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Essay on Babies, Random Stranger Remarks, Martinis, & IHOP

Below is a cut and paste (with full permission) Facebook note written by a talented young woman who is one of my favorite co-workers. You're going to love her writing...

Appropriate Response !?! by Jane McNamara

Being a parent connects you to the world around you like nothing else before. I learned this rather quickly, after Mara was born and complete strangers often felt the need to rush up to my shopping cart and peer into the contents of my pumpkin seat to remark on who was within.

My personal favorite was when they would offer unwanted advice such as, “Oh, she’s teething? Why don’t you just rub a little scotch on the sore spot? It numbs the gums and soothes the baby.” I smiled and nodded, but dark sarcastic recesses of my mind I thought, “Great idea. Why I don’t I just make her a martini, dress her in a bathrobe, put her hair in curlers, and settle her on the couch with a cigarette?”

The stranger remarks have not diminished as she has grown older, in fact, they might have increased. Now Mara actually responds to their coos. Sometimes, she offers a smile showing off her proud addition of four hard earned pearly white teeth. Other times, she just stares at them as if they are from the planet Jupiter and she is wondering if they are going to beam her up to their homeland. At worse, she takes one look at them and for whatever reason bursts into random tears of offense. This makes for awkward conversation where I usually mumble something about her needing a nap while I’m attempting to telecommunicate to Mara that social graces are not always a bad thing.

Saturday morning at IHOP was a new low, however. In the span of one hour, we had three random stranger remarks, or R.S.R.s. Two out of the three were Generic Grandmothers. Generic Grandmother number one bombarded us while we were sitting on the bench in the entrance to the restaurant waiting for a table. “OHHHH, she’s SLEEPING!” She shrieks in delight and points a finger at dozing Mara in my arms, who won’t be dozing much longer if Grandmother doesn’t lower her voice. I nod and smile, and think to myself that you can’t get much past this lady. (Again, so glad my inner monologue always stays inner) Generic Grandmother then offers up a story that has nothing to do with sleeping Mara, and is all about her three year old granddaughter making a witty quip at the dinner table the other night. I whip out my usual placating the stranger smile, all the while hoping that a table will open up and I can stop politely nodding. She eventually flights out the door. And I relax and go back to patiently impatiently waiting for a table so I can get my pancake on.

Generic Grandmother number two leaps out of a booth and spies Mara like sniper honed in on it’s target. I’m wondering if there is some machine in the back of the IHOP that keeps replicating Grandmothers with a mission. “How old is she?” She asks. I actually think for a second before I respond, “Fourteen months.” (Keeping track of age was much easier before year one) “Awwww. Well, I just wanted to tell you. These are the BEST years of your life. I want you to know that. My mother told me that years ago, and she was right. Those were the best years of my life. When your child is small, it is the greatest time ever.” Then she asked the question that I always find the response of amusing. “What’s her name?” “Mara.” I respond. The reactions always vary. The most common one I get is “Oh, that’s cute.” As if I named Mara Fifi or something you would name an endearing toy poodle. Occasionally I get a “That’s unique” which I take as a synonym for “I hate your babies’ name” This Generic Grandmother nodded, and said “Oh, that’s pretty.” Which suited me just fine. After she left, my brother mumbled, “If these are the best years of your life, lord help you.” Of course he was referring to the divorce, the fight for custody, and me working far too many hours than any single mother should have to work. I told him I knew what she meant, though. Right now, it is easy for me to solve Mara’s problems. And while she slept serenely in my arms, she was one hundred percent safe. I won’t always be able to say I feel that way. Eventually, Mara will grow up, and fly away. I won’t be able to protect my little chick infinitely with my Mama wings. But heaven knows I’ll try.

R.S.R number three came after we sat down at our booth. Mara woke up, and sat in a high chair at the end of our booth. She began to flirt, and smile at the men seated at the table across from us. I had to commend her for her good taste. The handsomest of the two Random Strangers smiled and waved at Mara. “How old is she?” He requested. “Fourteen months” was my instant reply. ( I was all practiced up from my earlier RSRs) “Aww.” He said. “I once had a nine month old.” I wasn’t sure if he had said HAD or HAVE. I asked him to repeat himself. “I said I once had a nine month old. Turns out he wasn’t mine.” I think my jaw dropped open at that moment. I did not have a polite response for this one. My Generic Grandmothers never produced statements such as this. I sat there and stuttered in my mind through a few responses. Mara decided that was perfect opportunity for her to laugh. “That’s not funny!” I whispered to her, as if she had any idea what was just said. The men went back to eating, I was still trying to come up with an appropriate response to Mister Man’s overshare. Needless to say, I didn’t have one. Later, when relaying the story to my Stepfather, he said that he would have said, “That doesn’t mean you still can’t love him.” Good one. But I’m not sure what I was supposed to say. So I said a whole lot of nothing.

As we were preparing to leave the restaurant, other customers began talking about how cute Mara and her Daddy were, which of course was not her Daddy, but was her Uncle Robby. I didn’t have anything to say to this, and I guess you shouldn’t. Society still likes to make assumptions, and frankly I’m too worn out to try and correct them.

On another note, I learned today that Mara does not like baby talk. I knew I personally always found it particularly vomitous, but didn’t know she did, too. When I took her to JC Penney’s for her year old pictures, her well meaning photographer kept making lovey-wovey talk at her to coax a smile out. Mara looked at her, and I swear to god she raised an eyebrow at me, like “What’s wrong with this chick?” Not only that, the photographer kept calling her ‘Maras’. I don’t know if she thought that Mara had a clone somewhere, or if she was addressing Mara’s multiple personalities she might assumed thought the baby had. Example: “Okay, Maras, can you smile for the camera-wamera? Huh, boo-boo bottom? Come on Maras!” All in this sing songy voice that would sweeten mud tea.

Well, the pictures turned out fairly decently, even though I earned some may-jah exercise points after chasing an energetic Mara all over the portrait studio. I made up my mind that we were done with pictures until Mara was old enough to reason with, or at least bribe with some sort of high fructose treat. That being said, Mara’s Mommy Wommy Lommy is going to get some scotch now that the baby is asleep. I think I might be teething, too.

Comments (6)

Excellent essay. Thanks for sharing it Deborah.


Funny! She is a great writer. Thanks for sharing this, Deborah.

Deborah responds: Eden, she is only 26 years old. Pretty amazing. I told her she reminded me of a young, hip, urban, single mom version of Irma Bomback. Of course she didn't know who I was talking about, I'm sure. :grin:


Great story, Deborah. It brings back memories, though not necessarily strangers giving advice. Once my MIL suggested I dip the pacifier in sugar to quiet my colicky infant!

Deborah responds: Actually, Sheri, there is some modern medical research to support the old sugar folk remedy. If you do a google search for folk remedies, sugar, & colic, you will see a report from Cornell University.


I'll take a look. Maybe I need to scratch that MIL story from my repetoire!

Deborah responds: LOLOLOL


And she finds time to write, I'm quite impressed.


Great writing! Very entertaining. Thanks for sharing it with us.

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