Socially Acceptable Staring

Thursday, December 27, 2012

It is socially acceptable to stare at a baby.  Have you noticed this?  One may, for whatever reason, stare at a baby in a restaurant or store with rabid curiosity and without fear of reproach.  Maybe it's that the baby in question is cute, ugly, loud, quiet.  Or maybe it's the baby's mode of transportation that caught your eye - it's in one of those shopping carts that doubles as a race car, or in one of those endearingly human chest slings.  Or maybe you're staring at Baby X because you've been considering getting into the reproduction game yourself and its mom has the same hair color and skin tone as you.  Whatever the reason may be, it doesn't really matter because: it's socially acceptable to stare at babies, even if these babies belong to neither you nor anyone you know.  

It's rarely even necessary to qualify your gaze with a 'how old?' or a 'your boy looks just like my nephew'.  (Well, maybe some type of justification would be called for if the starer is a priest or has a mustache, but we'll just ignore these two demographics for the time being). 

As a matter of fact...I was blatantly staring at a baby just last Sunday:

Towards the beginning of our late afternoon meal, a waiter passed by our table carrying a little pink cake with 1 candle on it.  The mother and daughter to whom this cake belongs are walking back from their trip to the ladies room.  The one year old has impressive motor skills but still wobbles a bit.  She pauses at our booth mid-wobble (probably because I had been staring at her).  I had been staring at her for a few irrelevant reasons:

  • She was wearing the same little winter dress from Baby Gap that I had considered purchasing for Poppy O..
  • She and Poppy are close in age.
  • Her mom was thin and seemed cool.

Permissible baby staring makes it easier to scope out the baby's mother at the same time.  This reality is liberating because it allows mothers to engage in clandestine comparisons.  

I am shamelessly and endlessly curious about the lives of other mothers.  Does she seem drained and confused or confident and fulfilled?  My curiosity increases whenever a mother in my vicinity falls into any of the following subcategories:

  • her baby and Poppy appear to be close in age
  • her age appears to be close to my age
  • she isn't wearing mom jeans

The mother I met on Sunday was fun and bouncy and stuff.  We chatted about how Europeans are more relaxed about wine consumption while breastfeeding...which may simply be a coping mechanism for high taxes.

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