I know what you’re thinking: Obviously!! Well yes, suddenly becoming 100% responsible for another human being is definitely a knock to your autonomy. But that’s not what I’m talking about here.
I’m talking about public autonomy. As in, The Right To Be Left Alone. I’m not going to lie: The internet is just about the only place I like being social. I don’t know why that is… but I know it’s true for many introverts. I spend hours every day reading statuses, blogs, and list serves, viewing pictures, commenting, and posting my own stuff. But I abhor my telephone and in-person exchanges are even worse, unless you’re one of about five people.
I actually think it’s an anxiety thing. A social anxiety thing. It’s not that I don’t like people… once my husband forces me to go to something, I often have a fabulous time (and then try to deny it, in a desperate attempt to salvage my credibility). Whatever the explanation, I was psyched to be moving to Boston, MA, where that awkward moment of wondering whether I had to smile at each passerby would finally be moot.
HA. Fast-forward a year and hand me an 11-month old child. It was all well and good when he was an infant. I don’t mind the Little Old Ladies telling me how cute he his (provided they refrain from actually touching him during cold and flu season). I end up crying myself when the not-so-old ladies tell me about how fast it goes and how their son is now 23 (and I wonder why I have social anxiety??). And if if ever M was upset as an infant, I either fed him right away or we high-tailed it outta there for a nap. All was well.
Then we got to be about 9 months old. Suddenly My Main Man can crawl and cruise, and guess what that means? It means he doesn’t want to be confined to a grocery cart. I think he also inherited my embarrassingly loud voice. It’s a mortifying combination…
Now, pretty much every time I go to the store my sweet baby makes a scene. I start by giving him one toy. Then one snack. At this point I’m forsaking some items on my list in a rush to vacate the premises. If I’m lacking in will power, or if I just can’t leave the store without milk, I’ll try a second toy. But pretty much inevitably he’s yelping mad by the time we get to the checkout line. (I’ve tried, at the suggestion of a friend, bringing my baby carrier … problem is, by the time he’s mad, it’s a scene to get him into the carrier).
His theatrical skills don’t fool me. As his mother, I know that he’ll make it through another five minutes in the shopping cart without suffering permanent damage (and heck, it may even be character building). But ladies in line behind us buy it hook, line, and sinker. I don’t *blame* them necessarily. If you see a very upset child whose mother is unable to satisfy them with a toy or brief spurts of attention between cart items, it’s probably natural to assume that the child is hungry, or tired, or otherwise legitimately uncomfortable. I mean especially with a face like this, right??
|WARNING: Object in image is louder than he appears. (And even cuter).|
But what they don’t know, because (ahem) they’re not the parent, is that if we’re at the grocery store it means he just slept and ate… because I wouldn’t even try to take him there when he’s needing a meal or a nap. Believe me, as his mother, I’d love to imagine that my perfect baby was incapable of throwing a temper tantrum just because he doesn’t like shopping. But I know better… I mean he is a guy, after all. (that’s a joke… sort of).
Anyway, I’m starting to come to terms with the realization that this is an age-old complaint of the vast majority of parents everywhere. Those “helpful” (or flat-out critical) random shoppers who see fit to advise you, a total stranger, how to parent your child even though presumably they wouldn’t dare share their opinion on your outfit, because, well, that would be rude.
What I don’t understand is WHO these people are. Since I have yet to talk to a parent who appreciates being the recipient of this “advice,” I wonder: Are all of these “helpers” people who never had kids? Or did they have kids long ago and their children turned out so unbelievably perfect that they simply must share their wisdom with random strangers??
In any case, I know I’ve kissed that blessed public anonymity goodbye for the next many years. I guess the bright side is mastering speed-shopping.
Below is a humorous response to my posting on our local list serve addressing this issue.
On Aug 24, 2011, at 4:39 PM, Lisa Murakami wrote:
> Friendly Neighbors,
> I am mom to an cute, sweet 11 month old boy. While I look young for my age
> (and blond, a double-whammy I’m sure), I’m 31 years old and I know what I’m
> doing: My father is a pediatrician, my mother is a child therapist, and
> apart from 6+ years of law school and legal work I’ve always held summer
> jobs working with kids (daycare, camp counselor, karate instructor, English
> teacher in France, nanny…)
Welcome to [Boston Suburb]. I’ll bet you are unpretentious, and would be considered to be kind, happy, normal, and a good friend in any other part of the world. Key word: unpretentious. Here, you really should carry a book on constructivist educational theory highlighting the work of Lev Vygotsky, while your child wears a t-shirt with humor derived from differential calculus that was ordered from the Signals catalog.
> I don’t know whether it happens to everyone or whether it’s because I look
> young and am clearly a first-time mom, but here in Arlington I find that
> complete strangers are VERY generous with their parenting advice and
You will find that this is a very generous community, both on the Arlington list as well as live and in person. It’s part of the local charm.
> For example, twice when my baby has grabbed the grocery list and
> gummed it up while I’m putting items on the belt, people have brought this
> to my attention as if it could possibly be harmful to him (it can’t – I’ve
> asked), and as if I’m not already aware of it.
In most parts of the western world, the scientific evidence that the grocery list is inert and harmless enough to prevent this kind of response. However, you have chosen to live in a part of the world where we have higher standards for shopping lists that might be gummed or eaten by a toddler. To gain local acceptance, you must use paper made of 100% organic rice imported from the west coast of Japan, hand-written with a fountain pen filled with Concord grape or blueberry juice. Unless you can provide your child with a list that meets our community standards, may I suggest keeping your shopping list on an iPad or iPhone.
> Meanwhile if EVER he is
> yelping unhappily in the store, people around here react as if they’ve never
> heard of a baby who got bored doing groceries and wanted to get out of the
> cart. Today, someone seriously asked him “What happened???” Nothing
> happened; He’s 11 months old and not always content with being confined to a
> shopping cart.
Confined to a shopping cart? Lisa, my friend, have you read this list? Do you understand how controversial it is to keep a dog on a leash in a town park? And you want to confine your child to a shopping cart? Horrors! These stores have wonderful produce departments – well, not Stop & Shop, but it’s certainly adequate for child-store acculturation. Your child should be allowed to play in the string beans!
> And while I will give him a toy or a snack when appropriate,
> I refuse to establish a pattern of pacifying my child with snack after snack
> or toy after toy just because we’re in public and everyone thinks my
> business is theirs.
This would be acceptable if the snack was broccoli or sushi.
> This is a simple plea to fellow patrons of Wilson Farm, Stop & Shop, and
> Market Basket: If you’d like to be parents, by all means, have your own
If you gently inquire, you will certainly find they did not abide by the advice they are presenting to you as a gift, and they are guilt-ridden for failing to follow their sage (albeit post facto) advice at a similar stage in their child’s development. “If only my child hadn’t sucked on that shopping list, she might have gotten into Harvard instead of MIT.”
Your friend and advisor,