This morning my husband was walking past the bookshelf and spotted a recent addition amongst the rainbow of spines. (Yes, he is that observant.) “Breastfeeding,” he murmured out loud, taking a closer look. He turned to me and said “Do you really need 200 pages on breastfeeding? Isn’t it pretty straightforward?” A few months ago I would have thought the same thing, but then I started reading pregnancy sites and the endless stream of personal anecdotes in the comment sections detailing difficulties with everything from breastfeeding to nose clearing. Now, I’m pretty sure 200 pages is not enough address all the ways breastfeeding can go wrong.
It’s complicated. I’m not just talking about breastfeeding. I’m talking about raising a baby. Last night, I spent an hour researching diaper creams. I’ve looked at swaddling blankets versus sleep sacks. Pacifiers before she’s one month old? What temperature for the bath water? Do visitors need to wash their hands before holding her or is hand sanitizer enough? If I give her peanut butter before she graduates from high school will she die of an allergic reaction? And these are only the questions about physical development. Never mind the ones about intellect and character.
As I develop an appreciation for how complicated raising a person is, I find myself becoming more and more tolerant of other parents. Recently Salon featured an interview with the creator of the website “Too Big for Strollers.” The name is literal. The site is a collection of photos of kids who are probably old enough to send text messages from their own cell phones being pushed around in strollers. From the tone of the site, its creator (clearly the Salon interviewer too) thinks putting a four-year-old in a stroller is what terrible parents do if they want to raise a lazy, entitled, and self-centered human being.
When I saw the pictures, I thought “Isn’t an older child in a stroller better than a lost child?”
The majority of pictures on the site seem to be taken in crowded amusements parks or cities, places where strapping in a kid perfectly old enough to walk but young enough to distractedly wander away is not a bad idea. Maybe overboard but not a terrible lapse in judgment.
I have also been in the presence of a hot, tired, and hungry kid. If they haven’t used this creature at Guantanamo, they’re missing a out on an extremely effective torture method not banned by the Geneva Convention. I have dreams of being the parent who looks at her child after the 80th complaint of tired legs and serenely says, “You are too big for a stroller,” but I know they’re just dreams. I’ll cave. I can only take so much whining and screaming. I have a breaking point. Be it a day out running errands or a 9 hour plane ride, I already know there will be circumstances in which I will cater to any demand as long as it keeps her quiet. And mommy sane.
Turns out the woman who created that site and the one who interviewed her are both childless! Figures. It’s so easy to think there’s a clear “right way” when you are not the one who has to do it. I’m a pretty critical person but I’m now trying to give other parents a break. As long as someone is feeding his child and not bathing it with bleach, I’ve got his back. At least I’m trying to, because parenting is complicated.
So to the Mom I passed on the street holding the hand of a 4 year old using a pacifier, I understand. Maybe it was the only way to get through your errands without constant screaming. So no judgment without context. That leopard print unitard, though? That’s just tacky.
UPDATE May 2015: It looks like Laura Miller, the creator of the tumbler site Too Big for Strollers, gave it up shortly after her interview in Salon. Apparently, there were A LOT of angry parents who didn’t like someone without children passing judgement on them. And on a personal note, I recently tried to get my 3 1/2 year-old daughter to start walking the five blocks to school. It lasted two weeks. Dang, that girl can put up a fight. She’ll overthrow a dictator someday. We compromised on a tricycle that I can take over and push if necessary. I’ll try the walking again on her 4th birthday.