yeah. Parents call their kids sexy. A lot. No one seems to object. Then the kids turn thirteen, talk constantly about dating, and everyone is confused. “You’ll have time for that when you’re older! Why are you in such a rush to act grown?” You dressed her up to go clubbing and tried your hand at matchmaking when she was eight months old. Forgive the children for getting some mixed messages. It’s funny and cute when you do it, but they’re sluts not acting their age when they imitate you? OK…

Childhood is supposed to be fun and carefree, but we all know it generally isn’t. Even if your childhood isn’t filled with abuse, neglect, gang warfare, or domestic violence, being a kid can be stressful. You don’t understand anything. Everyone tells you what to do, and your parents are constantly bringing you places and not telling you until you get there. I remember seeing my little cousin in the hospital for the first time the day he was born. I hadn’t even known my aunt was pregnant. My head kind of exploded.

Kids have enough going on. As much as we romanticize dating when we’re no longer in the scene, we should all take a moment to remember that, for the most part, it sucks. You question your every move and Facebook post, you can’t just talk to someone without wondering where it’s going, and middle aged relatives won’t stop telling you about their friends’ kid who met someone on eHarmony.

We’re not pushing our kids to file their taxes or make appointments at the DMV, so we should probably hold off on dating as well.

Dating’s all fun and games, until someone loses their self respect.

24 10 2011

Dating is a funny thing. Older people, and people in relationships, tend to talk about it like it’s fun and exciting. Nights out on the town, meeting new people, the thrill of the chase. (Or is that a safari?) I blame romantic comedies. Terrible movies sending a bad message. Why do they even make those things?

In reality, I hope we all know that it’s pretty horrible. Debating whether or not you should call, or if you should be waiting for the other person to text. If he texts, rather than calls, what does that mean? What is she really saying with that Facebook friend request? How soon is too soon to introduce this person to friends? And why do we all get so pissed when we’re rejected by someone we weren’t even interested in? (Side note: if the son of a friend of my aunt’s happens to be reading this: when she gave you my email address eight years ago, I didn’t even know that she was doing that. I didn’t want to talk to you either.)

OK. Glad I got that out there.

Dating drama has always been fairly minimal in my own life. But my clients manage to bring it back, and remind me of what I missed.

Thank goodness I missed it.

I have to give most of my female clients credit for being hopelessly optimistic. “Hopelessly optimistic” is my strengths-based translation of “blindly in denial.” One young mother I worked with had two children by two different fathers. She presented as being rather tough, and had in fact had a very difficult life. Her father was a drug addict, her mother was abusive, and she was in and out of foster care. She was extremely intelligent, and really trying to be a better parent for her children.

All that intelligence, experience, and toughness, though, didn’t stop her from wanting the storybook romance. I was thrilled to pieces when she finally seemed to be putting those restraining orders against her violent former partners to use. She talked about needing to focus on her children, work on herself, get back to school.

When she came in to the office with stars in her eyes, telling me that she and a friend were suddenly more than friends, I think she could sense my apprehension.

I wanted her to be happy. I wanted her to have the best friend, boyfriend, whatever she wanted. But I also really wanted her to see that the problem wasn’t just that men turned out to be assholes. It was that the men she chose turned out to be assholes. It wasn’t a matter of getting out there and trying more and more, and eventually you’ll find the right one. It was a matter of saying, hey, I’m attracted to scumbags. Let’s rectify that.

But it’s not an easy thing to do. I had to close her case when she moved herself to a foreign suburban land to be with this man. He seemed like a genuinely good guy, so I’m hoping they made it work. Realistically, I assume he either turned out to be hiding his jackass nature really well, or he remained a good guy, so she got bored and left.

Hopelessly optimistic I’m not. But unfortunately, I’m often correct. (I might need to make that my new tagline.)

The world of teen dating is just as torrid, dramatic, and unpredictable as I remember. My goodness, they don’t learn and they don’t give up. No matter what their parents and social workers try to teach them.

Teenagers, particularly girls, are always talking to me about their latest romantic fiascos. The boys are involved in these too, but they like to act as though they’re only interested in sex. They also have a hard time getting their viewpoints across, once I explain to them that they have to say “women” or “girls,” rather than “bitches” or “hos.”

I hear these kids complain about their significant others all the time. One fifteen year old I’ll never forget kept going back to this one boy in particular, always assuming he’d change at some point. He cheated on her, made fun of her in public, swore at her, called her names, and set her up to get jumped by his friends.

He claimed that he tried to get back the jewelry they stole. Apparently that made everything better.

When he said he wanted a baby with her, she was pretty heavily considering it. I mean, who wouldn’t? She’s only human.

We tried to figure out what she liked about him. It took a long time to identify even one thing, though she vehemently defended this boy to her mother. It finally came down to her saying that he was nice to her when it was just the two of them. Sometimes.

This boy being “nice” once erased a thousand wrongs. Just the opposite of this girl’s relationship with her mother.

The mothers are always very concerned about their daughters’ dating. The concerns for “reputation” start very early on. My personal view is that the neighbors can talk all they want, as long as you’re healthy and not pregnant. But I seem to be in the minority.

Yes, your thirteen year old daughter has a hickey. OK, your sixteen year old daughter admitted to letting her boyfriend, in her words, “grab her titties.” (Sounds like a lovely experience, by the way.) My concern is that the relationships they’re involved with are respectful, and that they’re being safe. The moms had other concerns.

“People could have seen them. What are they going to think about what kind of a parent I am, that I’m letting my daughter run around like this?”
Well, your daughter is running around with their sons, so they don’t have a leg to stand on.

“I just need to know if she’s still a virgin.”
Is the priority knowing the answer to that question? Or is it about finding out if you know what your daughter is doing, knowing if she’s at risk, and if she can handle the activities she’s engaging in? P.S. I’ve heard about what some “virgins” get up to. The entire concept is useless and far from exact.

“Can I take her to the doctor to find out if she’s still a virgin?”
NO. For the last time. That is not possible, shows a poor understanding of female anatomy, and is wrong and ridiculous.

“Can you ask her if she’s a virgin?”
All right, I don’t know if we’re getting anywhere with this.

The best handling of a teen relationship I’ve witnessed was a few months ago, during a home visit. The sixteen year old daughter, who is very sweet, quiet, and a wonderful student and artist, had brought her girlfriend home to meet her family for the first time. She was appropriately mortified. Her mother asked, “Oh, you’re Shawna’s girlfriend? OK. You’re gonna be around? You’re gonna be good to her? You’re a junior too, right?” The tattooed gang member twin brother hopped around like a hyperactive goober, making empty, joking threats about what would happen if this girl was mean to his sister. The two then left to take Shawna’s six year old sister to the park. And apparently returned with her intact.

Apparently it can be done. Dating, romance, all that crap, can be gotten through with minimal injuries, physical and otherwise. We can learn from it, and occasionally enjoy it.

But that’s no excuse for the existence of romantic comedies.