About Me

My photo
I’m a stay-at-home dad. People say all kinds of dumb things to stay-at-home dads. This blog began as a way for me to record these comments and criticize the people who said them. However, it's evolved, and I now use it to express other random thoughts on parenting, children, gender, and society. Thanks for checking it out.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A Tale of Two Old Ladies

As I go through my daily adventures as a stay-at-home dad, I regularly field odd looks and dumb questions from a vast array of people. Young, old, man, woman, parent, nonparent, seemingly intelligent, obviously dimwitted—they’re all capable of the unintentional insult. But the demographic that seems to notice me and other daytime dads the most would have to be senior women. The surprise, the judgment, the genuine confusion, the “Giving your wife a break today?” questions—they seem to come from older ladies more than any other group.

It makes sense, I guess. When I’m out food shopping with one or both of my kids in the middle of the day, it’s probably a jarring image for the sixty-plus female crowd. Thirty, forty, fifty years ago, when they were parents of toddlers, this was their territory. There wasn’t a man to be seen in these parts. While today’s retail aisles are still populated by more moms than dads, the tide is slowly turning, and I suppose the old guardians of the grocery store are the ones most likely to take notice.

Three of those fingers are
pointing right back at you,
you crusty old bird.
I’ll give you a couple examples, one that reinforced my general disapproval of the human race and one that might just be enough to convince me to give everyone another chance.

I took my son, who was two at the time, to an indoor playground for a morning of chaos and germ trading. If you’re a parent, you know the kind of place I’m talking about. You go there when it’s too cold or rainy to play outside or when you’ve run out of other ideas. You pay admission, you take off your shoes, and there are a variety of slides, half-broken toys, and overpriced snacks. The kids run amuck, simultaneously dazed and squealing from their steady diets of Ritalin and Twizzlers, while their parents wander around, staring at their smartphones. Not my favorite place in the world, but for $8, it’s not a bad way to spend a half day and let the boy burn off some energy.

At the end of this particular half day, when I told my son it was time to go, I was met with some resistance. Kids hate to leave a place when they’re having fun, and if there’s anyone in the world harder to reason with with than a two-year-old, it’s an exhausted two-year-old who’s approaching naptime. I gave him a five-minute warning, but when he didn’t make his way to the exit himself, I did what you do next in these situations: I lifted him off the floor myself, securing as many of his flailing arms and legs as possible.

As I raised him toward my face, he let out a horrible, high-pitched, ear-piercing yelp. An octave higher and it would have been detectable only by dogs.

“Whoa!” I reacted. “What’s with the screaming?” It was a rhetorical question; I didn’t really expect my two-year-old to answer me.

Then, from behind, I felt a boney old hand on my shoulder. It was some kid’s grandma, attempting to assuage my anxiety. In a calming voice, she said, “Noises like that are perfectly normal for children that age.”

Huh? She was talking to me as if I’d never dealt with a two-year-old before. As if this was my first day on the job. As if, because I’m a dad, I needed some guidance.

“Oh, I know,” I replied, nodding.

She gave me a reassuring smile and another pat on the shoulder, and then she went back to practice her obviously superior caregiving with her dirty little grandkids.

As with any such instance, this could simply be a case of my misinterpreting things. Maybe I’m looking for subtle sexism in every interaction, so I’m bound to see it even when it’s not there. Perhaps this lady would have said the same thing to a mom in the same situation, and I’m just paranoid.

But you know what they say: sometimes a little paranoia is just sound thinking. I’ve gotten “the look” before. Plenty of times. And I might seem like some crazy guy who thinks everyone is out to get him when I say old ladies look at me differently from how they look at moms, but I know it’s true at least part of the time.

I know this, because one old lady actually said it.

We were at the post office on a Tuesday morning, my son and I. We had stopped there on our way to story time at the library, so it must have been about ten a.m. I held my son in one arm and handed our package to the postal worker with the other. My son was helping push the buttons on the credit card machine, as he likes to do, when I noticed an old lady watching us and smiling. I smiled back.

Then, she spoke, and it’s something I’ll never forget.

“I think it’s wonderful,” she said slowly, “that we’re starting to see more men doing so many of the things only women used to do.”

“Thank you,” I replied. And I meant it. “Thank you” is something we say a dozen times a day, but we don’t often mean it; we’re just being polite. This time, it was sincere. That lady made my day.

I didn’t think there was anything particularly mom-like about what I was doing that morning. I was just mailing a package with my son. But it was ten a.m. on a Tuesday, and I was ably handling a two-year-old in public, and that was enough for this old lady to take notice. As I said before, I have to remember that when she was my age, she probably didn’t see such things.

The fact that she was embracing this change made me want to hug her. She “got it.” In one sentence, she acknowledged that roles are shifting, she approved of it, and she delighted in it. She didn’t make me feel unwelcome or inept. On the contrary, she made me feel warm and fuzzy, right there at the post office.

It’s almost enough to make a grump like me find a restored faith in humankind. I walked into library story time with my head held high that morning, and there may have even been a skip in my step. I felt I had broken through some sort of societal wall. It was a victory.

Then, of course, five minutes in, some grandma at the library noticed me and chuckled. “Uh oh!” she said, “Dad’s in charge today!”

And just like that, I was put right back in my place as the untrusted outsider. Thanks, lady. For a moment there, I was feeling good about the world.

No comments:

Post a Comment