One of the downsides to having a baby is that I’m suddenly so much more visible whenever I step out of the house. You may not think this is a problem but for someone as anti-social as me it’s an issue. There goes my time, unobtrusive and quietly observing people and thinking mean thoughts about them – it’s not as easy to do that with a pram.
I mention this as last weekend I found myself in the house of a Polish woman who spoke only one word of English (“Please?”) as she tried to help me. E and I were walking to a local craft fair and had reached a part of town – prison on one side and a few small houses on the other – when she decided she needed her nappy changing NOW. She screamed and screamed. So I stopped by the side of the houses and managed half the change by resting her on the top of her pram but she still caused enough noise to bring the Polish lady out to see what the hell was going on. Beckoning me inside, she spread a blanket out on a chair and I finished changing E while she fetched her neighbour who spoke a few more words of English to see if they could do anything else for me. It was very nice of them both but I’m hopeless in these situations and was praying that E would stop crying so we could leave after a couple of thank yous. (She didn’t.) I’m not sure when I became so socially inept but I’m sure other people handle these scenes better than I did.
Things got worse at the actual craft fair. I was browsing and looking for potential Christmas gifts when, horror of horrors! I spy an ex-boyfriend and his wife there as well. This particular ex-boyfriend once told me that the “entire basis of our relationship” was that neither of us wanted to have children so I wasn’t too keen to talk to him as he would clearly have had to make insincere comments about E and I would have just glared at him. But here’s the thing – where do you hide when you have a pram? In short, you can’t. I made a dash for the toilets, hoping there was a baby change unit there to cower in but in my haste (through a crowd of arty-farty types at the cupcake stall) went the wrong way, bumped the pram up a step and got a pitying look from a woman who pointed out the sloped disabled/ pram entrance to the hallway. As it happens, it was all for nothing as I’m fairly certain that he saw me and decided to ignore me and carry on walking.
(Incidentally, who bases a relationship on what they don’t want? It may not have been my finest hour but I had the impression that there must have been something else between us? Still, that explains a lot…)
Motorway service stations are another place where it’s impossible to hide. We’ve done a couple of grandparent visits in the last few weeks and stopped off to change and feed E. Old women appear from everywhere in these places to have a look at the baby – stopping to talk to you and, in one instance, to lay their hands on E and touch her. “Oh she is lovely!” said the old lady in question, laying both – BOTH – hands on E’s tummy and ignoring or possibly just misreading my glare. “If that was me holding her,” I said to S later, “I’d have backed away so she couldn’t reach her.” “But that’s rude,” he says. Well surely it’s pretty rude to touch a stranger’s child? When did this become acceptable? She’s not public property.
(Things were slightly rectified on the return journey where another old lady was so busy staring at E that she nearly walked into the men’s toilet. Sadly for me, she was rescued by her friend before embarrassing herself…)
What I find weird is that there are people out with pushchairs and prams all over the place. It’s not like we’re a rare sight. I need to have a moment in public where I watch the reactions to other people’s children, if only to reassure myself that other mothers are experiencing this level of exposure, and how they’re dealing with it.