Have you noticed how normal, accepted standards of adult interaction go out the window when a dog or a small child is added to the mix?

Voices get high pitched.

Expressions get exaggerated.

Eye contact (between adults) is basically non-existent. All eyes are on the little creatures.

Declan and I have been spending a lot of time at the Phoenix Children’s Museum and here’s what I’ve observed.

First off, parents don’t talk to each other. They talk at each other. More specifically, they talk at each other’s children. How are youuuuuuuuuu? Wow, you’re FAST! You’re BIG! Look at you GO-OOOO. There are no greetings or salutations between the adults. No introductions. That’s weird, right?

After about a minute of this, one of two things will happen: the adults or kids will go their own way, or it will get awkward enough for the adults that they will finally feel the need to talk to each other. And this is, inevitably, the question they will ask:

How old is he/she?

This is done to immediately assess whether one’s child is advanced or floundering developmentally. Let’s not pretend there’s some other reason. Parents are OBSESSED with comparisons. Wait, what? Your six-month-old is eating beans and my seven-month-old is still stuck on mushy oatmeal?! Could it be an eating disorder? Stomach issues? Stomach cancer?

Parents don’t WANT to be like this. But they are.

Your kid is standing at six months, and mine is barely rolling over at five and a half? We’re going through the Web MD checklist, then. Maybe it’s cerebral palsy. Extreme? Well, I can’t rule it out now, can I? And neither, apparently, can Dr. Google.

So the silent comparisons are definitely happening in the minutes after the “how old” question.

And then another weird thing happens when the kids start to interact, and inevitably poke, grab, and generally treat each other like miniature science experiments: the parents act as if they are surprised!

The pitch of their voice heightens more, if that’s possible. There’s a faint hint of disbelief–even indignation–evident. “No, Johnny. We don’t hit/grab/pull/poke/push/squeeze/pry/take/bulldoze ahead without looking.”

It’s always we. We do that. We don’t do this. Because ultimately, the parent sees the kid’s behavior as a reflection on them. Never mind that one-year-olds can’t really be expected to have internalized and mastered the distinction between a toy they can fling around and a small human they can hurt or, at the least, annoy. But parents, well, they don’t want other parents to view their kids as anything other than angels.

So these are my observations. Parents are weird. We get into these new social scenes and suddenly we’re back at the middle school dance–high-pitched, cracking voice and all– hanging out in the corner, shuffling our feet, doing our best to look cool and not betray our nerves. And not always succeeding.

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