Originally posted at The Nice Guy’s Page
My uncle Sid turned 80 the other day. He’s a pretty tough old guy, so it didn’t surprise me that he made it such a good age (though I think it surprised him). Naturally, a celebration was in order, so his wife Betty organised a birthday bash for their extended family. Betty is actually my Grandad’s sister, so although I knew a bunch of people at the party, there were a fair few I had never met before.
When you have a party with a large number of related people, you expect there to be a few kids present. People get married and have kids with a certain regularity so there always seem to be a few running around at these kinds of parties. This time was no exception. Among the guests were a few of my cousins (aged 11 and 12), my second cousins (aged 11, 14 and 15) and two younger children, Dylan and Maggie (aged 2 and 5 respectively). Since I’m the youngest legal adult in our extended family who actually shows up to these kinds of events, it’s usually expected that I’ll look after any of the kids who are present. It’s kind of an unspoken agreement between my relatives and I. Some people might resent that, but I enjoy it because I love being around kids.
Ugh, who would want to be around other people’s horrible snot-nosed brats all the time?
I would, actually. Part of it comes from the fact that I have a fairly unique problem; kids adore me. Seriously. I have no idea why, but usually no more than half an hour after meeting me, they’re following me around like they’ve known me forever. My Mum sometimes jokes that “Solaris is doing his Pied Piper impression again”, which she finds hilarious. I don’t have any children of my own, but I really fail to understand how some people can dislike kids so much. I admit some behave like little horrors, but it’s always seemed to me that they become much more agreeable if they know you won’t put up with that kind of behaviour.
Anyway, on with the show. My poor cousins were looking bored out of their brains. I can’t say I blame them. They really didn’t have anyone else to talk to or anything to do, so I decided that I’d chat to them for a little while. I’d probably have stayed talking to them longer, but then lunch was served so everyone made a rush for the food. When I went to sit down with my lunch at the table my Father and I had claimed earlier, we had a new guest sitting with us. He was a shy two-year-old dressed in designer children’s clothes called Dylan. He was sitting with my father’s cousin Bruce, and he spent a lot of time trying to hide behind Bruce’s jacket. Bruce tried his best to introduce him properly, but Dylan’s only response was to smile and then push his face into Bruce’s jacket again.
Doing silly things is always a good way to attract a child’s attention. I started sticking the little plastic “80’s” that were scattered around the table on my face and acted like nothing was amiss. The look of amazement on Dylan’s face was priceless. Everyone else at the table was chuckling. I was a hit! Dylan forgot his shyness and decided that if it worked for me, he’d give it a try. His attempts to stick little plastic table decorations on his face were so comical that everyone roared with laughter. Dylan grinned as he was now the centre of attention. I was secretly pleased with myself.
After a full lunch, Betty announced that we would have to wait for the cake to be served. It wasn’t quite ready yet, so everyone started to mill around again. I spotted a little girl over in the corner of the yard who looked like she was desperately trying to entertain herself with a small inflateable beach ball. Emboldened by my success with Dylan, I walked up to her and snapped up the beach ball before she could react.
“It’s mine now”, I grinned.
“I want it back!” she said, stamping her foot.
“Are you sure?” I asked slyly.
“Yes! Yes! Give it back!”
I bounced the beachball off her head. She stood there in open-mouthed astonishment.
“You were too slow! I gave it back to you and you didn’t even take it.”
“You cheated!” she said with an accusing tone.
I bounced the beachball of her head again and smiled mischeviously.
I saw a moment of confusion cross her face, and then a smile slowly appeared. “You can’t hit me again! I’m too fast!” she squealed, daring me to throw the beach ball at her again.
We spent the next few minutes trading taunts back and forth as the beach ball flew around the yard. Her little brother, obviously deciding he didn’t want to be left out, rushed to be part of the game. The little girl told me her name was Maggie, and that her little brother was Dylan (I already knew of course, but I didn’t want to spoil her proud introduction of him). Dylan laughed wildly every time the beach ball bounced off his head. Maggie was having a great time “hiding” from her younger brother every time he grabbed the ball. I was having fun too – who wouldn’t?
I mistimed a throw and managed to stumble. Feigning injury, I crumpled melodramatically.
“Ow! She got me!”
In a flash, Dylan was climbing on me, laughing himself silly. Maggie took full advantage of the situation to repeatedly bounce the beachball off my head. They stopped dead a moment later though.
“That’s enough you two!”
Their mother, Sally, had appeared out of nowhere with a stern expression on her face. The children didn’t move an inch, and I could see that Maggie looked particularly upset. As I stood up and brushed myself off, Sally gathered the children behind her.
“Dylan likes to climb like that on his father”, she said as she looked at me suspiciously. She folded her arms, and I could see an unspoken accusation in her eyes.
“I’ll go and talk to my wife.”
Like most women, she just had to try and get in one last dig. “I think that would be best.”
I was faintly embarrassed by her behaviour. In the past I probably would have gotten angry, but I just couldn’t be bothered. I was here for Uncle Sid’s birthday, not to put some over-protective mother in her place. I knew the look she had given me, because I’d seen it before. I used to teach music, and it was the same look that myself and the other male teachers used to get on a depressingly regular basis. She had decided (using her “women’s intuition” no doubt) that I was going to molest her kids. There was no point in trying to talk to her any further, or worse, attempting to talk to her children as any further communication would be taken as further evidence that she was right.
I don’t blame people for being protective of their children, but enough is enough. How on earth was I going to molest her children in front of over 50 adults sitting not 5 yards away? I’m sick of the irrational fear of men that has developed over the last 10 years. It’s one of the reasons I quit teaching music, in fact. The risk was just too great that an accusation would be made. The young guy teaching to a class full of students in the room next to me was dragged through the mud by a hysterical mother who claimed he “touched her daughter” in front of a class of 20 students with a half-dozen parents looking on! Not one of the parents who were in the room were prepared to stand up and defend him, but all quietly acknowledged to the director of the school that nothing had happened. Frankly, he got lucky, because the next time that woman accused him, there were no parents watching the class. Fortunately, she had very little credibility left at that point. To say he was a nervous wreck after that would be an understatement though.
It isn’t pleasant to viewed as a potential child molester. Those kids were having a great time, and I was no threat to them. If I had been a perfect stranger, I might have even been prepared to be understanding, but this was a family gathering. Granted, I hadn’t met Sally before, but I had met her husband (who was nowhere to be seen, sadly). There’s a lot I want to say, but it would sound more like an incoherent rant than anything else. Men, in the general sense, are not a threat to children. In fact I would suggest that men’s increasing absence from childhood activities has caused tangible harm. Men have been gradually driven out of children’s lives by a moral panic fed largely by the fears of mums like Sally, and I’m sick of it. Apparently it’s even official policy for companies like British Airways to separate men and children now.
I sat down and quietly finished the piece of cake my father had grabbed for me. Ugh. Just what I need – more sugar. Now I was going to have to work it off. I looked over at my cousins Kyle and Mikey. I pulled myself to my feet and walked over to them. “Come on guys, let’s go play some dodgeball at the park across the road.”
My aunt looked at me with tangible relief. “Oh would you darl? That would be wonderful. The boys have been beside themselves with boredom.”
“It’s no problem. It’ll be fun, and help me work off that cake I just ate.”
Kyle and Mikey perked up right away and set about hunting for tennis balls and other things to take with them to the park. Sally stood there scowling at me the whole time. Just to make sure I knew not to try anything funny.
Sorry Sally, nobody is going to molest your kids today, so take your righteous indignation and find a better use for it.