The answer to world peace. It's that simple, really.
"Having a baby changes your life." We've all heard that a million times (am I right, Mom and Dad?). Everyone knows about the sleep deprivation, the crying, the blah, blah, blah. However, I have noticed one dramatic life change since becoming a father that doesn't seem to be on the tip of every new parent's tongue. Something that affects not only me, but nearly every person in my general vicinity.
Having a baby on your hip gives you permission to talk to anyone, at any time, for any reason.
Typically, people don't like to talk to each other (at least where I live). We stand like statues in an elevator, on the bus, or on the subway. If I go to the mall or supermarket, I'll probably see 100 people. We all ignore each other.
Toss my sweet William into the picture, however, and everything changes.
It's the same routine every time. It starts with a smile, as the smitten stranger catches William's attention. S/he then makes eye contact with me and says one of two things: either "How old is he?" or "He's so cute." If I get the "cute" comment, it's immediately followed by the age question. These are the same people who, if I were shopping without William, wouldn't even bat an eye if I jumped into their shopping cart and burst into flames.
Now, I must admit that I've been on both sides of this conversation. If I'm out alone and I see someone with a child who is roughly the same age as my own, I let them know immediately. I prefer to start with, "How old is s/he?" No matter what the answer is ("Him? Oh, he's 37"), I always respond with "I have a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old at home." At this the stranger usually smiles, and we exchange a few pleasantries before going about our business.
Actually, these interactions started before the kids were even born. When my wife was pregnant, we lost count of the number of complete strangers who thought nothing of approaching her and putting their hands on her stomach. "How far along are you?" they'd then ask, as if what they were doing on line in the bank was totally normal. She'd manage to give them a polite, if not curt answer, all the while pulling slowly away and flashing me her "make it stop" look.
I was reminded of this phenomenon recently at work, when I saw that look on the face of an obviously pregnant co-worker. She was all but being mauled by gang of well-intentioned but touch-feely gawkers. I half expected them to pull out a latex glove and say, "Now just lay back so I can check you, dear..."
I guess there's just something about lugging a child around that breaks down social barriers and gives people permission to treat each other like human beings. It may be strange that people I've never met before are mussing my kids' hair and talking to the two of us as if we were old pals, but there's also something sweet about it. It's pleasant to take a moment to acknowledge a fresh young life with a smile and a hearty "atta boy!" — even if it is in the middle of Old Navy. You just can't help but want to be nice to someone with a baby.
Imagine where we'd be today if all world leaders were required to attend peace talks and summit meetings with a Björn strapped to their chests. This whole business in the Middle East would clear right up, I tell you.