“It’s like a baby pops out of you and you immediately become an uptight bitch,” the girl with the round sunglasses decreed. “Have you read Rilke?” she diverted, handing a copy of Letters to a Young Poet to her sparsely bearded boy toy whom dotingly carried a stack of oh-my-god-you-haven’t-read-yets.
The girl with the round sunglasses continued to tell of her sister who refused to wake her sleeping baby daughter when her mother arrived fifteen minutes after bedtime. During the whole of her story I stalked her, holding Joanie in my arms facing outwards so the girl with the round sunglasses could see our indignation. I’d hoped that from our disapproving scowls she would discover her mistake, that she was in fact wrong to complain about her sister’s bedtime choices, that her sister probably hasn’t slept more than two hours in a stretch for months and that the 7:30pm deadline was the only way that this poor exhausted woman has found to ensure a four hour period of sleep for her baby. She would then infer that the folly of her ways, the sunglasses in door for instance, were a ridiculous play for attention, and that she, amidst all her calculations of image, should have found the time to consider the plight of others and become less of an ill-informed judge. “You’re right, intelligent and respectable woman with the bright-eyed baby, I was acting the fool,” she would admit, removing her sunglasses and at once shaving her boyfriend’s scraggly beard.
All of this would be the result of my scowl.
In reality she just smiled at Joanie and paid for her books, leaving me to my brooding, ineffectual discontent. I’m a little ashamed of imagining so much about a girl I know nothing about. Who knows, maybe she lost her glasses and only had her prescription sunglasses while she waited for new lenses to be set in a stylish vintage frame that cost more than her parent-funded-rent, but there I go again.
Before I had my own small one I could be terribly critical, admittedly I still can be, but I have since learned to temper my judgments through understanding and my own experience. I once would have admonished a father for having his daughter in front of the T.V to give himself a break, or a mother for having her son on one of those harnesses. My new reaction is closer to: “yeah, I could see that,” followed by a shrug. It may not be my style of parenting but motherhood is exhausting, especially in the first year. In the words of my friend Julia, looking back on the first year of her son’s life, “that was insane.”
When I was leaving the Jewish General Hospital with my new baby girl I was given a brochure and worksheet to fill out on shaken baby syndrome. The worksheet, created by the Sainte-Justine Mother and Child University Hospital Centre and adopted for use at many other hospitals in Montreal, asked for a list of a few things I could do when I feel overwhelmed as well as a list of people I could call if I needed help. At the time, fueled by adrenaline and dewy-eyed baby wonder, I quickly dismissed the pages as well as the faceless parent that might need them. It wasn’t until I spent my first night at home in the throws of those ugly and chemical post-partum feelings that I began to see the brochure’s use. While I would never shake Joanie, the place that impulse comes from is no longer quite so preposterous in my mind, and that worksheet I mocked so openly in front of the well-meaning nurse seemed suddenly to bare some necessity.
I think the reason I was so furious with the girl in the round sunglasses is because I recognized in her a part of me that so carelessly criticized parents. I still find myself scoffing at other moms every once in a while, but when I do I try to remember all the times I let Joanie sleep in the bed with me, or the moments I allowed her to stare blankly at the moving faces that say things she doesn’t understand while I take some time to watch The West Wing. I remember that just because people have been parenting since the beginning of human existence doesn’t mean that it’s not absurdly difficult.