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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Kindness of Strangers

Having a new-born is perhaps the closest most women will ever come to being a celebrity. When you enter a room with an infant in arms, it is usually to the accompaniment of a chorus of "oohs" and "aahs". Shoppers at the grocery store kindly smile as you navigate the cart with baby aboard down the aisles. At the airport,you get to board the plane first; on the bus, fellow passengers readily offer you their seats. At restaurants or shopping malls you become accustomed to receiving adoring compliments from passing patrons. You know the compliments are directed at the baby, but you relish in them as if they were intended for you. The kindness of strangers is overwhelming, abundant, and extremely gratifying.

I was recently at Navy Pier with my family. Henry was tired of being confined by the stroller, and so we let him out to stretch his legs. He immediately took off, racing past the shops and restaurants, and I dutifully pursued him. As I captured him in my arms, I noticed a young couple watching the scene. Expecting the kind remarks I usually receive from strangers,I wondered what compliment they might offer me. Perhaps they would remark on Henry's astonishing speed. Or maybe they would comment on the adorable way his long, blond hair fell across his beautiful face. As they approached me, I eagerly awaited their praise, only to become crestfallen when the man smiled and said, "Now that's good birth-control."

What has happened to the kindness I have come to expect from strangers? I have begun to notice a change in tone in the way people respond to me and my toddler. At the grocery store, shoppers' smiles are increasingly replaced by looks of sympathy, or worse, unsolicited advice, as I struggle to contain Henry, and our groceries, in the shopping cart. The last time I boarded a plane, I noticed many of the passengers look down as I proceeded down the aisle, uttering urgent prayers that we were not their assigned row-mates. At the library, as Henry races about removing books from shelves, I can sense the librarians perceive him as at best an annoyance and at worst a threat.

My brief-lived near-celebrity status is coming to an end. As a mother of a toddler, I am more often viewed with the pity that one has for Brittany after her custody battle or Lindsay after rehab.Of course, the kindness of strangers has'nt disappeared completely, although its intensity has become somewhat diluted. It is the frequency, not the quality, of the compliments that has changed. As Henry becomes a full-fledged toddler, he can be more adorable than he ever was as a new-born: he can give big bear-hugs, laugh and smile, and even attempt to say "I love you." But with these new developments also comes kicking, biting, and full-on temper tantrums.

As far as I'm concerned, these difficulties are a small price to pay as I watch Henry's personality emerge and develop. But with the terrible twos fast approaching, I'm aware they'll more likely be heralded by the dissonant symphony of kicking and screaming than the adoring "oohs" and "aahs" from strangers.



9 comments:

Brian and Amy said...

That is so true! I always find it interesting when the grocery store checker tells me how adorable Kora is right after she has just thrown a temper tantrum. You know they are lying. Especially when they say it with that fake smiling face. I always say thanks, but wonder why they say anything at all. It is more of an insult when it is not genuine. I love the stage Kora is in though. I will take the whining and tantrums. Seeing her grow and develop and become her own little person is completely worth it.

Daniel, Lyndsie and Makai said...

Wow, Kim. I'll enjoy those "adoring baby moments" while they last! Isn't it funny how subtle people are NOT? But I'm sure Henry just gets to be more fun every day. It's so fun when the little tikes start to communicate, and you can see their little personalities come out!

janel said...

Henry was definitely one of the cutest babies that ever hung out in a Baby Bjorn! Plus he had that fuzzy head of hair that made Eliza and me jealous...
I still think you're a celebrity--if not because of having such a cute kid, but also because of Bubba's woodchip and the beautiful place you live!

jdm said...

One of the big ones that I hate is the "Oh just wait you'll see how hard they can be in the next few months... or when they are 1 or 2 or 50.."
In the all the experienced mothers living in reality know what I'm talking about tone.
I've had the birth control comment as well.
I suppose those comments come earlier with twins.

Emily said...

You nailed that one on the head!! Nicely done Kim! Soo, soo true. Just wait till you have a newborn AND a toddler...that's when people just stare! I love reading your blog by the way. You are a fantastic writer!

Stacy & Mike said...

The Birth Control comment is the WORST!!!!! What is wrong with people?
Okay so I can relate to feeling like a celebrity to feeling pitied. Solution: Have another baby! : ) You go back to being a celebrity in an instant.I might add that having a girl certainly helps. Celebrity status dissapates if they are both screaming but if they are behaving in the cart even giggling or hugging...the adoring looks and comments abound. I think Henry is the cutest thing ever. When we were at the store together and he was tantruming, it reminded me of Keaton's younger days and I was grateful for 2 things. 1) This time it's not my kid. 2) Everyone gets to be humbled in public at some time. My hope would be that it would bring understanding not ignorance where birth control comments come from. Love the post!

Kara said...

Hi Kim. My name is Kara. I am a friend of Stacy Heaps. She emailed me your blog address and whenever I see her she tells me how funny your blog is, so I had to check it out :) I loved reading it! Especially this post, it is so true! Isn't it interesting to see how people react to toddlers as opposed to infants! Ha Ha

Kristen said...

Amen! That is completely true! Having just flown to Utah with a 3 month old, I got several looks of "Oh boy, I hope that this one will keep quiet or we are in for a long flight" as I got on the plane. As we were getting off the plane, I got more smiles since she handled the flight well.

Marci said...

The interesting comments increase with each child. If I had a dollar for everytime someone asked me if they are ALL mine, we could pay for Danny's schooling! My favorite that I get all the time is when they direct the parenting advice to the child within your earshot ie: Your feet sure are cold where are your socks? ;) Love it!