The Child Unwhisperer

Nate is the 21st century embodiment of the Pied Piper. If you’re a kid, you want to be in Nate’s presence.

I’ve said before that if you bring Nate to a big family party, within moments you’ll realize that all the children are gone and..wait, where’s Nate? Look out the window, and there he is, leading 14 children around the block in a big parade of crazy.

When we first started dating, he joined me on a shoot and spent the entire day entertaining my clients’ children with fart noises and stupid human tricks. GREAT WITH KIDS, everyone would mouth to me while pumping thumbs into the air. As in, Please consider him as your breeding partner, Liz.

Of course they were right. He walks into a classroom, and at once the kids are gazing up at him in adoration, just wondering what funny thing he’ll have to say. He can snatch the one fussy toddler into his arms and have the kid laughing in mere seconds. He’s the guy that has the kids in the adjacent diner booth or the airplane seat in front of us turning around every four seconds to watch him make faces. And he does it all completely uninterested in what anyone over 4-feet tall might have to say about it. Which is in part what makes the skill so enviable. At least to me.

Because I am missing this gene entirely.

Lock me in a room with nearly any kind of civilized adult and I’m generally okay. I can maintain a conversation with a war refugee, a farmer, a Hollywood star, a Wall Street Master of the Universe (provided we don’t get onto politics). But stick a kid in front of me? I’m like, “Uh, so…

I like your t-shirt.”


I think I’m the Child Unwhisperer. You got a kid who’s perfectly  happy? Send him my way. He’ll be bored in no time.

How is it possible that I have spent a zillion wonderful hours with my own children, making them laugh, being silly, teaching them all the lyrics to Fish Heads, but I suck at it with any other children? I just feel stiff. Unsure. Out of my element. Kids can sniff that out like ice cream in July.

But a few weekends ago, I had another chance. I sat backstage before Thalia’s first ballet recital (fanning my eyes just thinking about it), and through a combination of circumstance and the purple YSL eyeshadow palate in my hand, I transformed from Awkward Mom to the most beloved of all parenting archetypes in the Children’s Ballet I world–The Makeup Mom.

(Not to be confused with the Facepainting Mom.)

Evidently the sight of an adult clutching a makeup brush is enough to throw a gaggle of five year-olds into an adoration frenzy. In no time flat, I had a line of giggly little dancers in sky blue leotards angling for position as I daubed eyelids and swept on rosy blush, oohing and ahhing over their exquisite skin, while quizzing them about tour jetes and the spellings of their names. (So many Y’s!)

Of course the feminist in me couldn’t resist channeling my own mother and telling each one how beautiful they were without makeup.

I did have to compensate for the fact that gawd, I was bonding with these girls over makeup.

Now maybe it wasn’t entirely me they loved. Maybe it was the Q-tip in hand and the promise of shimmer. I’m not naive. I know that shimmer is a powerful draw when you’re 5 and prone to twirling.

ballet recital

But when I overheard one little girl lean over to Thalia before the curtain rose and say, “your mom is cool,” I thought, I’ll take it!  Maybe this is even some exciting new phase for me.

Just don’t ask me to watch your baby for an hour.


17 thoughts on “The Child Unwhisperer”

  1. You’re so lucky to have your own “Child Whisperer”.
    The only times I was a “cool mom” was while giving out treats during my kids’ school birthday parties — so yeah, bribing is the way to go too! 🙂
    Nice new look you got here!

  2. I so hear you. My husband is the same way, and in fact, his nickname on the ball field from the other parents IS “the Child Whisperer”. He gets right down on one knee at eye level with the kids, looks them in the eye and works his magic.

    In fact, when we were in the school the other day waiting in the hall (for Eldest’s school play), there must have been about 20 classes that came through and my husband (because he’s a baseball/football coach) knew just about every little boy’s name and did high-fives and fist bumps with them. He’s like the Mayor of Kiddietown or something.

  3. So that’s the secret? I’m going to have to remember that one. I too am useless with other people’s kids.

  4. My husband is far better with kids than I am. He’s the oldest of 6 so it comes naturally.

    Part of my problem is that I don’t do “silly” very well. But I’m a genius at “smart-ass,” which plays well with the teens.

  5. I identify with being a non-whisperer. I get the same feeling of awkwardness around other people’s kids. And I swear my body was only built to cuddle my son–babies can’t get comfortable with me. I can have awesome conversations with infants, but that’s the limit of my skill!

  6. So funny, because I used to HATE kids. I was utterly bored by them. Irritated by them. NEVER wanted to babysit — ie, you literally could not pay me to be around them. Didn’t think I’d ever want any kids. After all, my parents sure as hell didn’t make parenting look enjoyable. They made it look like pure, unrewarded sacrifice. Like the quickest route to misery and a shitty, tense marriage.

    But right after my sister had her first child… something changed. I held my nephew and felt this connection. He was part of me, part of our family. It was so miraculous that I really can only use the world miraculous to describe it. (Also, I’m lazy and maybe don’t feel like searching my brain for qualified synonyms). Shortly after that, I became pregnant with my first child, and now I am the proud, tired, crazy mother of two that those who read my blog have become familiar with.

    But — the equally interesting thing that happened is that I now love kids more than I like adults. I’ve discovered I’m really quite good with them. Maybe not as good as Nate — I’m silly in a different, more sarcastic way probably. I find them far more entertaining than adults, and certainly more honest. They really do say the darndest things and are funny as shit. But here’s my secret — I don’t treat them as kids. I really just talk to them as people. I’m the same sarcastic person I am with adults, only they GET IT. They don’t take offense at my jokes, they don’t search for hidden meanings or subtext. They LOVE that I don’t act any differently around them as I do around their parents (though I’m not exactly swigging cocktails in front of them, nor offering any, nor discussing my sex life, but… you get the idea.) I show the same face to everyone.

    I learned this when a parent once said to me (I was still childless at the time), “My daughter really likes you because you don’t talk down to her. She’s a smart kid and she feels like most adults treat her like an idiot because she’s young.” But it’s true. Why do we use those dumb-ass, ridiculous voices? I just converse with them the same way I would with adults, only it’s more fun because their responses are more interesting and true.

    The secret to getting along with kids is to try and stop getting along with kids. And PS — I’m not one of those adults who likes every single kid and finds them all adorable. Some of them are horrible little people, just like adults, and I don’t often fake it. If a kid is rude and obnoxious, I’m not exactly sweet back to them. I am civil, nothing more. And let me tell ya — it usually surprises the hell out of them, because they’re used to getting away with shit and having adults smile at them anyway. Nothing takes a self-entitled bratty 10 yr old girl down a few pegs than staring at her with a look that says “I know your manipulative shtick usually works with other people. But not me, honey. So don’t even bother.”

  7. The thing with kids is…never let them smell your fear. It’s like blood in the water to a shark. It’s like Piggy in “The Lord of the Flies.” As you may recall he ended up skewered on the end of a sharp stick. I think. I can’t totally remember after sustaining a head injury when a toddler mob turned on me at a Bright Child mommy n me class.

    Sounds like you’ve found your ammo (make-up), mine is the McDonald’s vanilla ice cream cone. It completely demobilizes then. Boo-ya!

  8. You definitely had an unfair advantage with being the one holding the power to beautify them, but take those moments when you can get them! I find that being the mom holding the popsicles provides nearly the same power.

  9. I needed you two weeks ago at Ella’s recital as I tried to put makeup on her for her ballet recital. I am definitely calling Aunt Liz when it comes time for them to really wear makeup! I’m much better with the babies!

    1. The good thing is? Kids aren’t picky. If it’s makeup they’re like WE LOVE IT! I bet you did just fine.

  10. We all have to play to our strengths. Some of us apply cosmetics, some of us make faces. I bet you $10 Nate couldn’t have pulled off being Makeup Mom.

  11. great post. I am somewhere in between…

    PS – thanks for the post on the “old” blogger website .. i had no idea you had moved and needed to re-do my rss feed!

  12. It’s funny because there was a little girl who lived above my roommate and I (you know, back in the days of roommates). Her mother was a single mom and had to work one Halloween so she asked us if we would mind taking her daughter out trick or treating. We didn’t mind, but this girl was SO shy. She had never spoken more than two words to either of us so we were kind of concerned about her being uncomfortable. Her mom gave me make up to put on her daughter since she was being a fairy (faery?) and as soon as I said, “would you like me to do your make up now?” she opened right up. She chattered my ear off the rest of the evening. That little girl is 16 now. We’re still close. She loves my kids. It’s really nice.

  13. I love it All you needed was a bag-a-tricks. Let that be a lesson to always carry a makeup brush and glitter eye shadow for coolness at a moment’s notice. Having gum works too.

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