A lighthearted look at news, events, culture and everyday life in New York. The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.
By Nina Pajak
Last week, I glimpsed a rare and distressing peek at my potential future as a mother.
It all began in a nice, little children’s library. My mother and I took the baby on a chilly afternoon to spend an hour or so flipping through board books and playing with toys. It’s a sweet, small place, never crowded or rowdy, always tidy and quiet. Baby V began happily banging around some Legos at a designated Lego table when a girl who was around four or five years old appeared beside her.
The girl was standing strangely close, considering the size of the table. She stayed there for a moment, chomping on a piece of gum, before she began wordlessly snatching Legos out of my daughter’s hand. At first, my mother and I let it go. V was happy to take a different piece when one was taken from her. But every piece she tried to pick up, the girl snatched. After watching this happen a couple of times and hearing nothing from the girl’s mother, I finally stepped in.
“There are lots of Legos here, honey,” I said in the kindest voice I could muster and reclaimed the piece she’d just stolen from my child. Her mother, hearing our interaction, took notice and began chiding her daughter, explaining that she had to share and be nice to the baby, and threatening her with various deprivations if she didn’t comply, including being ejected from the library. The girl moved away from us but started loudly complaining about the baby’s presence. Will the baby be leaving? (No.) Why won’t the baby be quiet? (For once, she wasn’t making a sound.) Why doesn’t the baby have to go? (She did nothing wrong, unlike you.) When will the baby be going? (Later, when she feels like it.) Her mother, to her credit, did not coddle or make excuses. But her parenting had no visible effect, as the girl kept coming back to us wherever we were to spitefully remove toys from V, shove her aside, and even attempt to hijack a book I was reading to her.
It was a huge relief when they left. But as soon as they did another group came in, this time a mother with two older kids and a toddler under two years old. Initially, the toddler seemed friendly and sweet. When she grabbed a toy train away from V I didn’t care, because babies do what babies do. Sharing isn’t yet in their vocabulary, as it ought be in a preschooler’s. On the other hand, I cared a lot when the toddler took the toy train, wound her arm up like a major league pitcher, and attempted to bring the toy down on my daughter’s head with all her might. She missed, and V hardly noticed, but my mother and I were shocked. The girl’s mother casually told her to “be careful” and went about watching her other two kids or reading a magazine or playing Candy Crush or trying to dig the flask out of her purse or whatever. When it happened again, another near miss, I said, “don’t hit her!” and the mother mildly told her not to do that and then busied herself with keeping her
monster child away from us.
At this point we’d been there for an hour, and I had had enough of cretinous children terrorizing my baby, although she was wholly unaware and unaffected by the incidents. In her one-year-old mind, she’d just had two pretty fun playdates. When we left, my mother and I exchanged similar thoughts on how incredibly strange that experience was. In an otherwise empty space, we’d encountered two kids who, for likely different reasons, were totally destructive and mean. Then it dawned on me: was this to be my future? For the next however many years that I’ll be supervising my young child’s interactions with other kids, will I be confronted with nothing but bad seeds, nasty hitters, and ineffectual and/or lackadaisical mothers? What was wrong with everyone? What was wrong with their offspring? I thought I liked children in general, and not just my own. I never thought I’d think of a child under the age of twelve as a total a-hole (but we all know kids twelve and over can be total a-holes).
I’m sure my child will not be a perfect little social creature from the get-go. But I’d like to think she’d never try to bully a baby or take a swing at another kid. And if she did, I’d like to think I’d make sure there’s hell to pay. And I’d really like to think that we just happened upon two outliers in one afternoon and that the next decade of my life won’t be devoted to enduring an army of little menaces. Menacii? Creeps.
I suppose my daughter should learn how to deal with jerks of any age, as she’ll be doing it for approximately her entire life. She’ll need to figure out how to stand up for herself and when to ignore and when to confront. She’ll have to understand that sometimes people just aren’t nice, and there isn’t always a good or discernible reason, but it doesn’t have to bring her down. It’s all big, important stuff and part of growing up on the planet. But I had sort of been hoping that I had at least another couple of years before we had to tackle these issues. I mean, she doesn’t even know where her nose is yet.
If I’m being totally honest, it’s not just about wanting to hold off on teaching her the hard lessons. It’s about me, too, and these other mothers. Now I realize I need to learn when to ignore and when to confront, when to go hard and when to give another woman a break, even as her child is attempting to make mine cry. This is a social minefield I thought was far off in the distance. I’m still picking my way through the minefield of making friends with other new mothers as we all secretly judge one another and pray desperately that we’re not being judged. None of our babies know how to share or control themselves or listen to a command and can therefore not yet be held accountable for their actions and so, by transitive property, neither can we. I was comfortable in this place, sort of, I guess. Can’t I just hang here a while longer?
Nina Pajak is a writer living with her husband, daughter and dog in Queens. Connect with Nina on Twitter!