Monday, May 28, 2007

It's late

This happens all the time:

I'm out in public with my baby. A baby-adoring sort of stranger walks up to us, saying, "I have to see the little one." Then said stranger begins to ask questions, in a high-pitched, supposedly baby-appropriate voice to the baby.

"Hello! Well aren't you cute? What's your name? Hmm, what's your name?"

And I don't answer, because the stranger is talking to the baby, right? If the stranger wants me to tell him or her what the baby's name is, he or she would ask me what the baby's name is, right? There's inevitably a moment of awkwardness during which I am punishing the stranger for being dense enough to ask a question to a person who doesn't speak, and then expect an answer to come from an entirely different person. After I feel the stranger is sufficiently punished, I usually cave and respond with the expected reply, because that's the kind of person I am (a usual caver).

Sometimes I'll respond with, "It's Norah," to which the stranger will certainly say, "Sonora?" And sometimes if the questioner is asking my baby a long series of questions, never getting the hint that I am bothered by this practice, I will smile and say, "She doesn't talk yet" and leave it at that.

Tonight this scenario happened while we were having a picnic at Tempe Town Lake. I sat on a bench with Norah, and watched the lady on the next bench over watching Norah and trying to make her laugh. Then she came over, and I was strangely drawn to and distracted by the leftover pieces of lettuce from her salad in a closed plastic container. Also, I was confused by this lady's motives. For a second, I thought she was going to try to sell me something, and for a half-second, I thought she was going to try to sell me the leftover pieces of lettuce from her salad. I was disoriented, just a bit. Then this lady started asking Norah questions. For this lady, I'm certain this encounter was entirely within her realm of normalcy, but for me, it was a little bit unsettling. I wanted to question the questioner: Do you want me to answer the question you are asking my 8-month-old? How do you want me to proceed? Are you trying to sell me something, or maybe, ask for money?

I didn't ask any questions. Norah didn't tell her her name. I did, I told the lady Norah's name. But I did not buy any lettuce bits. And the lady went on her merry way, having just been very friendly with the people on the next bench over.


Neil and Diana said...

What a strange phenomenon, indeed, to witness strangers asking questions of your infant, and to feel a social pressure to respond like an idiot. Cooing questions to babies is kind of passive-agressive. You are a very good, and sensitive, writer.

Abby said...

I am laughing. It is really unclear to me why you thought she wanted to sell you her lettuce bits...

Steve said...

Just remember when we're old and nostalgic for the baby days, we have to address the mother directly, not the baby. Oh, and don't bag our leftover lettuce.

c jane said...

I hate it hate it hate it when people ask their tiny babies "Can you say good bye? Can you say good bye? Say good bye!" Then they become ultimately frustrated when the incapable baby doesn't respond. What is with that? It's so awkward.

So this is all to say that I am with you Emily. The whole post long. Even the lettuce bits.

Emily said...

I'm guilty, I say! I do the "Wave Bye, Bye!" thing...but knowing that my infant cannot in fact wave, I make their flopsy arm wave for's most ridiculous, I know! Perhaps babies just suck the practical and logical right out of me (and the silly questioners in the market and at the Tempe Town Lake Picnic.)

kiki said...

Surely, someone must come up with some sort of device where we can record, "My name is [name]," in a baby-mimicking voice, and when the baby is asked, "And what is YOUR name," we can hit a remote that will play the recording. That would be at least 5 kinds of fun, right?

Nate said...

Doesn't it seem like we sometimes just have a need to interact directly with a baby? And what more natural way do we have than talking? It certainly is much weirder to have strangers come up and ask to actually hold my baby. I think I'm fine letting them keep their distance and ask funny questions.

I do kind of enjoy the fact that our kids rarely smile for strangers-- especially the ones who say that they can always get a kid to smile. I think Kristine gets a little embarassed, but I sort of smile to myself when somebody says that. They're sure to get a serious stare from our kids. Hee hee.

Emily said...

I'm very okay with strangers talking to my baby. Touching, not so much. (Do strangers really ask you to let them hold your children?! Wow.) I just get bugged when they--yes--passive-aggressively are really talking to me through my baby. When they really want me to answer the questions, I just think that's weird. Emily, I have been known to tell my baby to do things that it clearly can't do: "Say night-night to daddy," "give me kisses," etc.

Abby, I'm telling you, her demeanor shouted, "I want something from you" as she approached my bench. It was Tempe Town Lake! You never know when someone might try to sell you lettuce bits when you're in Tempe!

Cjane, I knew you'd be with me on this one. Rock on.

Kiki, I think you're cool for spelling mimicking right. And for lots of other reasons.

Nate, Rebecca has yet to smile at me. I'm still working on it!

sarah said...

The question is, would you have bought the lettuce bits, if it meant strange lady would stop talking to Norah?

lys said...

My least favorite "talk to the baby" moment was in the grocery store and B was 6 months. I was stocking up on containers of baby food when a rotund woman approached and said to Britain, "Yucky, yucky, yucky. You tell that mommy of yours not to buy you squash and peas. You tell her that you want some Hawaiian Delight. You don't want that yucky, yucky, yucky, do you? Do you, baby? You want yummy yummy Hawaiian Delight."

Yeah, I about smacked her.