I like to think of myself as open-minded. While I could always do better, I think I am generally better-than-average at being open to new people and things and not making assumptions. But sometimes you find yourself in a neighborhood music class with your son and you are paired with a little girl and her grandfather who looks like a man you swear you saw on the sex offenders website. Then, what are you supposed to do?
There is absolutely nothing funny about sexual predators. And, as we have seen with Trayvon Martin’s death, there is nothing funny about stereotyping others.
But now that I have two little kids, I find myself torn between protecting them and being open-minded. Like this morning at music class.
(ASIDE: Isn’t the WORST part of these parent-and-baby classes when the teacher makes you pair up and do little exercises with a partner? I. HATE. IT. I want to spend time jamming with Simon and/or Sadie, not confront my deep-seated fear of having to touch and make small talk with new people. All these “partner exercises” do for me is confirm that I suck at making new friends in these classes.)
Our perky, ukulele-playing teacher (tell me you have no judgments or assumptions about her, and I’ll email you a picture of the bruise on my left butt cheek that Sadie gave me last week) arrived at that inevitable point in class: “Ok! Everyone grab a partner for this next song.” Inwardly, I was groaning, because we are new to the class, and I don’t know a soul; I didn’t have a “go-to” BFF in the room with me. The other parents seem like great people– I would love to exchange cell numbers with them so I can avoid their calls like I avoid everyone else’s.
Because I just stood there holding Simon, silently praying he’ll end up less phobic about touching other people than I am, I lost my chance to pair up with Phoebe and her mother, Emily, who seemed at least 30 years old, slightly malcontented, and a little skeptical of our chipper teacher (my criteria for friendship in these classes).
The teacher finally had to tell me to match up with Marley and her grandfather. Now, before you judge me, let me say this: I have been to my share of Gymboree, gymnastics, music & movement, art, cooking, swimming, and kiddie yoga classes. I have been equally afraid and/or judgmental of other moms, nannies, dads, grandparents and other “caregivers.”
So Marley and her grandfather were waiting expectantly for Simon and me to do this jig-ass dance with them (in time to the music). We had to interlock arms. I wanted to like Marley’s grandfather; I loved my own, and I was willing to proceed with some gentle jigging.
But, I felt terror. It was more than the usual I-am-scared-to-be-out-of-my-comfort-zone fear. I felt suspicious of him. Why did he still have his coat on? (It was 55 degrees outside and about 87 degrees in the music room. (I asked the teacher if it was Bikram music class, but she didn’t answer me, because she was too busy fluffing out her thrift store prairie skirt).) Why did he smell funny? (Like nicotine and too much time alone with the Internet.) Why didn’t he make eye contact with me? (Hello? See me over here– how often do you get to jig with a hot 38-year-old lady in day-old running clothes?) It wasn’t natural.
I decided to focus on Marley. She had big open brown eyes and adorable straight-across bangs. Because this was something of an intimate jig, I was close enough to see that Marley had some cracker crumbs on her collar and something sticky on her chin, neither of which diminished her radiance.
Last week, a really warm and hilarious father brought his daughter to class, and there was no discernible up-tick in my fear level. But as I sit here right now, I don’t know what to do with the feeling in my gut about Marley’s grandfather. Have I watched too many Oprah shows over the years? Have I been so inundated with cultural tropes about “dirty old men” that I can’t see a grandfather with a little body odor without jumping to the worst conclusion possible?
One definite conclusion: having two kids has ruined my ability to jig gaily with hygiene-challenged septuagenarians.