I am a horrible adult when I’m being a parent, and vice versa.
We ran into our neighbor coming home from the playground today. He was with his 6-year old daughter, whom, of course, Boobaby idolizes. He was home at this unusual time for working parents because he’d just gotten back from the hospital, visiting his sister, who’s in intensive care for 6 weeks, stricken by a circulatory problem.
As he was telling me about the disease, the prognosis, and their family’s building stress levels, Boobaby and his daughter were playing all around us. Just when I’d wrung my face into as sympathetic a mask of concern as I could, Boo ran up to show me a rock. I expressed my concern and support to my adult neighbor while standing, then kneeled and looked under the car with the kids to find a bug. And then repeated the performance: stand up, sympathize, kneel down, be cheerful.
Today’s multiple-personality conversation was extreme, but milder versions of the same phenomenon occur all the time. I’ll be chatting with another parent about politics (or, more likely, the price of goldfish crackers) and the kids will come up for hugs or victuals. If my fellow grownup is skilled at conversational acrobatics, I prefer to move seamlessly between the grownup and the kids, but a lot of folks don’t like to do that, even when their kids are needy of attention. So I’m torn between the two: I feel socially bound to finish the adult conversation, but more at home connecting to the kids.