“I have to get out of this neighborhood,” a young woman wrote on a real estate website. “There are too many [mum]s. I keep almost getting run over by huge strollers. Some of these mums seem to use their babies as an excuse to be rude, pushing everyone else out of the way.”
Not too long ago, I would’ve nodded along. So many times I’d been impeded in the supermarket, backing up through a narrow aisle with a menacing double stroller coming at me from the other end.
“Sorry! I’m so sorry!” the mums usually said, but I barely heard them. I was in a hurry.
Reading the young woman’s comment now, I feel a little hurt. An excuse to be rude? Have you tried navigating a city footpath with a stroller? I want to ask her. It isn’t easy! It’s like an obstacle course with a crying baby and deep social potholes thrown in. When I first ventured outside after having a baby, I felt like all I did was apologise and try to stay out of people’s way. I felt slow, off-balance, distracted. I was trying to do five things at once. I was trying to muster a smile at the same time.
I remember, when my baby was new, meeting a group of other inexperienced mums at a restaurant. I parked in the back, pulled my wriggling baby out and settled at a table, leaving a trail of fuzzy hats, nappies, and brightly coloured baby toys in my wake. I was awkward. Things that I had once done without thinking, like taking the train or using a public toilet, now seemed complicated and overwhelming. But worst of all, I couldn’t help but notice that everyone hated me.
OK. That’s an exaggeration. Not everyone hated me. Some people cooed at the baby and called, “Congratulations!” and “He’s adorable!” (my daughter apparently gives off distinctly male vibes). But much of the casual compassion I’d experienced during my pregnancy had been replaced with expressions that plainly read “not another damn mum with a stroller clogging up the footpath", and it was worse in restaurants. It was especially bad when I was out with other new mothers. Young women at the next table over shot us annoyed glances that grew openly hostile as the babies began to fuss. They had laptops, they were trying to do important things on them, and we were interrupting everything.
During the winter, it isn’t easy to get together with other mums and babies in the city. There isn’t enough indoor space anywhere. Apartments are small and so are cafes. The park is freezing. It’s something that I’d never given a moment’s consideration until I had a baby. When I became a mother, I started thinking differently about many things, and the animosity between the young women at the next table over and the new mums suddenly struck me as strange, disorienting.
Maybe because I had just a moment ago been in the other camp.
We are so close together, our lives are practically brushing, like our nappy bags and sleek purses. We are just a phase or two apart. I was a single woman and then I was a married woman and eventually I had a baby and guess what? This is all very, very ordinary. These are predictable, normal phases of life. Which is not to say, of course, that everyone will experience them or wants to experience them. This isn’t a judgment about any of that. I really don’t care if you decide not to have kids or to never marry.
What I mean is, if you do decide to get married and have a baby, you will find yourself suddenly like me, the way I found myself suddenly like the women whose strollers I’d hopped around in the supermarket. I was an unattached young woman who couldn’t be bothered to sympathise, and then one day I was a mother, my world automatically, unavoidably redefined.
But of course, I was the same woman all along. And sometimes I still feel like the woman at the next table over, rolling my eyes at my friend, inconvenienced by the loud, cluttering mums’ group. That was just three seconds ago. I blinked, and now I’m here.
I guess this is just human nature. Us/them. The satisfying, reaffirming dismissal of the “other”, whatever that other currently is.
But still, I wish I could retrospectively apologise to those mums apologising to me in the supermarket.
OK, I’ll just do it: I’m sorry, mums! I didn’t know. Now I do. I’ll try to be more compassionate, in the future, about the other people who are doing something I’ve not yet done. Even if I never end up doing that thing. It’s still better to be compassionate.
Also, as a continuing favour to all you people without babies out there, I will make a huge effort not to run you over with my stroller. I swear.