Ay, Dios Mio. On Know-it-All Neighbors and Passers-By.
April 2, 2010
I really love the comradery that’s shared among parents, and especially among moms. Just before I gave birth to Kaspar, I received a flurry of encouraging emails and phone calls from female colleagues, friends, and family— all of them moms, and all in different life stages themselves, but all of them sharing some understanding of what I was embarking upon. Their words of wisdom weren’t sugar-coated. I heard, about childbirth, “It’s really very painful” (and was it ever), but also “You can do this. Women do it every day” (and I did it, and feel like a total badass because of it). I was given sage advice on everything from sleep deprivation (“When you go to sleep, call it a nap, and then you won’t be so pissed off when you’re woken up three hours later”) to breastfeeding survival tips (Lansinoh, ladies). I’m sure I had a glazed, starry look in my eyes at the time—or were those just headlights?—but now that I’ve been at this mamahood thing for almost two months, I’ve experienced many a moment in which those little nuggets have popped up from the bleary depths of my sleep-deprived (but not pissed off!) brain and given the learning curve a little jump start, saving me from frustration when it looms.
The thing about all this advice from the moms is that it was always upbeat, realistic, and flexible. It accounted for my being a mom myself, someone who would soon be, and is now, a relative expert on my own kid. Aaron and I are the most capable people when it comes to caring for our little guy— and that sometimes means that we go to other experts (moms, dads, doctors) for perspective and advice if we need it. The advice from these people is welcome because it’s founded in mutual respect.
Then there’s the lady upstairs. She is very real-- lives right above us-- but will serve here as an archetypical example of that nosy stranger or mere-acquaintance who is way, way too up in your new-parent (or even not-so-new-parent) business. I’ll call her Carol.
Carol decided to come knocking the other day to ask if she could see the baby. She thought it was a good time because she heard him crying. Now, Kaspar cried a lot for the first couple of weeks due to reflux, but since then has not been a crier (and after that reflux, I am thanking my lucky stars that this is the case). So, it was unusual for him to be crying, and we were busy calming him down, but I said “Sure, come on in for a minute Carol, and let me introduce you.” Kaspar had calmed down and was lying on the couch looking tentatively serene. Carol walked over to him and said, “He should be fatter.”
I laughed. “Actually, he’s gaining weight just fine.”
“What are you feeding him?”
“He’s breast and bottle-feeding.”
“You’re giving him two milks? Ay, dios mio.”
“Yeah, um, the pediatrician… and lactation consultant… both said that’s fine.”
(Carol turned to Kaspar). “What do you have that sucky in your mouth for? Did your Mommy give you that sucky?” (She turned to me), “That’s the worst thing you can give to him. He’ll get gas.”
Not so funny anymore. “Well, he likes it. It comforts him. He’s fine.”
Carol leaned down and rubbed Kaspar’s belly counter-clockwise (not the correct way to rub a baby’s belly, actually) and said “Oh poor baby, it’s just your mommy’s first time, she doesn’t know.”
Kaspar started crying, not surprisingly, so I picked him up and said, “Well, thanks for stopping by! He’s getting tired so…”
But nope, Carol’s visit wasn’t over. Before she left she told us that Kaspar needed to be wearing a hat, that he could get HIV because we wash his clothes in a Laundromat, that we should put rice in his milk, and that I am fatter than she was (I weigh 115 pounds).
Aaron stepped in at that point and ushered Carol out the door.
I’d heard about this phenomenon. I actually heard about it from the moms (love those moms), in that pre-baby preparatory period. I’d heard about the strangers on the train who’ll tell you your baby is cold, the tongue-clucking passers-by who can’t seem to pass by without putting their arbitrary two cents in, as if your hands weren’t full enough. We’ve told a few friends about Carol’s little visit, and now we’ve been properly warned. This is New York City. We’re gonna get an earful before Kaspar’s even talking (and, from what we’re told, once that happens the nosy strangers tend to shut up).
Our kid is healthy, happy, really easy-going (he was passed around at a dinner party the other night and just charmed the socks off of everyone there… and yes, we did ask them to wash their hands first)—why do people we barely know feel they need to rescue us, and our baby, from our hazardous ineptitude?
What’s your most memorable experience with your own “lady upstairs”? Who’s been in your business that shouldn’t be, and how did you handle it? What’s the best way to nip this kind of thing in the bud without being downright rude?