Other People’s Children

Recently (well actually ever since my eldest child reached playground-enjoying age) I have been thinking to myself increasing frequently how much I abhor other people’s children (OPCs). There are some exceptions, of course- I do tolerate my friends’ kids, I even think some of them are quite sweet but on the whole, I’d have to agree with the (so far childless) friend of mine who once said children are like farts- you find other people’s universally offensive but your own strangely gratifying.

My mother always said how easy it is to raise other people’s children, and god knows I’m sure there are many mothers who have watched me with disapproval in the shopping centre/playground/library when I fail to toe the parenting line. But on the whole, I’m prepared to risk accusations of hypocrisy and complain about several OPC traits:

OPCs are rude They interrupt. Constantly. And because whatever they have to say is so important, their parents do not teach them to wait. Instead, the child will start blabbing to its parent when you are mid-sentence and, annoyingly, the parent will immediately stop listening to what you are saying and usually go so far as to prolong the interruption while they engage in a new conversation with their child. “Please don’t interrupt, I’m talking” is a phrase that I don’t think I’ve heard since I was a child myself, coming from my own mother’s mouth.

OPCs push in This is the physical equivalent of interrupting and irks me not only because I am trying to teach my own child some manners but also because I don’t like to see him pushed around. Once he can put more than 4 words together in a sentence, I plan to teach him to tell OPCs to bugger off and wait their turn- politely, of course.

OPCs are entitled– they insist in climbing UP the slide when other kids are trying to slide down it. They ask ME, a total stranger, to push them on the swing. They strike up random conversations with me when I’m happily minding my own (and my child’s) business. They seize my child’s bike (in the rare moments that his own bottom’s not firmly planted on it) without asking… surely there is some kind of playground code of conduct outlawing this kind of behaviour? If not, I’m happy to write one.

OPCs screech and shriek– I cannot understand why their parents allow this. I can’t stand the sound of my own child screeching, are their children’s shrieks somehow less offensive? When Master L was about 8 months old he started screeching intermittently. It was awful…. I was terrified that it would continue and I would have a screecher. Fortunately it didn’t. Once I figured out that me shrieking at him to stop shrieking was completely ineffective, I decided to ignore the shrieking and instead reply enthusiastically as often as I could to his more melodious, measured, although just as nonsensical babble. The screeching phase lasted less than a fortnight.

OPCs eat constantly. They eat crap. Their mothers offer their child’s crap to my child and I feel slightly inadequate that the only thing I have in my mummy-bag for my child is something boring and un-sharable like an apple. Not pureed (although this is obviously forgivable if your child is yet to sprout teeth and learn to chew & swallow), not dried, not boiled up in sugar and rolled out into a flat synthetic sheet, not even peeled and cut up into pieces (and definitely not prophylactically rinsed in lemon juice to stop it going brown although there are apparently mothers out there who do this) but an apple. Skin intact, for eating in the traditional way. The only processing required is removing that annoying little fruit sticker.

OPCs are intrusive– They run around my house (when they are allowed into it). They run up the stairs and through all the bedrooms (shrieking all the way). Their shoes remain on their feet. They jump on the couches and go through the cupboards. They roam around the house eating (see previous point- I forgot to add they never seem to sit down to eat their crap), smearing their synthetic toddler snacks over the couch, the TV screen, the walls… everywhere.

OPCs are obsessed with my dog– This behaviour is encouraged by their parents, who always announce proudly “oh he loooooves dogs!” These children do not love dogs, in fact these are the children who barely know what a dog is. Children who are actually familiar with dogs completely ignore mine because they generally have their own at home (or in tow if the mother is really saintly/crazy). Moreover, I am expected to protect the OPCs from my dog, hoping desperately that she tolerates the ear-tugging and eye-poking without snapping at the kid. That would undoubtedly be completely my fault and my dog would be classified as “dangerous” rather than “normal”. Fortunately my dog is actually infinitely more tolerant than me and seems to cope with the poking and prodding fairly well.

I’m beginning to think I could learn a lot from my dog about tolerance. On the other hand, sometimes I think it’s not the OPCs I find so irritating, but simply the OPs themselves…

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