It was the smile I noticed first, it was tight-lipped and straining and didn't seem to sync up with the rest of her face. It was the eyes that confirmed it for me, though. The way those restless orbs darted back and forth across the room while I talked at their owner made one thing abundantly clear to me: This woman was looking for an escape.
But how could that be? She was the one who asked about the baby. I was just about to get to the best part – a video of my daughter, Emma, hugging our Boston Terrier, Judith, and my daughter is dressed in, get this: a hand-knitted Boston Terrier costume, complete with the head, an adorable little winter hat that tied under her chin (so it doesn't fall off!), and a nubby little tail.
When I noticed the eyes, I made some excuse about my phone freezing and hastily ended our one-sided conversation without showing her the video I felt was the personification of joy.
What the hell had just happened? I remember thinking as I walked away from that evil woman on that dark, dark day. How could anybody not want to see my adorable one-year-old daughter hugging the cutest of all earthly dog breeds? Did this woman have no heart? Did she watch the Puppy Bowl hoping the mini-canines would remember their wolf-like instincts and rip the weakest puppy limb from limb on live TV?
After distancing myself from the woman’s joyless smile and desperate, wandering eyeballs, I reevaluated what had actually taken place. Could I have been overreacting? After all, the only thing the woman was actually guilty of was a lack of subtlety. She's just a person – maybe not even a terrible person – who doesn't give a shit about my kid. And, you know what, she shouldn’t have to.
If anything, I should’ve been more understanding of this woman’s point of view. After all, I had been this woman before. There was a time when I, too, didn’t give a shit about people’s kids and dreaded getting trapped in conversations with proud parents who droned on and on about their wonderful children without noticing any of the hints I was dropping about my lack of interest. God that sounds awful. Just kill me if I ever wind up like that I’d think every time a co-worker with a family offered a glimpse into his or her home life.
In my early 20s, there was actually a time when I swore I’d never have kids of my own and was angered more of my peers didn’t feel the same way. Didn’t these people understand the risks of overpopulation? With the average the lifespan steadily increasing, we as a nation needed to start using condoms or at the very least, pull out more often. Otherwise, the ubiquitous strips malls with the ubiquitous Walmarts would never stop, the traffic would become unmanageable and eventually, we’d have to start chipping away at our national parks just to make room for all the people.
I honestly believed those things at one point. Of course, I believed the Loch Ness Monster was real for a while, too. I’ve changed a lot since I had a kid. It’s impossible not to. I now live in this cozy, little new parent bubble where everything revolves around my child and my friends’ children and the challenges of raising kids.
In the bubble, everybody would want to see a video of a baby in a Boston Terrier costume hugging a Boston Terrier. That’s why the woman’s reaction caught me so off guard.
It was actually remarkable I hadn’t had the experience before. For the first couple months after Emma was born, I took full advantage of every possible opportunity to talk about how amazing she was. And I never felt an inkling of disinterest from the friends, co-workers and Target employees with whom I shared countless photos, videos and stories of Emma's storied accomplishments. Granted, I could’ve missed the forced smiles or the eyes in search of escape routes.
Maybe I’m just like those co-workers I’d dreaded talking to in my early twenties.Maybe I’ve become so hyper-focused on the rigors of this whole parenting thing I can’t even pick up on people’s lack of interest in my cute little anecdotes.Maybe I just need to start paying a little bit more attention.For some people, How’s the baby? could be the same How’s it going? – the verbal equivalent of a head nod. The question isn’t an open invitation to take someone’s time hostage. Any attempt at a detailed response will be considered rude, unacceptable behavior and cause for all future interactions to be indefinitely suspended. Moving forward, when people ask about my kid, I’m going to try really hard to discern whether they really want to know or, like the woman with the terrible poker face, they don’t give a shit but are just asking to be polite.