In Praise of AdultsThomas Beller
I come to sing the praises of adults. To recommend their company. To speak of the many positive and useful things that we, the parents of small children, stand to gain from their company. One of the best things about the holiday season is that you and your family are likely to see more adults than usual.
By adults, I do not mean people who have children the same age as your children. These people, though technically adults, do not count. You see these people all the time, and though you may like them, or love them, you only see them with one eye. With the other eye you look at your children. Sometimes you look at their children. Sometimes you may even look after their children, and vice versa, which is one of the many reasons why you see them with only one distracted eye.
The adults whose company I recommend are an entirely different species. They visit you in the trenches. You are in your rags, face smeared in mud. They are wearing unstained clothes, perhaps even dry cleaned. Yet somehow you don’t feel decrepit in comparison — you feel vital, and everyone is happy. These adults may have children but their children are not the same age as yours, they are older.
Or they may not have children, a category which itself can be divided into “not yet” and “we are taking a pass,” which itself can be divided into “fait accomplis,” and “that’s what they’re saying now.”
All of the above variations are fine. These adults come bearing many gifts. Most elementally, the come with the capacity to see with two eyes. Not only that, but they have full use of their brain, or whatever is left of it. With these two eyes, and the brain, and the memory within, they can see things that you can not, such as your children.
For example the other night, when my friend Adrian arrived at our front door having walked from his not-all-that-nearby hotel. He had received, in the hour before his arrival, several bits of correspondence from me along the lines of, “running a bit late,” and, “‘If you get there before me make yourself at home I am on my way!” Adrian was at the end of a two-day work trip in what was, for him, a pleasant and unusual city. He was happy to meander the rather dark and spooky streets of New Orleans wearing clean clothes, having just been reunited, hours earlier, with his luggage. It had been lost on the way down.
Adrian rang the bell about five minutes after I arrived. I had, in those five minutes, warmly greeted my wife bearing a gift of broccoli from Langenstein’s. This means it is not organic, as is the Whole Food variety, but it is accessible, and the best kind of broccoli is the broccoli you have. I saw her twitch a little bit at the sound of the doorbell as she tried to reconcile the idea of company with the chaos prevailing in the kitchen.
Adrian walks in, stands there, hands in pockets, relaxed. An adult! But what kind? It must be said that not all adults come bearing that essential and welcome gift of having two eyes with which to apprehend the world, your world, because sometimes they come with two ears, the wrong kind of ears that filter everything out except the noise and clamor. We all know about this from those moments in public places, or even private places, when the children are either misbehaving or being children, depending on your point of view and mood at the time, and someone shoots you a look.
Adrian, however, was clearly not this kind. I knew this because as soon as he had stepped in, said hello, and shaken my hand, he was crouched down like a catcher, engaging Alexander in conversation. Alexander is 18 months old. He speaks a language that is not in wide circulation. Maybe this is why he is always so happy when he has someone to talk to. Someone like this new adult, Adrian. “Shoe!” says Alexander with customary urgency. He points at Adrian’s shoes. “Shoe!” “Oh, yes, shoes!” says Adrian. “Those are my shoes!”
Satisfied that my guest is being entertained, I go back to the kitchen to see about the wife, the daughter, and the babysitter we would be keeping a couple of hours late. “Shoo Shoo Shoo!” I hear as I make my exit. When I return a moment later, I see that Adrian has obligingly taken down several shoes from the shelf where we keep them, out of Alexander’s reach. Alexander is now trying them on. The first is one of my wife’s high heeled platform shoes.
“These are nice shoes,” says Adrian, almost like a salesman, as Alexander steps into one, then another.
“How about this one?” he says, and takes down one of mine. “Daddy shoes!” says Alexander. Now we are in business. By this I mean the Cute Olympics have begun in earnest. The little man is standing in one of my shoes and trying to walk! Which makes me want to mention my sadness that I had not insisted on a certain photograph as the cover of my last book, How To Be A Man. A photograph in which I am doing the same thing that Alexander is doing now, except with nicer shoes. Also, I was older, maybe six. But then at what age does the novelty of walking around in one’s father’s shoes wear off?
With an adult you can sit in the living room and talk about things other than your children. We were able to do this for awhile because of the babysitter. The last time we had some people over at this hour — 6:30 — for a wine/cheese hangout, we had the idea that the boy would occupy himself with books or toys as he sometimes does, while the girl watched a movie. But that was incorrect. The boy wanted to talk, flirt, harass, steal cheese and crackers, reach for sharp objects, shout profanities and then run away, and generally revel in the undivided attention of the adults.
So this time, a babysitter. The babysitter mitigated Alexander but did not eradicate him. An odd thing to say about your eighteen-month-old son, I know, but then I am still recovering from the two hours of his harassing our friends, a handsome young couple who had recently been engaged. Alexander, I think, grasped that his cuteness and devilishness would be provocative to them, and he kept escalating both qualities, winding them up. It was like the toddler version of “Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf.’
I was standing just outside the front door when he said goodbye to my wife, and so witnessed the exchange at a curious remove. I stood in the darkness and watched as my wife, with Alexander in her arms, stood in a box of light listening to Adrian.
“You have the most wonderful children,” he said. “So bright and beautiful. They are their own people, but you can tell their curiosity and intelligence comes from being in such a loving, nurturing environment.” It was like some kind of parent fantasia.
“Oh, that is so nice!” said Elizabeth, and I could tell some weight had been lifted off her shoulders, even as the weight on her hip, in the form of the boy, grew heavier every day.
At the end of the evening I drove Adrian back to his hotel. On the way he asked me to pull over so he could take a picture of these enormous trees whose branches had been wrapped in christmas lights. It was a metaphor for the whole evening–I must have passed these trees on St. Charles Avenue every other day but had never noticed the lights. Now, through his eyes, I was duly amazed by them, and took a picture.
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