The PIRCS of parenthood

Nov 12, 2008 at 6:00 am

I’m following my 4-year-old daughter on a nature trail at the park when a woman pushes past me, stepping on my toe.

“Ouch!” I yelp, stumbling.

“Hey, that’s a great song!” she shouts, not even noticing me. “Sing it again!” She’s gazing rapturously at the naturalist ahead, who’s teaching my daughter and eight other preschoolers a tune about bats.

The naturalist smiles wearily and repeats the verse.

Bats eat bugs, they don’t eat people

The mom joins in enthusiastically. The kids look up at her like she’s crazy.

Bats eat bugs, they won’t fly in your hair she sings grandly, waving her arms as though preparing to take flight.

“OK, kids,” the naturalist continues, ignoring her. “Bats stay awake at night. Does anyone know the word for that?”

“Nocturnal!” the mom says loudly. “Nocturnal is the word for that!”

I need no further confirmation. Clearly, the mom’s a PIRC: Parent Inappropriately Reliving Childhood.

PIRCS come in many forms: There’s the puny, bespectacled dad on the soccer field, yelling at his 8-year-old Mini-Me to toughen up after a cleat in the stomach. There’s the mom at the movie theater wearing too much eyeliner and an Abercrombie hoodie, her muffin top spilling over the waistband of Forever 21 skinny-jeans. And then there’s the man I encountered at a children’s production of “Thumbelina” a few months ago.

During the show, the actors periodically turn to the audience of squirming children and ask a question. As snow began to fall on the stage, a man onstage dressed as some sort of woodland creature remarked, “It’s so cold,” then looked into the sea of rapt young faces below him.

“What season is it?” he asked.

From across the auditorium, I heard a man’s voice. “It’s WINTER!” he yelled.

The actor on stage chuckled, squinting into the dark audience before continuing. “Is Thumbelina hot in winter?”

“No!” the dad shrieked. “She’s COLD!”

Along with the other parents in the audience, I craned my neck and soon spotted a dad — child balanced on knee — who was about to jump out of his seat with excitement. After a short pause, the actor continued.

Children,” he said pointedly, “who can save Thumbelina from all this snow?”

“The sparrow!” The father yelled. “THE SPARROW CAN SAVE THUMBELINA!”

The whole thing struck a chord in me only because I battle with the disorder myself more often than I care to admit. I’m in PIRC recovery, but it’s taken me years to get a handle on it.

It all started when I was a new stepmom. Awestruck by my readymade family, my PIRC-iness knew no bounds. I spent so many weekends with my 8 and 10-year-old stepdaughters jumping on beds, braiding hair and playing with dolls that at times it was easy to forget I was twice their size and three times their age — at least until my husband jolted me back into reality.

“Who remembers the names of Columbus’s three ships?” he asked one Saturday morning during a cartoon marathon.

I do!” I squealed. “The Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria!” Hubs sighed.

“Wow, that’s right, Lindsay,” he said mildly. “How did you get to be so smart?” I looked down guiltily, my face turning crimson. My first taste of PIRC was bitter indeed.

By the time I became a mom three years later, I’d gotten at least a little bit better at keeping quiet when the librarian asked the kids at storytime which colors make a rainbow. I successfully kept my lips sealed as Punky’s art teacher wondered aloud where the horns should go on the construction paper giraffe. I even managed to stay mum when Dora asked which item in her backpack would help her and Boots climb Chocolate Mountain.

But I won’t lie to you. Even now, it’s hard sometimes to keep my big mouth shut. As parents, we walk a fine line between maintaining a childlike perspective with our kids and, well, trying to be our kids. Most of the time, we do a pretty good job keeping ourselves in check. But occasionally, one of us falls completely off the beam.

And that’s exactly what happened at the children’s theater. Fifteen minutes into the show, the dad became a PIRC of no return, singing along with the 4-year-old Thumbelina on stage, effectively drowning her out. Across the auditorium, I watched a woman turn from her seat and say something to him as the sparrow whisked Thumbelina off to Fairyland. He grew silent and sat back in his seat.

Despite the PIRCs of parenthood, our kids still get to figure out a thing or two for themselves.