Recently I had an experience worth analyzing while working as a cashier for a local breakfast and brunch cafe. The location of the cafe is in a upscale town so as you can probably imagine, the majority of customers is of a certain demographic… You know, the kind of people that actually plan to eat brunch.
The whole thing happened towards the end of the lunch rush when things were beginning to slow down and people were clearing out from the restaurant. Although this is the time when things ease up for most other employees, it’s the time when cashiering can become quite busy as everyone decides they must all leave at the same time in standard mass exodus fashion as some of my co-workers describe it.
As I was checking people out and working the line smaller and smaller there was a baby crying in the background at a table. To me, this is no big deal, babies cry, it’s basically their only real means of communication. So about my business I went, hardly giving a second thought to the crying baby until the mother brought the baby to the front of the restaurant.
It’s obvious to me that the mom was trying to soothe her without disrupting the surrounding customers dining experience. This act alone I found to be very considerate and immediately felt a soft spot for this mom who was obviously a bit disheveled trying to calm the baby. I made sure to shoot her a supportive smile when we made a brief eye contact because I’ve been there before. It can be stressful when your baby starts crying in a public place, not so much out of concern for the baby, but more so because we hear all the time about people who relentlessly complain and make a big stink about crying babies. It can feel very lonely in these situations because you never know who is going to offer help and who is jumping at the bit to criticize someone. And boy do people love to criticize other people.
Unfortunately it seems, for every 100 kind and considerate people, there always ends up being that one person that is just plain thoughtless and rude. My feelings on people have jumped around from extremes as I’ve grown up. There was the “people scare me/social anxiety” phase, the “I love people!” phase, the “everyone is out to get me and people suck” phase, and all the transitional phases in between. Nowadays I’ve begun to settle on the understanding that the majority of people don’t intend to be nasty or mean and most are kind and thoughtful. Those handful out there that leave you feeling flabbergasted and irate are simply living in oblivion. Chances are they have no clue they’ve been offensive unless you point it out.
Using my ratio of considerate to thoughtless people, the restaurant on an average weekend sees about 600-700 patrons, so a handful of, let’s call them cheeky customers, is to be expected. Somehow, even knowing that there will always be those few individuals who are oblivious to the feelings of other people, it can still catch you off guard at the lack of consideration some people have for their fellow humans.
So, as this mom is pacing the front of the restaurant to calm the crying baby, an older woman comes up to the register to check out. There are maybe two others in front of her so she stands and the counter to wait her turn. While she waits, she proceeds to stare at this mom and baby in the waiting area. And not just a sympathetic glance here and there, but a full on stare, like, you can tell she’s planning to say something. Considering how uncomfortable it made me, I can only imagine how disconcerting it must have been for the mom.
Finally it was the older woman’s turn to check out and she was so determined to be minding other people’s business that she was completely unaware that I was talking to her. Once she realized it was her turn she somewhat broke her gaze at the mom and baby duo enough to acknowledge I was speaking to her. I gave her the total and she looked at me dumbfounded. She was so busy gawking that, although standing at the checkout counter, she had forgotten she was there to pay. After handing me her card she finally spoke up about the crying baby. She sort of spoke to me and the mom at the same time, officially making me a part of the situation, saying, “Oh, the poor baby….”.
Okay. This didn’t seem to bad. She’s offering some sympathy. At least she’s spoken now and the weird gazing is over with. It also seemed to ease some of the mom’s discomfort because it gave her the opportunity to explain that her baby was hungry but refused to take a bottle unless it was just the right temperature. She was just waiting for the bottle to warm up in a cup of hot water at the table. I took this as an opportunity to ease any embarrassment she might have felt by smiling and making a joke about her having a picky eater on her hands. She laughed and agreed and decided to go check on the bottle. Phew, I was glad all that awkwardness was over with… or so I thought.
Once the mom was back at the table the older lady continued mumbling about the “poor baby”. Honestly, it was a bit weird. I didn’t understand the lady’s obsession with the crying baby. She finally engaged with me while signing her receipt and I made the mistake of commenting about hungry babies. It was at this point, somehow, this little old lady managed to kick her foot right up into her mouth.
“I just feel bad for the baby,” she said. This threw me. I was confused and it was all over my face that I was confused so she continued, “Just take the poor thing home,” she said “why are you keeping it out when it’s crying, it wants to go home”. “That poor baby,” she repeated as I stared at her, amazed by the lack of compassion. Although I was taken aback by these comments I’m not one to allow my personal feelings on a matter control my actions, especially when I’m at work. Expressing lots of self control, I managed to keep the floodgates of irritation closed as she looked at me expectantly, as if I was supposed to agree with her.
While she was going on about the “poor baby” the phone behind me began to ring right on cue. Yes! A super easy way out of this situation! Even though I was happy to have an easy exit, I also felt like this lady’s thinking was so backwards that I wouldn’t be any better of a person if I didn’t somehow point it out. Of course, being at work already had me holding my tongue as well as trying to hold my facial expressions as best I could although I’ve been told I’m not great at that part.
I settled for looking the lady dead in the face with a raised eyebrow and a dissolved smile and responded, “poor baby? Poor mom.” Immediately after this the phone was demanding to be answered so I stepped back from the register and answered it. I could see the older woman who was expecting me to blindly agree with her get all puffy and begin stuttering, “well yes… poor mom too… but…uh…the baby…*mumbles*…” and off to the bathroom she went realizing I had moved on to focus on the phone call.
I was amazed by all of the ignorance exuding off this woman. Did she even have children? Grandchildren? Was she aware that babies simply cry as a form of communicating? How could she possibly think that just because this baby was crying, it wanted to go home? Was this mom and are all moms supposed to lock themselves up in a tower after giving birth, never to step outside into the free world until the possibility of crying was at zero percent? Does this lady expect that anytime a mom is out in public with her child and that child gets fussy, she should stop whatever task is at hand and rush home to console her fussy baby in secrecy? It’s this kind of thinking that has modern day moms developing anxieties and depression. As if being responsible for another life isn’t already enough of an emotional roller-coaster, let’s top it off with the contradicting opinions of the public.
Admittedly, it was difficult for me not to dwell on the situation that occurred. I tend to be an over-analyzer so naturally I’ve replayed it over and over in my head and have realized what it really was about it that upset me so much. This woman had struck a nerve and the most frustrating part was that she probably didn’t even have a clue. Hopefully my choice to contest her opinion, at the very least, encouraged her to consider what had taken place and how inconsiderate she appeared. There may have been a better way for me to make my point to her, and it’s possible she walked away from the encounter, never to think about it again, but I feel like I made a step towards not only defending the mom who was being considerate to everyone in the restaurant but also towards pointing out the older woman’s unfair judgement.
My intention is not to bash an old lady or put her down. But too often people carelessly throw around their opinions as gospel and don’t pay attention to the effects their opinions have on others. Personally, I think it’s important to take a stand for those that are being unfairly judge and shamed. The important thing though is to take a stand without being the same as the ones imposing the judgement and opinions. There are classy ways to make a point without causing confrontation. Sometimes just being a friendly face to someone already dealing with a stressful situation is all that is needed.
Being a mom in this day and age can already be so cumbersome thanks to all the do this, don’t do that criticisms of onlookers and their unwanted opinions. Thinking you must lock yourself away after having a kid could be detrimental to your health which can adversely affect your baby. By the same token, if you feel most confident and content staying in with your baby, then do that. The truth is, what works for one mom and her family is going to be completely different for what works for another mom and her family. We must all do what feels best as parents, we have instincts for a reason! This is the 21st century and women are not and should not be expected to run home just because their child is fussy. Yes, our children become the focus of our lives once we have them but that doesn’t mean we must become hermits out of fear of being shamed for having a crying baby where someone might actually see them.