In a class I took in college, called Human and Animal Relationships, I learned that if a puppy or kitten does not have positive human interaction within the first few weeks of its life, it will never learn to like or trust humans as a species. (Unsurprisingly, the socialization window for dogs is much larger than the socialization window for cats.) After that the animal can learn to trust individual humans, but not the idea of humans. This is an interesting idea, but I mention it here because that's exactly how I feel about children. I can like a child, but I do not like children as a species. You just have to clip my left ear and release me into the childfree colony, because I could never be a good mother. I can, however, be a good aunt, and perhaps it's for precisely the same reasons; if I were more like my sister, a very nice person who likes children, I might not be able to sell the idea that I'd be willing to eat my niece. I might also have been distressed when my nephew presented me with a corn-husk doll he'd made in school, which he'd tied by its neck to another corn husk. I was pleased, though, not just because he'd made it, but because he knows me well enough to realize I'd like it. "It's you!" he informed me, cheerfully. "No, just kidding."
I'm glad, incidentally, that no one at his school chose to interpret the fact that he'd created a corn-husk gallows as evidence that Aglet is emotionally disturbed. A high school math teacher of mine decided on zero evidence that I was suicidal, which I have never been, and sent me to the school psychiatrist, and that was before Columbine. Maybe it would have been a different story if he'd equipped his corn-husk doll with a gun, though I gather this project was part of a history lesson about American settlers and they had guns, after all. Still, all my high school math teacher saw was that I'd written the word death in my notebook, and that wasn't even me being emo, that was me quoting the part of Catch-22 where Yossarian is making up his own rules for censoring his fellow soldiers' letters. "Death to all modifiers" was what I had written, because I was a fourteen-year-old grammarian and found the idea of being so passionate about a part of speech simultaneously funny and understandable. I didn't know at the time that I would grow up to be a copy editor and get paid for, among other things, killing modifiers (though if you'd told me so at the time I wouldn't have been surprised); I knew only that my dumb math teacher, who was also a rather hateful person generally, and for whom I felt an irritating combination of pity and dislike, had been dumb enough to think I was "obsessed with death" (I believe this was her actual phrase) based on the occurrence of a single word in my notebook. I regret that I can't remember her name or I'd try to figure out what became of her, the weirdo.
I'm reading Alice Miller at the moment, but even before that I knew that children -- who most of the time appear to be paying no attention to anything you do or say -- are very sensitive to the personalities of the adults around them. (I've been in therapy for fifteen years, after all, and that's the kind of thing you talk about in therapy.) I don't doubt that my niece and nephew recognize that I am fundamentally different from almost all the adults they interact with, in that I'm not a kid person. It's possible that they find this refreshingly novel. Occasionally Aglet will mention it, as in, "Do you think you'll ever get married or have kids? Probably not, right?" In response to that specific question I told him that I have no desire for children of my own but that I would like to get married. He expressed skepticism that this would occur. I'm like forty or a hundred or something like that, you're stuck being single if you're not married by whatever absurd theoretical age I've attained. Or maybe I'm not giving him enough credit, maybe he's taking into account the fact that I have not had a partner of any kind in his lifetime and has therefore, not unreasonably, I suppose, pegged me specifically as not the marrying kind. After all, in his experience adults mostly come in pairs (parents) or small groups (teachers). To him and his sister I'm perhaps this weird other thing. But if they do indeed think of me that way, they're hardly the first.