This was not the post I’d started to write. I’d meant to talk about something entirely different – and maybe I will tomorrow – but then this thing happened this morning and now I’m writing this instead. Funny how that works. (Then again, maybe the universe just didn’t like my other post. Stay tuned…)
So, I’m at the hair salon, right? It’s (almost) fall and, after letting my dark, winter shade gradually fade out and get much lighter over the summer, I figured that now would be a good time to change it up. In addition to feeling all kicky with a new color, I was also really looking forward to the time just for me, especially gabbing with my stylist, and those glorious, quiet minutes waiting for the color to set. Also, what better place for an impromptu therapy session than at the salon, ladies, am I right?
I’d purposely scheduled the appointment as my stylist’s first of the day, thinking that I’d be in and out and there would be no delays. But when I got there, there was, in fact, a woman already in the chair! Not only that, but she and my stylist were all chatty-chatty, sipping Starbucks and giggling away. When I finally sat down (fifteen minutes late), I was champing at the bit to not only change my look, but also to unload my very important thoughts.
My stylist remembered, the last time I’d been there, that we’d been returning from Minnesota, and she asked how it went. As she started putting in the foils, I began telling her about that trip and the others, about Bill, about how difficult it had been, going all Good Will Hunting and ready to let the healing begin… And then I learned that her grandmother had just passed away last week, only two days before she (my stylist) was to be in an important wedding – and the wake is tonight, with the funeral tomorrow.
Oh. And I was her first customer today. The lady who’d been in the chair before me? Her aunt. Who’d requested a quick blow-out for tonight’s gathering. And who’d also brought along Starbucks as a way of thanking her niece.
I’ll just wear the I’m a Presumptive Asshole sticker right on my shirt, thanks. YES, UNIVERSE. I HEAR YOU.
So, anyway, I’m finally sitting in the chair waiting for the color to set, right? And I just know that now is the time for me. Now, I will relax. I will read. I will accomplish things. It will be beautiful and incredible and angels will sing.
My stylist has taken her next customer to the sinks – a mother, accompanied by a stroller-bound baby – and I just start to write a blog post (see above) when this unbelievable ear-piercing screech emanates from their direction. The baby’s howl soon turns into a wail – not just crying, not yelling, but a make-your-ears-bleed, life-is-ending, what-do-you-mean-there’s-no-more-chocolate-cake screeeeeaming. It’s so loud, it’s physically painful, and I can’t concentrate on even one word of my narrative, so I sit back and close my eyes, hoping that maybe it will just magically stop.
As my stylist returns to her chair, her customer follows, pushing the screeeeeaming baby along in the stroller. As she sits down, she reaches into her bag and hands the baby a large pretzel rod, which quiets her, and I think that maybe my prayers have been answered… But, no. Not five seconds later, the baby has started again, unleashing yet another unearthly, window-shattering scream.
She’s not wriggling around in her stroller. She’s not hurt. There’s nothing wrong — except that her mommy is getting her hair cut and is unavailable to hold her, which, when you’re a baby, means the world is ending. And it’s your responsibility to let everyone know just how upsetting this is.
I’d needed to use the restroom anyway, so I decide that now is a good time to go, assuming that the closed door will provide some protection from the wailing… and it does, to a degree, but I’ve got to give this kid credit. I’ve heard many, many crying babies, and this kid’s scream is, by far, the loudest, most eye-twitch-inducing – maybe in the history of babies. She has lungs, y’all.
In addition to slightly muffling the screeching, the (subjective) quiet of the bathroom also allows me to hear the conversations of the other stylists and customers, who are standing just outside of the door, a bit away from the mom and the baby. At first, they’re saying just what I’m thinking: “That poor baby!” “She seems really upset!” “She really wants her mama!” “Goodness, she’s loud!”
But then, as the screaming continues, their conversations begin to shift: “I wonder why she doesn’t do something about it?” “None of the rest of us enjoys hearing that.” “Can you believe it?” “When my children were little, we never let them behave like that.”
Until finally, the shift is complete: “This behavior is unacceptable.” “If she wants to get her hair done, she should leave the baby at home.” “When you’re a mother, sometimes you make sacrifices.” “She should just get up and leave right now.”
‘Cause, yeah. That’s how this works.
It’s really easy when you have a baby, right? First off, they always behave exactly as you’d like them to. They are in full control of their emotions and are careful to show excitement at appropriate levels, and, naturally, they never cry in public. They come out of the womb with their bodily functions running like military institutions, peeing and pooping on schedule, which means they never crap through their onesies while sitting on your lap just after you’ve boarded an airplane.
They fully understand when they are, and are not, hungry – and, heck, they can feed themselves really easily (my girls learned to make coq au vin when they were about seven months old; such global palates!) – so they never allow their blood sugar levels to drop, resulting in any behaviors that might be considered impolite or testy. They speak in full, elaborate, metaphor-filled sentences and can clearly communicate their wants, needs, desires, and visions of world peace.
That’s one of the best parts of parenthood, is it not? That there’s never any guesswork when it comes to babies?
They wipe themselves (especially after the 4:04 p.m. poop – that one’s always a doozy!). They neatly rearrange the toys in their cribs, careful to fold the hand-made blanket just so and hang it adorably over the railing. They sleep – well… like babies! – which is to say, brilliantly, always sure to get the requisite twelve hours (straight, of course), then awakening at a perfectly acceptable hour in the morning, upon which they delightfully request their bottles (or breasts) like one might ask for Grey Poupon.
In fact, babies are so simple, being the parent of one is a little like owning an iPhone — everything is bright and shiny, easy to navigate, and they’re so stinkin’ awesome, you want to show them off to everyone you know. Plus, on the very off chance that there’s a malfunction, you can always update them to iOS 7 (although you might want to wait just a few weeks until they work the bugs out).
Best of all, babies — and kids in general — never throw you a curveball. If babies are one thing and one thing only, they’re predictable. As soon as you’ve got them figured out, you basically just hit cruise control and enjoy the ride.
And let’s not forget how easy being the parent of a baby is, shall we? Naturally, you’re well-rested. Your clothing is stain-free (unless you’re a klutz – *raises hand*!). Your diaper bags and purses are perfectly organized, because you’ve never needed to frantically rifle through their contents looking for a set of toy car keys when your baby has become fussy in the middle of the first dinner out that you’ve had in four months, and you just know his favorite toy is in here somewhere.
You almost never have to schedule your life around that of your baby, which is so freeing and open, just like you’re living on a baby commune. If you do prefer to arrange your life around your baby, you can rest assured that your baby will stick exactly to your schedule and will never, ever disrupt it. In fact, when you’re the parent of a baby, your whole day is so wide open, you can do virtually anything you want at any time, especially meet friends for surprise lunches, decide to spontaneously begin marathons of both Downton Abbey and The Walking Dead, keep the house spotless, and go on regular date nights with your spouse.
Because your baby is so independent, you’ve also got oodles of time to yourself – to do things like, say, get yourself a haircut (which means you’re never literally months overdue for a cut and your bangs are so long you’ve already cut them twice yourself with Fiskars and you’re trying to cram the haircut in next Thursday between your six month old’s well-visit and your Mommy and Me class before the older ones get off the bus, but that should be no problem because you have a sitter who is always healthy and doesn’t cancel on you for any reason whatsoever).
Your baby’s perpetually sunny disposition, predictability, and level-headedness also mean that you can continue doing all of the activities you used to do pre-baby. Come to think of it, you’re so calm and even-keeled these days, you no longer need therapy or even a glass of wine in the evenings, because taking your baby out in public is essentially a zen experience. Since babies are welcome in every single setting, virtually everyone – especially older folks and people without children – ooohs and ahhhs over your how very cute your little one is, and you’re never, ever given the evil eye over a parenting choice, nor are you ever made to feel like a leper because you’ve brought your baby along.
But I think the best part of being the parent of a baby is how utterly confident you are in all that you do, and how awesome you feel as a parent every minute of the day. Since your offspring never misbehave, you never have to worry about tantrums while you’re out and about, which, in turn, would lead to everyone around you judging you as not only a parent but a human being. Thank God there are never meltdowns in the middle of the grocery store, because then you’d have to be concerned with that age-old question, Do I stay here and let everyone around me think that I’m a horrible person (which they might or might not say to my face) while also knowing that my child’s screaming is louder than that of a jet engine and is causing hearing loss in everyone within a ten mile radius… or do I pack up and leave everything right where it is and hightail it out of the store, knowing that the window of opportunity for grocery shopping is exactly 23 minutes long, and there is just no way I can come back and finish the shopping even if the baby does magically stop shrieking, and so leaving might result in us eating Ramen noodles and Kosher pickles for the third night in a row?
Yes. Thank sweet baby Jesus you never, ever have to make those decisions.
As I’m washing my hands, I mull all of this over, trying to decide what to do. Given what we know about babies and parenting, this situation is – obviously – the first time anyone in the salon has ever heard a screaming child. Clearly, either the baby is defective, or the mother is doing this parenting thing very, very wrong.
And so, after weighing all of the evidence, I opt for the only solution that seems truly reasonable: I leave the restroom, approach my stylist and the mom and the baby, and ask if it would freak the baby — or the mom — out too much if I unbuckle her from the stroller and walk her around for a while. The mom, who is clearly frazzled, mutters that she’s not sure how the baby would respond… but my stylist immediately chimes in that maybe I can simply wheel her about in the stroller. (Perhaps this would have occurred to me, too, had both of my daughters not thrashed about like addicts undergoing drug withdrawal every time they were strapped in a stroller or car seat.)
I turn the stroller away from the mom and walk a few feet away to the brightly-colored bottles of exorbitantly-priced shampoo and styling gel… and, just like that, the screaming stops. Yes, she’s still sniffling and hiccuping the way that all of us do post-hysterical sobbing, but she’s got her pretzel and her mama is no longer just inches away but unable to touch her, and all is right with the world. Phew!
Sure, I could have said something to those ladies, the ones making the absurd statements outside of the bathroom. I could asked if it occurred to them that maybe this mom hadn’t intended to bring the baby with her, but at the last minute, she had no choice? And maybe she would have rescheduled, but sometimes, finding a time when your stylist’s schedule matches yours is more difficult than balancing the federal budget? And, similarly, perhaps she could have left, taking the baby in tow, but then we’d be back at the whole rescheduling thing, and we’ve already discussed this, have we not? (Then again, they might have had a difficult time remembering what had been said, considering that they clearly could not recall what life was really like when there children were babies, unless they actually had one of the mythical babies mentioned above.)
I could have reminded them that perhaps this baby has never pitched a fit in her stroller before, so there was no reason for the mom to assume that she’d go all I’m melting! What a world! today. I might have let them know that, while parents make countless sacrifices, basic hygiene shouldn’t have to be one of them; just because it’s basically a rite of passage for new parents to walk around for days in the same mystery-stained clothes, and sometimes just brushing one’s teeth seems to require more energy than can be mustered, that doesn’t mean that this mom shouldn’t be able to get a damn haircut every once in a while… even if it means bringing her baby along with her.
I gave serious consideration to pointing out what should have been obvious: that no one was more upset by the baby’s behavior than the mom. Here she is, just trying to get a simple haircut, and her kid unexpectedly freaks out, so now not only is she concerned that her baby might give herself a hernia, she’s also worried that everyone around her is going to suffer some kind of hearing loss. And, of course, any shot at her actually experiencing a quiet and relaxing haircut has long gone out the window.
Okay, to play devil’s advocate… Might this lady routinely bring her child to places where children aren’t usually present? Sure. Might she be one of “those” people who seem to think that they, and especially their children, are more important than everyone else around them? I guess so. Might she have not given a hoot whether anyone else in the salon was having a miserable experience, instead thinking to herself, “Babies cry. Deal with it“? Perhaps. Would that make me less sympathetic to her? Probably.
But here’s the thing: sometimes, shit happens. Sometimes, babies do cry, even the best of babies, under even the best of circumstances. And, to me, there’s a vast difference between a screaming baby whose parent is doing everything she can to rectify the situation — within reason — and a screaming baby whose parent seems oblivious or flippant to both the child’s distress and the distress the child is causing in everyone else. (For the record: this mom was definitely the former.)
Was it pleasant listening to this kiddo wail away at the top of her lungs? Hell no. It was downright painful, quite literally. And, given that I’d hoped to use that time to relax — and given that my salon is generally not full of screaming kiddos — the baby’s shrieks were even more disturbing and stress-inducing. Not fun. Not at all. But at least I was just, you know, getting a haircut, rather than, say, performing brain surgery or attending a funeral or doing something important.
Which isn’t to say that getting a cut and color isn’t sometimes absolutely essential. Like Starbucks lattes. I do have priorities, people.
In the end, I decided that more than telling these women what I thought, I’d show them (and, yes, let’s be honest – I hoped that the baby would stop freakin’ screaming). I’d show them that, kidding aside, parenthood is the hardest gig there is, but that it’s made just the littlest bit easier when we help one another out and show compassion rather than contempt. That whole It Takes a Village thing wasn’t made up by accident.
More importantly, I’d show the mom that she’s not alone, she’s not doing it wrong, and that I understand: being a parent is hard stuff. Sometimes, we all need a little help.
And, hey, by actually helping, instead of baby-shaming in the corner, maybe the baby’d stop crying, and we all – mom, baby, the entire lot of us – would be better off, and helping someone else might feel really, really good.
Turns out, being a presumptive asshole doesn’t really get you anything but a shiny sticker.
SEE, UNIVERSE. I TOLD YOU I WAS LISTENING.
Oh, and the color? Autumnal and lovely.