Although it’s much harder to write this column holding a crying baby, to my surprise some things are easier to do while holding a baby. By the time this column is published, I will have had two full months of conducting my business, grocery shopping and doing household chores carrying a small person with me. It makes me wonder how much nicer the world would be if we all treated each other as nicely as people treat a stranger with a newborn.
So far, I’ve experienced people coming from all the way across the store to peek at my wailing child. Although I don’t think babies are terribly cute when their faces are all red, scrunched up and wet with tears, their mouths wide open, emitting piercing wails, strangers think it’s great. In Target last week, a woman was going from aisle to aisle looking for us. “It sounded like a newborn-sounding cry,” she said, half embarrassed, as she turned her head sideways to coo at my daughter. She probably knew there was no chance her coos would be heard over the tantrum, but she cooed anyway.
Before I was inducted into the secret club called Parenthood, if I forgot my Jewel card at the Jewel, I was out of luck. I would be paying full price, since the cashier would never allow me to use someone else’s card, much less her own card. I registered for my Jewel card when I was in college. The long-forgotten phone number cannot rescue me.
But two weeks ago as I stood in line with my little girl, the cashier craned her neck to see into the carrier. I thought I was emptying my cart onto the belt pretty efficiently, but I must have looked overwhelmed. The cashier asked for my card and before I could fumble my wallet out of the diaper bag, she said, “Oh don’t worry about it. I’ll just use the store courtesy card.” The store courtesy card? I didn’t know such a thing existed!
In late January, I took my daughter along for a downtown meeting of a non-profit organization. Somehow I had managed to snag a parking spot on the street across from the office building we were meeting in. By the time we came out of the meeting, snow flurries were floating down. I waited on the curb to cross to my car, car seat carrier in hand. Every time it seemed like there was a break in traffic I would step off the curb to cross the street, each time I was swarmed with taxi cabs. After five times of trying to cross and having a cab pull up in front of me each time, I had to begin crossing while waving them off; they were still trying to stop anyway.
Before I had a baby, I would greet strangers in passing, as I was raised to do, and would be surprised if I even received eye contact in return. Many people think a stranger speaking to them must have a dangerous mental illness and assume it’s best not to reply at all. They hurry away. Now people I have never met hold doors open for me, ask about my daughter and wish me all the best.
Mind you, I’m not complaining. I just wish such behavior were not reserved for first-time parents of infants. Everyone deserves such respect and kindness. Moms with toddlers certainly need the assistance and understanding more than I do, but it seems they are eyed with suspicion, as if their little one might start knocking down store displays at any moment. Someday soon that will be me, and I’ll wish for these days again.