Thursday, April 2, 2009

Stranger's Babies.

I'm in the lobby of the site of my new job, doing my last volunteer shift. I start getting paid Monday.

I like this place because I like meeting all sorts of people. Right now there is a girl in here (I say girl because I think she must be younger than me) with the youngest of her 3 babies. This one is nine months old. It just spit up on the carpet.

I feel odd sometimes because I never have anything to say to mothers or to babies. Motherese isn't something I am prepared to use. Other women can, with the greatest of ease, slip right into that language, no matter whose baby it is, say the right things, ask the mother the correct questions and everyone seems happy. Their faces light up at the sight of a baby. I don't seem to regard them as anything more interesting than just another person, one that's a little younger than me. It's a social interaction that I just do not have the tools for.

It's not that I absolutely don't want children of my own (I go back and forth). I've just come to the conclusion that I have no interest in stranger's children, particularly babies. I just don't know what to say. I feel like I did not "get the memo." When it is the clear topic at hand - because you are in a lobby with a talkative mother, I have a difficult time. I have little or no opinion, interest or knowledge on the subject - I have literally nothing to say. Which is quite rare, for me. Under a certain age, children seem to be fair game for all sorts of women to gurgle. And that just seems weird to me - I mean, what's so special about a baby?

I'm sure that sounds callous, but I really mean it. I get the whole "it's a new life" thing and that babies are absorbing the world around them at an astounding rate. That is actually pretty cool and actually interesting to me. Little tiny beings programming themselves. I have, oddly and for various reasons, made quite a personal study about children and learning and parenting: In part because of my interest in evolutionary psychology and anthropology, in part because of my utter frustration with the Palo Alto Unified School District, and also, in part, because I am aware of my lack of knowledge in this area, but understand that it is a part of the human experience (whether or not it is part of my experience). But that is where my interest ends. I simply cannot muster the strength to talk to anyone about their baby, especially right out of the blue. But somehow, babies, like cigarettes, are a socially acceptable way for people to start conversations with strangers.

I realise that every mother thinks their baby is special - and they should (within reason: my old boss forwarded a bulletin board post to me that his wife had found on one of her mom websites. It was all about how this woman felt she was selling her child short, not giving him the advantages that he deserved and how she needed a way for him to express his gifts or else his life would be ruined. Therefore she was seeking a chess tutor. Then she mentioned his age: 2 and a half). But I still am not sure how that translates into other women cooing and burbling at stranger's babies. It just smacks of false intimacy (at least it would be for me, because the emotions I would be supposed to be emoting would not be real) and I can't stand that.

I'm sure a lot of has to do with the fact that I was never around tiny babies. I'm the youngest but one, in my generation, on my mother's side of the family and the next oldest is my brother (8 years difference). My cousins have started having children but I rarely ever see them - and they are all old enough now to hold conversations (well, they're almost conversations). My brother certainly hasn't had any. In addition to this, gender defined roles were never a subject in our household. My brother and I were both expected to go to college and become earners. No one ever said to me, "When you get married and have children..." rather, it was "When you grow up and are fully capable of supporting yourself."

So here I am, sitting in the lobby of my soon to be place of employment, finally feeling comfortable because I have been given means of supporting myself and my family, wondering what on earth to respond to this woman when she starts muttering about her baby and how on earth the other women in the office know just what to say.

1 comment:

David Safar said...

If you think YOU sound callous, you should ask MY opinion of children some time!