My child is not a luxury item

Over the weekend, while setting up the CSA tent at the Church Avenue Bazaar, I met a really nice woman who was expecting her first child. Her family is in Washington state and her husband’s family is in Ohio, and they are the first couple of all of their friends to reproduce. We got to talking about what it takes to raise a young family without the kind of support network some people take for granted.

It can be tiring, sure. But as we talked I realized that the most tiring aspect of parenting wasn’t late nights, early mornings or reading Good Night, Moon for the seven hundredth time without aunts and grandparents to pitch in. The most tiring thing is trying to help an energetic, curious, naturally loud toddler navigate an adult world that is, at the least, not kid friendly, and at the worst, kid-a-phobic.

Our daily commute is one example. We used to have a choice between the E local and the A express. We let the pushers and shovers get on the fast train, and Charlie and I would take a short ride on the local. We’d get a seat. Also, he was small enough to fit in the Patapum or the sling. That meant he was easy to keep track of and didn’t take up any more space than I did. But now things have changed. Now Charlie weighs more than 30 pounds and is nearly 3 feet tall. And we’re in Brooklyn where there is no local train.

The F train is a cattle car at rush hour. Even at late rush hour, when we tend to ride because we’re not out of the house before 8:30. There are no seats. (A seat makes it a lot easier to hold Charlie if he gets antsy or entertain him in his stroller with water, snacks, toys and hand games.) People shove inside the doors no matter how little space is available. It is as if they will never get anywhere, that day or in their life, if they don’t make that very train. They squish and poke people in the butt with their briefcases and step on toes, and then have the audacity to glare at Charlie in his stroller. As if he’s causing all the problems with his inability to squish any tighter or remain any quieter. As the car gets more and more crowded, he begins to fidget. (It must be a stress response. I know I feel it.) Then when we’re a stop or so away, he might whine. And just because he doesn’t have the impulse control or the compassion needed to know his whining disturbs others, people lose patience. (“Oh my God, there was a baby on the train this morning!)

Who gets the blame for the tight commute and Charlie’s natural baby instincts? Me. Who, because I chose to have a child, must also have the complete freedom to choose when I have to be at work. And because children are a luxury, I must also have the unending finances needed to hire a nanny or take a car, either of which I should have done simply to keep from inconveniencing the lady with the bad breath whose armpit I had to stare into until Jay Street.

Children have become a choice, and for people without kids this must seem much like the choice of which hand bag to tote or which shoes to wear. Just as young urbanites don’t want to be affronted by bad fashion choices, they also don’t want to deal with, look at or hear a child. Unless, of course, by choice. People in this city—people in this country (at least judging by the amount of money spent on programs to help children)—don’t like kids. They don’t like…whatever: the mess, the noise, the interruption, the repetition, the unabashed enthusiasm, the untempered emotion, the reminder that they were once young and helpless and will be so once again when they are old.

And because they don’t like kids, there is no sympathy for the parents who have taken on the burden of raising (i.e., paying for, in money, sweat, tears and love) the next generation. You know, the generation that will pay the taxes for roads, libraries, social programs and retirement when this generation goes gray?

All I know is this: Parenting wouldn’t be half as hard if all adults had exposure to children. If they could see that kids are necessary for a healthy society. If they understood that kids go through stages of development, some more appealing than others. So adults of the world, you who are supposed to be wiser and more compassionate than two-year-olds, have a little patience with tired, hungry young people who, unlike you, don’t have the words for grousing or the know-how for glaring. Don’t worry, they’ll learn it soon enough.

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