27 Apr

When married for a long time, couples have several choices for how to combat the doldrums during mealtimes. Some couples revert to ignoring each other and, watching them as they go through the meal, you are reminded of old silent movies. For others, who squabble at any opportunity they get, a mealtime would be no exception. And then there is a new category into which Dave and I fall. We use technology to help us along. “So, what is exciting on the news today?” Dave says as he plunges into Microsoft News. “Oh, this is interesting, ‘20 Pieces of Trivia You Would Never Believe,’” he says and chuckles. It’s amazing what’s passing for news these days, I think to myself, but am willing to listen while giving another stir to the mess of scrambled eggs. 

“So, do you know who the children’s books author is who hated children?” Not even another sip of a strong morning coffee nudges my memory. 

“I have no idea. I don’t think it's Roald Dahl, I believe he genuinely liked kids.” 

“Yeah, it’s the author of the Famous Five.” 

“Really? We used to read them to Jess. They were such sweet books.” 

The topic reminded me of a radio show I had listened to a few years back, in which the host interviewed a travel agent. The question that piqued my attention then was, “What are some unusual packages you offer?” The agent then listed a few new and well received types of packages, and one was where no children were allowed. “And do you know who the biggest clientele is?” she concluded, and promptly answered her own question. “Teachers.” I remember laughing at that because I could really understand the sentiment. I would be a prime candidate for such a vacation, as I find very few things as irritating as high-pitched children voices. I keep justifying to myself my low level of tolerance as a professional hazard. I spend so much time in a noisy classroom that I crave peace and quiet in my free time. But deep down I know that it’s not true, that basically I am, by my nature, a curmudgeon who would be better off living in the woods with wolves. 

Recently, Dave and I went for a nice lunch at one of the few places in Nukus that offers a wide selection of non-traditional dishes. Even though we enjoy Uzbek food, sometimes it’s nice to slip back to the unhealthy creamy sauce of European style dishes heavy in pasta, light in vegetables. Premier Lounge lives up to its name in its décor too. You will not see natural light while lounging on comfortable sofas, as it is blocked by dark curtains. After the heavy meal the second biggest danger, right after the risk of coronary attack, lies in falling asleep on one of the sofas. 

We sat down and, even before I opened the menu, a bang on the plate drew my attention to a table not too far from ours. A family with two children, one of them under the age of two, sat there and, judging by the lack of food on the table, was still waiting for their orders to arrive. The child scraped and banged the plate again and I told Dave, “Well, I thought I would have a cappuccino after lunch but, on second thought,” and I motioned with my head towards our neighbors, “I don’t think so.” Dave just nodded. He knows me and my reaction to toddlers. Whereas a bigger person might hear the joyful sound of our future generation, I just hear irritating noise. I looked around the room. There was no other place to which to move. We were stuck. We ordered and, while waiting, I tried to reason with myself that, despite my lack of enthusiasm for scraping sounds and shrill voices, I am not really such a bad person. 

Even though the Uzbeks do not face the same demographic issues of declining population as developed countries, the writing is already on the wall. Truly big families are a thing of the past. Families are getting smaller as the younger generation is hesitant to jump too soon or too often into the responsibilities of parenting. But one would never know this, based on our experience that day. Children seemed to be everywhere. 

The child stopped banging and started crying, perhaps because the parents had also grown tired of the noise and admonished it. Dave and I finished speed-eating our lunch. Dave went home and I headed to my favorite café for a much desired, and at that point much needed, cup of coffee. When I opened the door, I knew it was not meant to be. The room was full of children under twelve. What the heck? Is this the beginning of some holiday I am not aware of? went through my mind as I closed the door carefully behind myself and headed to the third place in Nukus that makes good cappuccinos. This is a Turkish restaurant that offers a choice between a very nice cup of traditional Turkish coffee or cappuccino. I entered the main room which was almost empty. Only one table close to the entrance was occupied by a young couple who seemed to prefer whispering to each other. I loved them already. I headed straight to the only table for two, which has a Turkish style partition on one side separating it from a large table on the other side. I sat down and sighed contently. 

If there was a bubble floating above my head, like in cartoons, it would read; I am finally getting my coffee. My bubble was burst by a shrill squeal almost next to my ear. It hurt! I peeked through the gaps in the wooden ornamental partition and could not believe my eyes. What was I today? A magnet for toddlers? A child that could have been a twin to the one left behind in Premier Lounge was crawling on the seat right behind the partition. At that point, while gathering my belongings, I just chuckled and moved quietly to the smoking area. If there’s a choice between second-hand smoke and the torture of a high-pitched child’s voice, I know where I stand. 

Friends wouldn’t do that to me because they know me, but when acquaintances whip out their phones and start showing me their children and grandchildren I reciprocate with, “Isn’t she beautiful? And she is so smart too,” as I enlarge the shot on my own phone screen with the photo of my dog. “And wait, here is my sister’s dog. Isn’t she cute. She is smaller than mine but, I admit, cuter.” The reaction could go either way. If they are dog people, they shift the mode and show me their dog. If they are not, they will slowly start moving away from me. Slowly, ever so imperceptibly. But I notice. They can’t fool me.

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