A Blogazine, based out of Park Slope, Brooklyn, that features fun and interesting articles. Topics include: parenting, society, real estate, career, style, spirituality and more. Written contributions are always welcome!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Baby Backlash

Randi Skaggs and her baby daughter, Stella

Randi Skaggs

A few years ago, I attended my 10-year high school reunion in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. I was excited to go because I had dropped some 40 or so pounds since my days as a straight-A, socially inept nerd, but I was equally enthusiastic to spread the word that I lived in New York City.

As I made the rounds, I became addicted to saying, “Oh, I live in New York,” as if it were no biggy. At some point, a woman who still looked as gorgeous as she had in high school (which is outlawed – you’re supposed to look crappy now if you looked good then and vice versa) told me that she, too, lived in New York. I felt myself wilt a bit, having to share my spotlight, but the worse was yet to come. When she asked me which neighborhood I inhabited, I replied, “Park Slope, Brooklyn.”

“Oh,” she sighed, disgusted, “I left Park Slope for Williamsburg.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Too many strollers,” she countered, taking her Red Bull and vodka to the other end of the Lyon’s Club.

If Park Slope is known and loathed for being the procreative capital of the world even in small-town Kentucky, you know something’s going on.

Until I moved there five years ago, I had no idea that anyone could hate a baby. But in Park Slope, loathing cherubic, cooing infants is almost an art form. It’s not uncommon to find posters on certain Brooklyn-centric message boards whose avatar is a stroller with a no-smoking slash over it. Some bars proudly bear signs that say, “NO STROLLERS ALLOWED.” And Time Out New York recently ran a picture of 4 moms crossing the street, their strollers forming a barricade, to which a comic artist created a cutting caricature of yuppy Park Slope parental culture.

In all fairness, this baby backlash is, to some degree, understandable. Bugaboo gridlock is a real thing, and I have often found myself perplexed as to how to pass a wall of strolling moms on my way to work. Everyone knows coffee shops such as the Tea Lounge can, at times, be frustrating to those who want to unwind with a latte when you have to navigate said steaming beverage around swiftly-moving yet clumsy toddlers. And some parents in the neighborhood do seem to personify that all-famous piece of Slopian vernacular: self-righteousness. Especially when they want their daughter to cut the line for the bathroom at Starbucks or their son steps on your toe and they just smile as if to say, “ah, isn’t he cute?”

Which is why the minute those two lines appeared on that little stick, I made a vow NOT to be one of THOSE parents. My long list of don’t’s included the following:

1. Don’t bogart the sidewalk with my stroller.

2. Don’t take Stella into a bar – ever ever ever.

3. Don’t expect everyone to treat my baby like the Messiah.

However, no matter how diligently I tried to be a “cool” mama, that is not how I was perceived. Grabbing a coffee with Stella strapped to my chest in the Ergo – taking up as little space as possible and not even planning to stay – I saw the single folks eye each other with knowing frustration and irritation. Pushing my stroller into a store, the person in front of me would actively let the door slam on us. And God forbid my daughter started to cry – even for a moment while I gathered her lunch – the folks around me in the restaurant would make loud comments to the effect of “I don’t know why people feel like they have to bring their babies EVERYWHERE.”

Exacerbating the situation was the fact that, the older my daughter got, the more I did start to act like those parents. Each and every time I broke one of my rules, though, I always had a legitimate reason. When I brought Stella to a bar, it was because my friends and I couldn’t find any coffee shop that wasn’t already overrun with mom’s groups. When I wrote that obnoxious note about not buzzing on my door because it might interrupt my daughter’s nap, it was because we’d been overrun by Jehovah’s Witnesses during my daughter’s most sleep-challenged period. But all people saw was a baby buzzkill in a bar and a note by some lady who thought the world should cater to her daughter’s sleep schedule.

A baby is not just a baby in Park Slope. A baby is a symbol, to some at least, of the yuppy mentality that caused real estate prices in New York City to soar to the point where you can’t afford a 2 bedroom apartment for less than what you’d pay for a McMansion anywhere else. A baby is a symbol for the nuclear-family-centric life, the one that says, “Who cares about global warming? I need my two Range Rovers!” A baby is a symbol of all that is wrong with America!

Did it matter that I’m a teacher and my husband is a journalist, making us one step above welfare? Did it matter that our baby wore hand-me-downs almost exclusively? Did it matter that we were renting a tiny, 3rd floor walkup that we secured at a cheap rate years ago? Nope. To those around us, we were Park Slope parents and all that entails, whether or not that assumption contained a grain of truth.

Once I realized that nothing I did could alter others’ perceptions, another thought dawned on me: nobody thinks that they are that parent. We all have reasons for doing what we do. Maybe we’re a little too exhausted to notice that our toddler is climbing all over your coat while we take the first sip of our much needed coffee. Maybe our kid is about to pee her pants and if you don’t let her cut you in line, everyone’s shoes will need a hosing-down. Maybe we’ve been cloistered in our apartments for weeks and we want to stroll side by side with our fellow parent, and we just don’t have the mental energy to care if we’re blocking your path right now.

Dave, Stella and I moved down to Kensington, Brooklyn recently to a very spacious 2 bedroom apartment in a grand old prewar building. Almost immediately, we could feel the difference. People opened doors for me and my stroller. Passers-by smiled at Stella and told me what a gorgeous daughter I have. Sometimes, and a little to my chagrin, people even wanted to kiss her head and coo at her while I stood awkwardly, waiting to get home.

Why the difference? Because in Kensington, a baby is a baby is a baby, not a symbol for anything. And when I bend over backwards for my kid, it makes me a good mom, not a self-righteous yuppy. But I still travel back to Park Slope pretty often. No matter how nice Kensington is, I just can’t seem to find that small-batch, organic yogurt from Vermont that’s good enough for my kid’s digestive system.

Skaggs is not a self-righteous yuppy, despite appearances and her best efforts. She is a public school teacher attempting to be a stay at home mom as well as a writer of plays, sketches, essays and other musings. She is originally from Kentucky and can bake a heck of a delicious red velvet cake. She is married to fellow blogger David Serchuk and is mother to Stella, the most independent 10 month old around.

You can read more about her adventures in motherhood on her blog, www.brooklynbabymomma.blogspot.com.