I was on the subway last week trying to read my book but was distracted by the small blond child seated next to me who kept kicking his feet up in the air and then dropping them back down. As his little shoes would come crashing back down on account of gravity, his foot would hit the side of mine. Before I was pregnant, I would have wanted to strike the child. But with my own baby coming, I seem to have more patience, in part because I truly am more patient, and in part because I’m trying to be.
The boy uttered something incomprehensible, and I watched his mother struggle to understand what he was saying.
“The people have blue shoes?” she said.
He repeated this unintelligible gibberish.
“The bubbles don’t work?”
“The bubbles need more structure?”
I empathized with the woman. Some mothers seem to do everything right, from knowing the perfect foods to feed their children (never, ever feed babies honey!), to understanding precisely how to discipline them so they listen rather than lash out in retaliation. Me, I bought my child a beautiful antique iron crib, similar to the iron bed in which me and my husband sleep and was warned the crib may be covered in lead paint that the baby will surely eat. I situated the crib in front of the bay window in the nursery, thinking the baby would be nourished, like a plant, by all the light and air that flood in –only to be chastised for having a crib so close to windows on which there were no child guards. I’ve slept in a dust-filled house, seven months pregnant, as contractors put in a master bath so we could have a second bathroom for when the baby is born. As part of the project, I stained wood paneling, painted trim, and lifted heavy tile, to the point where one friend warned she would call child services if I lifted another paint brush. Some of the things I do are out of ignorance or simple oversight. Others, out of stubborn-ness. Either way, this mothering business clearly does not come natural to me — at least when it comes to OSHA-type issues. I appeared to have found a compatriot in this fellow traveler.
“I never understand what they’re saying,” I said, sliding down the subway seat a little closer to the woman so she could hear me. “I’m glad to see even their own mothers don’t even understand them all the time.”
“Oh, I usually get it. I’m just a little out of it right now,” she said.
“Oh,” I said, moving back a little toward my side of the bench.
“He’s actually pretty articulate,” she continued. “The other day, he said, ‘I want to be an astronaut, because I want to go in a rocket into space.’ That’s very articulate for a two-year old.”
Her voice had the pride of someone whose dog has just won, “Best in Show.”
And here I thought I’d found a mother potentially as unfit as myself, someone else who might inadvertently have fed their baby honey. It turns out she was just having an off day. I picked up my book and began reading again, content that at the very least, the conversation had distracted her little brat long enough for him to stop kicking my foot.