Having just spent a week or so with my bright, shiny new nephew (eight weeks and already twice his birth weight), I think that part of what makes relatives magical is that you are allowed to delight in them completely.
I’m sitting in SeaTac while I type this and next to me is playing a little girl, maybe four or so. Old enough to play the “I’m playing by myself, but really, I’m playing with you” game. Which is actually a fun game, as an adult, because young kids are actually really terrible at it and we take special delight in how naive they still are it and playing together is fun! In ten years or so, I’m sure she’d be able to manipulate me in ways I wouldn’t be able to detect as readily and it won’t be for our mutual benefit, so I’m glad for this earlier version.
That said, I can’t really play with her directly or with too much attention. I doubt that her parents would leap to the judgment of “pedophile!” but it still makes American parents vaguely uneasy when a stranger takes undue interest in their kids. Undue, of course, being an entirely socially constructed boundary.
After all, with my new nephew, I am allowed to take full advantage of my own desire to connect. We can play for as long as he’s awake, I am allowed full access to his full schedule (sleep, wake, poop, eat, play), and my interest isn’t in any way tainted by the negative; if anything, my fascination tends to make strangers infer things like “he’s going to be such a good dad some day”. With random children in airports, however, that inference doesn’t hold, for reasons I understand but lament.
There is a Counting Crows’ lyric: “I wish I was a girl, so that you could believe me”, the implication being that men are not able to say some things to women and have them be taken as honest and sincere and not with an alternative sexual desire. I feel the same way about the woman that is playing with her adorable kids right now. I WANT to play. It looks fun, I love kids, and both my book and this journal entry are not nearly as interesting. I want a sign that says “I am not thinking about you as a MILF or your children as targets; I have love for them, but only of the appropriate, speciesist variety.”
Until I manage to get that sign, however, I have my nephew. Who is awesome and puts up with my singing, off-key, while he’s so patiently trying to sleep. And anybody willing to do that is OK in my book. Plus, he’s extra special and extra beautiful and I love him. Which doesn’t need any kind of sign at all.