Kids provoke people. I don’t mean in that ‘if you don’t stop running around the restaurant tables, I will trip you up, you little shit’ kind of way. I mean in the ‘provoke to pass comment’ kind of way.
And these comments are rarely as innocuous as they at first might seem. Oh no. What may, on first ear-glance, seem to be an innocent little observation, is, on greater examination, a pointed criticism about your child’s behaviour and thus your parenting ability.
I am having a conversation with E at the supermarket checkout. I cannot even remember the specifics, but let’s say it was about him wanting yet another magazine with a load of plastic crap taped to the front, and me not wanting to buy it. Unlikely, I know, but true.
The woman on the till smiles thinly. “Ooh, he’s a bit of a negotiator, isn’t he?” she remarks. Which roughly translated, means ‘You have absolutely no authority over your child and quite frankly, you an embarrassment to the rest of us mothers’. I know that I get bested in an argument with a four year old more often than I would like. I know that I sometimes capitulate in the face of a trade-off between a Mike the Knight treasure chest that will last approximately three minutes and a sulk of such ferocity it will melt the pavement on which E walks. But really. Do I have to be reminded by a complete stranger with wonky lipstick?
Another day, another conversation with E. Again, I can’t recall the details, but I would hazard a guess I might have been trying to explain something, like why shadows can be long or short, and he loses interest and calls me a Poo-Face, or something. Cue an eavesdropper who then rudely interrupts: “He’s got a good grasp of language, your boy.” Translation? ‘Your son is a cheeky little shit’.
I don’t really understand why people think it is alright to butt into a conversation a parent is having with their offspring. It is not acceptable between adults. I have never stood at a bar, listening in to two blokes talking, lean over and say ‘Your mate’s a bit of a twat, isn’t he?’ And it’s not as if I haven’t wanted to at times, believe me.
I thought strangers passing judgement was bad with a toddler, but I had forgotten just how out-of-hand it is with a baby. There seems to be an entire system of etiquette involved with coming into close proximity of a baby – I say etiquette, but that suggests a level of politeness, perhaps rudeness is more appropriate – that allows complete strangers to say whatever the hell they like about your nipper. In the course of about two weeks, I was lucky enough to hear the following said about B:
“You’re breeding them hardy.” Translation: Put some more fucking clothes on that baby, you idiot, or I’m calling the NCPCC.
“Ooh, I love chunky babies.” Translation: Your baby is fat.
“Hasn’t he grown!” Translation: You are overfeeding your child, he is threatening to have his own postcode if he gets any bigger.
“What lovely chubby cheeks!” Translation: Your baby is bloody fat.
“Ooh, he’s so pudgy I could eat him.” Translation: Your baby is so bloody fat I could feed my entire family for a week on him.
“They’re so cuddly at that age, when they have all that baby fat.” ALRIGHT. I know. My baby is fat. Please can we move on now? After all, it is only his cheeks that are properly fat and that is not his fault – it runs in the family. Many of his cousins sported rotund cheeks for a year or so. I think at some point in the dim and distant genetic past of my husband’s lineage, someone accidentally mated with a hamster who had just injested a week’s worth of dinners.
And then last week, perhaps the piece de resistance. We are at the cafe, en famille, for lunch. A woman walks past our table and stops. She looks first at M, then at me, before looking long and hard and both E and B.
“Oh my god,” she gushes, barely able to contain her astonishment. “Your children are beautiful”. I smiled a thank you and she passes on her way, but it was only then I realised what she actually meant. Translation: how did two ugly buggars like you manage to produce children that looked like that?
Perhaps the only solution is to fight fire with fire. The next time someone takes it upon themselves to remark upon my children or my parenting skills (or lack of them) I will smile and reply: “Indeed. And do you know that your anorak makes you look like a window licker?”
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