A dear friend of mine is getting married this weekend. I have a dress to wear but no shoes to match so I stopped at one of my favorite stores to see if they had in stock a pair I've admired online. Instead of putting my daughter in her stroller or carrier, I pulled her out of the car and hitched her straight onto my hip. She's a real active, fidgety baby and if you're going to strap her into something you'd better be damn sure to stay in motion or else she'll flip her little lid. Shoe shopping requires all sorts of side entertainment best achieved if said baby is not physically restrained.
On my way to the pay-to-park box, I passed two young women standing on the sidewalk holding clipboards. They flashed broad smiles and one said, "Do you have a minute for women's rights?" And I laughed because, well, it's such a terrible question and ironic for me and it's designed to paint you into a corner. I muttered, "If I had a nickel..." and they looked confused so I just kept walking. But the parking box was within earshot and as I waited for my ticket, the same women shouted, "Hey, thank you for carrying your baby!" I must have made a face because she gave me a very earnest expression and said, "I'm serious. Thank you!"
Now, look. When I was pregnant, my partner and I agreed to buy as few things as possible in preparation for the baby. No registry or anything. We figured we'd rather find out from experience what we really needed before ending up with a pile of unused stuff. One of our more scandalous decisions was to forgo purchasing a stroller. Our baby was due in autumn, which meant a long Chicago winter would keep us mostly indoors until she was at least six months old. At that point she'd be big enough for the more affordable umbrella-type strollers, so we'd wait and buy one of those when the time came. We daydreamed about carrying our tiny baby from place to place or wrapping her securely against our chests, and that's exactly what we did. It became a huge joke of ours to scoff privately at every stroller we saw. "Disgusting!" we'd say. "That poor child! His parents don't even want to hold him." (We think we're very funny.)
But now we have a stroller and we use the hell out of it. There were times in our first few months of parenthood when some kind of stroller would've come in handy, but I'm glad we waited for two big reasons. First of all, when we finally bought a stroller, we knew exactly which one we wanted and why. Secondly, we got used to carrying around our baby, she got used to being carried around, and we still default to carrying her on a regular basis.
So when this stranger thanked me for carrying my baby, my first thought was that she's a little anti-stroller, too. But then I wondered if I was projecting. Was she referring to the fact that I "carried" my baby during pregnancy? That would be a big assumption on her part, but big assumptions are not a rarity, unfortunately. Then I realized that it didn't matter what she meant because, in the end, I just wanted to beg this woman to stop saying weird shit to me. Why was she thanking me? I don't doubt that she had good intentions - everyone does, it seems - but come on. Let's have a lesson:
ACCEPTABLE: "It's nice that you carry your baby. I don't see that very often."
ACCEPTABLE: "She's the first baby I've seen all day who's not in a stroller!"
ACCEPTABLE: "That baby looks happy to be up there with you."
I know. It's such a small thing. Perhaps she was trying to give me a compliment and it came out sounding condescending. Not the end of the world, but being condescended to - even lightly - is gross no matter what. Being condescended to regarding my choices as a parent makes me a little growly. And it happens all the time.
And the beautiful shoes are unbelievably uncomfortable. Boo.