Nobody wants to admit it, but the truth is, not all kids are cute. Let’s be frank here: YOUR kids are cute. And when I say “your,” I don’t necessarily mean only the ones that sprang from your loins. Nieces, nephews, grandchildren, any kid you have a personal connection to is adorable. Until they learn the skills that keep us alive, such as fishing or filing an expense report (neither of which I can do), cuteness is their primary survival trait. But the truth is that for most adults, this benefit is limited when it comes to children not within our immediate sphere of community. The rest of them are a crapshoot, and most of them may as well be an uncooked meatloaf in the cute department.
If you think I’m exaggerating, I invite you to go to a dance recital some time. The hall will be packed to the gills, but every single person in the audience is there to see exactly one kid. The other kids are just people who may potentially be standing in front of your little darling when the time comes, the asshole. The only people who care about more than one kid are families with multiple children in the show, and these are easily spotted outside the hall begging for gas money once they’ve finished paying for the lessons.
Dance recitals are one of America’s biggest rackets, after insurance companies. Think about this: parents give these studios hundreds of dollars — perfectly good dollars, dollars they could use to buy their children food, or meth. In return, the studio spends the entire school year taking the kid for an hour a week and teaching them the same three dance moves. (Those moves, in order of performance, are the hula hoop, the toe tap, and the walk off the stage waving.) After ten months of intensive training, you get to watch your kid do this for six minutes, then sit for three hours through everybody else’s children doing the same thing. Granted, I am speaking mainly of the younger children here. Older students get more intricate dance moves, such as the alternating toe tap and the gyrating hips of a nature that got Netflix in trouble because eight-year-olds were doing it. Eventually, the ones who don’t quit dancing because a new game came out for the Switch may reach a level of legitimate performance, even of — dare I say it? Art. Unfortunately, by the time these older students take the stage, the audience has seen so many hula hoops and toe taps that they have completely checked out and are thinking about what the score of the game is, because for some damn reason they always do these things during the finals.
This is not to imply I have any sort of moral superiority here, of course. Anyone who follows me on social media knows I am a complete whore when it comes to talking about my kid, because unlike all these wieners on stage I’ve never even heard of before, my kid is awesome. It’s that survival trait I mentioned before. Parents are biologically predisposed to believing their own children are the most amazing thing that has ever been placed on the Earth, which is fortunate because otherwise we would yeet them out the window the first time they somehow manage to take the bathroom door off its hinges. Parenthood is, in fact, a sexually transmitted disease that carries with it a mild mental disorder: not a dangerous one, just one that inclines you to be more charitable when your child stares at your bowl as if he doesn’t have a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios from the same damn box, so why does he want to shove his filthy hands into yours?
I cannot tell you how many nights I have gazed upon my sleeping child and said to my wife, “He’s beautiful. He’s perfect.” It’s as if I have completely forgotten that two hours ago I was embroiled in a bitter argument with him because he has learned to spell the word “B-L-U-E,” which is great, but now he is taking violent exception to my collection of Blu-Rays for failing to live up to his standards.
The good news is that this is a social contract most of us have cheerfully agreed to abide by. When a parent shows us a picture of a child who has utterly failed to properly place spaghetti in their mouth instead of all over their face, we smile and say, “Aw, that’s so cute!” instead of what we’re actually thinking, which is “Aw, he’s FOURTEEN.” So as a parent, I would like to publicly thank all other decent human beings for pretending to be interested when I begin to wax poetic about how awesome my kid is, even though I know a large percentage of people could not possibly care less. In exchange, I promise to continue to do the same when you tell me about your kids, and I won’t even bring up the fact that my kid can read The Monster at the End of This Book out loud (he does a great Grover impression, by the way), whereas your husband can’t even do that. This is the way that we will survive as a society.
Blake M. Petit is a writer, teacher, and dad from Ama, Louisiana. His current writing project is the superhero adventure series Other People’s Heroes: Little Stars, a new episode of which is available every Wednesday on Amazon’s Kindle Vella platform. He had to tell his son to stop climbing the windowsill four times during the composition of this piece.