“Excuse me: did you kidnap that child?”

Posted on March 18, 2011

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Today was mommyNyLon’s first day back at work, less than eight weeks after giving birth to our first born.  We all knew it was going to be a tough day all round, but it went pretty well, all things considered.

Anyway, the point of this post is not to go on about maternity and paternity leave in the US.  I’ll save that for a later date.  Instead, I wanted to post about my first experience of being the stay-at-home parent, since that is the topic to which I’ll devote most column inches.

The plan for today was fairly straightforward: the three of us would go to a coffee shop near to mommyNyLon’s work, since we don’t live nearby, and when mommyNyLon was ready she would leave babyNyLon and I and the two of us would hang out for a couple of hours until babyNyLon was hungry (the bottle-feeding’s going a bit slowly at the moment, and together time would benefit both Mom and baby, especially today).  It was probably an ambitious plan for babyNyLon to be in unfamiliar surroundings during her first significant time apart from her Mom, but she’s a great child and normally very calm.

It started out pretty well.  BabyNyLon slept almost until mommyNyLon was ready for her last pre-work feed, but got pretty upset when she needed to be changed.  We thought I might as well do it (I hadn’t done a change in a public facility before) but there were a few tears, even though I was able to calm her down once the change was over and we were about to come out of the washroom.

MommyNyLon then went to work, babyNyLon slept, and I tried to catch up on some emails.  That lasted about 30 minutes, and then babyNyLon began to wake.  She was quiet at first, but soon needed to be picked up out of her stroller and would only be consoled for short periods.  Within about five minutes, she was crying pretty hard so I decided to put her back in the stroller and take her for a walk, away from the worsening music and the scraping of heavy chairs along the hard floor.  Then I noticed something very strange.

The whole Starbucks had gone quiet and seemed to be watching to see how I would deal with this apparent crisis.

People were nervously failing to continue their conversations, as if they were embarrassed for me.  Some of them were looking at me as if I this couldn’t possibly be my baby.  None of them knew that this was mommyNyLon’s first day back at work and that it was a tough day for all of us, but some of them were very clearly judging me and looking at me with nothing short of contempt.  How dare this baby cry!  When they were drinking coffee!  And as for me; who did I think I was to fail to quiet the child!  The insolence!

Actually, our Little One was fine after a walk around the block, some fresh air and a bit of time being held.  She was visibly excited at meeting up with mommyNyLon, and snoozed soundly in the afternoon when we went for a walk along the river.

I get the feeling, however, that in a city where female nannies and au pairs are the norm, and hands-on, stay-at-home dads are rarely seen alone with their children in public, I may see much more of the same from now on.  Does it bother me?  No, not yet.  I think the actions of people like those I encountered today say much more about those people and their self-centeredness than they do about me or our wonderful, happy and healthy child.  I don’t say that with any malice – looking after a child quickly makes you see things from different perspectives, and I have been guilty of every criticism I could make of anyone else – but it will be a challenge and I hope I will always have the appropriate response to be the best example for our little girl to learn from.

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Posted in: Out and about