Sunday last week was a big day for the boys in our house. Mom had an important rehearsal out of town and was going to be gone from 9am or so until late afternoon, making it the longest stretch of time that the little guy has been away from his mama. I was just a tiny bit apprehensive – the kid is becoming more and more assertive and is starting to flex his tantrum-muscles – but was mostly excited and wanted to do something fun with the day. The weather was decent, so we decided to go and gallivant around the beautiful Distillery District.
The day was fantastic. Sure, there were two shitty diapers in a span of ten minutes but the public washroom there was bright, spacious and clean. Sure, he did morph into his Mr. Hyde-esque tantrum mode as we sat down in the Mill Street brew pub for lunch, but there was beer, and I was able to shovel food into his mouth quickly enough that after 10 minutes he totally simmered down. And the rest of our time there was brilliant. We browsed the stylish shops checking out some of the fancy toys that the yuppy babies play with. I played the role of wing-man as he charmed the ladies in various galleries, then zoomed around between expensive and weird and lovely art pieces. We ran around the Distillery’s cobblestone alleys playing our game where peekaboo is sort of starting to become hide-and-seek. We were both smiling everywhere we went, and soaked up the smiles around us.
I could spend a lot of time writing about our day there, it was so much fun. But what I want to write about is two comments directed at me as our day downtown was wrapping up. I’ve got to get them off my chest.
Did I mention that he’s starting to get into throwing tantrums now? Well he threw another one, once it was time to leave and I packed him into the stroller. It was intense, but like at lunchtime the fire sort of fizzled out after 10 minutes or so, then we were on our way home. The kid needed to sleep; I know this by the amount of time that had passed since his last nap, I know this by the timbre of his earlier freakout, I know it by the look in his face. Still, these things take time. As we got on the bus to head up Parliament Street to the subway I gave him his pacifier and he settled into his “reflective” mode. Reflective mode is a necessary phase before sleep, the catch is that sometimes it last for 5 minutes and other times it can last for an hour. But if there’s one thing you’ve got to know about reflective mode it’s that once the kid is in reflective mode, you pull back on the stimuli.
So picture me riding the bus, watching my reflective kid from the corner of my eye while I flip through some of the pictures of I took, thinking of the best ones to share. Picture me sitting there when the two older ladies sitting right next us start passing commentary on us as if we were a TV show. “Look at the little baby, he doesn’t look very happy, does he?” And her friend, “And dad’s just there [insert grunting and a crude pantomime of thumbing at gigantic buttons] on his phone.”
I thought: are you ladies kidding me?! Do you have any idea how busy I’ve been the last six hours?? Did you pull down a baby’s pants in a fancy shop and discover poop just 10 minutes after changing an earlier shitty diaper? I am killing parenting today and you’re going to judge me over a 5-minute bus ride while my kid is in his reflective mode?! Fuck you! I felt rage, but through my rage I felt consumed by some dark guilt. I spent the rest of the bus ride with my phone in my pocket, bitterly gazing out the window.
We pulled into Castle Frank subway station and I waited for the bus to unload before strolling off. From the way the driver pulled the bus up a couple of feet from the curb it wasn’t the easiest thing in the world backing my way off the bus and easing the stroller down onto the platform, but it also wasn’t any kind of big deal. Presumably, hundreds of parents taking the bus to this station do the same thing every day. But it was right after unloading the stroller from the bus that I got the second comment that has stuck with me. An older gentleman walking up to the bus said, with complete sincerity: ” Way to go, Super Dad!”
I thought: Are you kidding me, man?! Do you have any idea how much parenting I’ve done in the last six hours?? I patiently and lovingly spoon-fed this kid lukewarm spaghetti while he howled his head off in a restaurant filled with a hundred people! I am killing parenting today and you’re going to call me Super Dad because you saw me perform a simple physical task that literally any able-bodied adult could perform? Come on! This guy didn’t cause me to feel rage. He was well-meaning, of course, but his bizarre enthusiasm about my ability to maneuver a stroller left me feeling weirdly empty.
Why did I let these comments shake up my day? Why did they stick with me at all? Maybe spending the entire day alone with a 15-month-old had made me hyper-sensitive to any adult conversation I was tuned into. Maybe the tantrums had worn me out as much as the little guy, and I was in a reflective mode of my own. Maybe the negative feelings the comments provoked stood out simply because of how they contrasted with the positivity I had felt all day. I’ve thought about the two comments and distilled my main issue with them down to this: unfairness. The ladies were setting the bar impossibly high, the man was setting it way too low. As I clunked the stroller down the steps into the subway I wondered about which is weirder: being criticized for doing something I know is fine, or being praised for doing something I know is nothing special.
Whatever the case, at the end of the day the real story was the fantastic time we had together. I know I’ll always associate our amazing day in the Distillery with those two weird comments on the way home that pulled me out of my reverie, but so what? They don’t define the day, they simply punctuate its awesomeness.