SD blogger Sierra wrote yesterday about Maia, the mom on Feministe arguing that the general public does not have a right to child-free spaces. Speaking for every mother who has fended off critical glances just for having the audacity to be in public with a baby, Sierra says, “shopping areas, public transportation, city streets, most restaurants – these spaces are for everyone. The kids in them deserve to be treated with respect.”
Amen. City dwellers in particular know how bold a choice it can be simply to exist outside the home as a tot-toting parent. You’re made fun of for your “giant” stroller. (Really? Would you accuse someone in a wheelchair of “hogging the sidewalk?”) You’re given the evil eye when your baby gets fussy (but no one says anything to the teenagers screaming at the top of their lungs on the train). People tell you not to let your one-year-old lick the subway pole. (Just me? I swear it’s what prevented my daughter from ever getting sick.) Parents who travel alone (think about it – when you’re with your mate do people try this stuff? No way.) are particularly vulnerable to attacks from strangers, because our only company is a helpless little being. We’re easy prey, a fine mark for someone having a bad day to use as a scapegoat for everything that’s wrong in their world.
I’m especially well-acquainted with this dynamic, because even before I was divorced, I functioned as a single mother, as my husband was away for work during the week. (With the plethora of single and stay-at-home Dads out there, I wonder if men with a baby strapped to their chest encounter this type of discrimination as frequently as women.) When my daughter was a baby, I spent my days at home, mostly, or in the park, library or book store – places where there were lots of other moms and kids hanging out, gang-like. There is strength in numbers, and hanging with a Mommy gang feels safe. No one can give you a dirty look for being in the kids section of Barnes & Noble – not even the employees. (I’ve often wondered how they can sit idly by watching children suck on and rip merchandise that has not and most likely will not be paid for. That’s some powerful zen, right there.)
But hanging in the Barnes & Noble and bringing your baby to a bar are really two separate issues, as Karnythia at The Angry Black Woman points out. The impetus for Maia’s diatribe about kids-being-people-too is that one night, she was at a bar – with her three-year-old daughter - when a friend called and asked her to come “hang out for a few drinks and chill time as the sun came up.” Apparently the friend withdrew the invitation upon learning that a child would be present, because, you know, nothing harshes a mellow like a toddler, right? Maia, like, totally doesn’t get what the big deal is, dude, because her daughter is a “funny, cute, bad-ass, curly haired person who… is probably cooler than you are.” Probably. I mean, I haven’t partied til the sun came up in at least a year, and your little Aza seems to be doing it on the regular.
I’m not here to point fingers at Maia for being a hot Mommy mess. I’m here to say, I get it. I think it’s pretty safe to assume that Maia is a young-ish, single mother who wants to have fun but can’t afford/doesn’t see the need for a sitter. I’ve been there. I took my daughter to a bar show once when she was about a year old. Like Maia, I figured it was no big deal. I’d seen other hip mamas with their adorably-dressed babies in the same venue, so I saw no problem in following suit. Unfortunately, even though no one seemed to bat an eye at her presence, it ended up being a miserable experience for everyone involved.
My baby girl had no idea who the room full of people surrounding her were, so she cried every time the crowd laughed, feeling disoriented. As a result, the crowd slowly became less willing to laugh, and the performers felt the need to call attention to the pink elephant in the room. I don’t blame them – that’s what we do as comics. But after that experience, I vowed never to bring my kid along to a show again. Because babies don’t really belong in bars. They don’t. I’m not saying you can’t enjoy a beer on the outdoor patio of a restaurant/bar at 4-in-the-afternoon, but you shouldn’t be at a rave with your kid at 4-in-the-morning.
As Sierra mentioned, nightclubs have 21+ age restrictions for a reason, and as Karnythia so eloquently put it, “This is about basic child development and loving this sweet funny person enough to do right by them even if it means you miss out on watching the sunrise with an alcoholic beverage in hand. Sometimes sacrificing your fun is the biggest part of being a good parent.”
Sacrifice. Ah, sacrifice. I’ve had a sticky relationship with that word for many years. As a feminist, I’ve always felt that women shouldn’t need to sacrifice anything. But of course, that’s a foolish and immature notion. Having a child is a sacrifice – one that takes some getting used to. Looking back, I can so clearly see how I didn’t fully understand the implications of having a child; I had no idea that being a good parent meant really taking a step back and examining your life, making the lifestyle changes necessary for the benefit of your baby – and your own mental health. I thought I could “do it all,” because there is a notion out there – especially in Hollywood – that women can be moms and not only not slow down, but do more than ever!
A commenter on my post Losing Sleep Over Babies wonders if sleep-deprivation isn’t the fault of parents who stay up late. She writes, “If I went to bed within 3 hours after my kids were asleep, I’d get at least 7 or 8 hours of sleep. I don’t, though, I procrastinate and waste time on-line. It’s my own damn fault.” Sleep-deprivation can be so destructive. As the study in the post pointed out, tired parents fight and even break-up due to exhaustion. In the case of a sleep-deprived single parent, there is no one left to take your frustration out on except the baby.
The idea that “your life changes when you become a parent” doesn’t really tell the whole story. Of course babies change your life, even if you don’t. But there are lifestyle changes parents have to choose in addition to the ones a child forces upon you. Yes, babies ruin your sleep, you have to feed them all the time. But good parents also realize that cutting back on personal time is important. Not everyone gets that. Maia certainly doesn’t. She writes:
ive even heard people claim that mamas, like me, just dont want to face up to the fact that they are parents and still want to live as if they are unattached. ummm…nope. i know im a mama. i love being one. i simply dont believe that my mamahood means that i must be shunted away from the rest of society. nor do i believe it is beneficial to my daughter if she is not allowed to interact and explore the world as it is.
While I agree that there is pressure for mothers to hide away, not just their breastfeeding practices, but completely (my own mother said she doesn’t believe that mothers should leave the house for the first three months of their child’s life), I disagree that “exploring the world as it is” is good for children. If it were, we wouldn’t go to such great lengths to child-proof our homes and feed our children food that has been pulverized. We don’t let our kids stick their fingers in sockets and we don’t feed them hot dogs in buns from birth for a reason – because it could kill them. And while I don’t think bringing a baby to a bar is life-threatening (although, you never know), it certainly is dangerous. If not physically, then to a child’s well-being.
I’ve seen so many babies up at 4 am, riding the subway with young mothers who let them subsist on Coke and Cheetos – it’s heartbreaking. Have you ever looked into the eyes of a toddler who you know has seen too much? A toddler who knows what fights look like, what booze smells like? They look sad and old and sick. That’s why, Maia, despite all your good intentions, you should not have your three-year-old with you at a party til dawn. Because she will likely grow up too fast, and end up the type of teenager who is so out-of-hand you may have lost your opportunity to parent her.
Photo: Laughter Minute