Thursday, January 22, 2015

Seriously, When Will People Learn to Mind Their Own Business

I was having lunch with an old friend at Le Pain Quotidien ("Our handmade bread serves as the canvas for a myriad of organic and seasonal ingredients") last week. Henry did well -- he ate his sandwich after mushing it around a bit -- but, he's three, i.e., a bit unpredictable. When he found a train near the bottom of my bottomless diaper bag and started to play on the floor at our feet, I was thankful he was amused enough for me to catch up with my friend.

Ten minutes later, a woman approached our table.

"Excuse me, your child is on the floor."

I glanced down at Henry. He wasn't in the way, which is what I assumed she meant, and he seemed perfectly fine.

"Okay, thanks." I smiled.

"No," she continued, as if I wasn't following. "Like, his cheek is on the floor."

Ah, I saw where this was going.

"Okay, thanks," I said again, with another smile.

But she wasn't done!

"Um, it's dirty,"

"Okay," I said once again, "thanks."

She walked away in a huff, and I'm sure she told everyone the story about the irresponsible mom who let her child rest his cheek on the floor of an upscale cafe chain on the Upper East Side.



I'm not going to go into a tirade about Americans' collective (marketing-driven, I might opine) obsession with cleanliness and parents' helicoptering to the point of suffocation. As I've said before, I'd rather my son break his arm falling out of a tree than never climb a tree at all.

Instead, I'm going to share an anecdote from when Henry was a mere 13 months old. First, there are a lot of new people around here, and I wouldn't want you to miss out on this gem of an insight into my personality. For everyone else, I just want some damn props for keeping my cool. Give me props, people!

The excerpt below is from a longer essay published in the 2013 anthology, The Mother of All Meltdowns. You can find the original post here.

***

By winter, I had learned braving the subway was a whole hell of a lot easier if I strapped my son to my chest in the baby carrier and stashed him inside a special Papoose coat big enough to close around us both. Once bundled in, my son’s round, hairless, disembodied head stuck out of the middle of the enormous poofy coat, like a little Voldemort. Remember in the first Harry Potter movie where Professor Quirrell carried Voldemort in his turban? Yeah, like that.

The book doesn't have this snazzy picture, though.

Everyone raves about baby-wearing, but toddler-wearing is something else entirely. I have neither the shoulders nor the upper body strength to glide effortlessly along with twenty pounds strapped to my chest. I spent the entire winter swearing and perspiring from one place to another.

On my way to the subway in Manhattan one mild January afternoon, I called a friend who had been trying to conceive for months to see if she was free for lunch. She wasn't, but we chatted briefly about her recent doctor’s appointment. Just then, I saw a fifty-something-year-old man walking toward me, gesticulating wildly with an appalled look on his face.

I narrowed my eyes in the silent but universally understood sign of: What? Is there a Tyrannosaurus behind me about to chomp my head off? Why else would you be interrupting my phone call, complete stranger?

"Hat," he said, gesturing again, a bit more frantically as he passed. "Put a hat on the baby! It's cold out."

I. Almost. Lost. My. Mind.

It was the hat that broke the camel’s back. I cracked under the invisible weight of comments and insults that had been heaped upon me, my body and my mothering over the past two years.

"Really?" I said, turning to follow him down the street like a lunatic.

The man continued on his way, pretending to ignore me, which was ironic, considering I should have been the one to pretend to ignore him. But I did not. Oh, no, I did not.

"Really??” I continued, yelling. People stopped to stare at the woman carrying Voldemort who was verbally accosting an apparent stranger. Even by New York standards, I was acting a little crazy. “Is it cold out? I couldn't tell!” I called to him as I followed. “Do you think I should put a hat on him? I wasn't sure!”

Was I imagining things or was he picking up his pace a little so he could cross before the sign changed from the inviting white walker to the forbidding red hand?

“Thanks for letting me know!" I screamed as he crossed the street.

I realized at that point that I had been holding the phone in my hand the whole time. My friend was still there, laughing. My heart was pounding; I was furious and not a little embarrassed. What I should have said, I told her, was:

Excuse me, complete stranger, but did you carry this child in your uterus for nine months? No? Is that because he's not yours? Or because you don't even have a uterus of your own? Did you carry his 20 pounds strapped to your chest inside a parka made for the Arctic Circle from the ass-end of Brooklyn to the Flatiron District, sweating, late and trying not to trip down the subway stairs and kill the both of you?

Did you?

DID? YOU?

Are you me?

ARE? YOU?

No?

Then, for the love of all that is holy, MIND YOUR OWN @$#%^* BUSINESS.

***

That goes for you, too, Le Pain Quotidien lady.