Friday, June 01, 2007

Lost Opportunity

I’ve become one of those parents.

One that stands in line at the grocery store and dispenses free, unasked for advice.

I couldn’t help myself, either.

Standing in line at Costco this morning, there was an adorable little baby girl, perhaps seven or eight months old. Her mother was wiping away the remnants of a teething cookie off her face.

First, I had to make the baby smile and laugh. It drives my kids nuts when I do this in a restaurant. I can’t help it. I love babies. I can get almost any baby to smile at me. I remember when Ben was a toddler and Zachary was a baby, I brought a Big Bird puppet to a restaurant. Hey, I wanted to eat out, I had no desire to have the entire restaurant pass a petition around to remove the screaming baby, so I brought a Big Bird puppet. Not only did I have my kids quiet with my silly rendition of a made up song about clapping, I had half the adults eating it up, too.

I’d do anything for a restaurant with linen napkins and someone asking if I want fresh ground pepper on my salad. How much Mac and cheese can one eat?

So I stood in line and had the baby squealing in delight. The mother turned around and eyed me suspiciously- who is this big dyke making goo-goo eyes at my baby?

I said, She’s such a beautiful little girl.

She forced a smile.

I have three boys, I added. I can never keep them clean.

And just like the baby, she was all mine. The line was long and we chatted about diaper brands, how to best transport wipes and the mess teething cookies make.

Frozen bagels, I said. Forget about the cookies- they’re expensive and mix them with juice in the hot summer? You haven’t seen a mess yet.

Her eyes grew wide. This was her first child. She had that look I remember having anytime anyone offered advice. Please, oh please, tell me the secrets of parenting!

Cold washcloths are good, too, but a bagel doesn’t seem to get thrown away as quickly.

At this point, I went to one line and she went to another. The little girl still squealed to get my attention and smile back. This, too, bothers my boys because once I get the baby hooked well… the baby is hooked.

MOM, do you HAVE to talk to EVERY baby in the world? Ben asks me, exasperated.

Um… yes. I think I do.

As I pushed my cart out to the car, I realized I’ve crossed some line into a different place as a parent. It’s like I’ve graduated from beginner’s school and am now at the intermediate level- I can give advice to people with really small babies. After three of them, I know what works, I know what doesn’t, and I know what works for one may or may not work for another. I know you can put a baby in a room and watch every adult project their own needs on it- too hot, too cold, hungry, wants to be held but rarely does anyone pick up on the diaper change needed or offer to do it.

I still get the look of awe when a mother describes filling out college essays or sending their baby off on their first prom date. I listen closely for any and all sage advice on how to handle teenage driving. Entering motherhood was like entering a special sorority, where anywhere, at any time, you could meet up and share something as precious as your child with a complete stranger.

I hated sororities when I was in college. There was no place for a big dyke like myself to fit in, although I did get asked to rush one. I think it was only because a few of the sister’s were looking for someone to fool around with on the side while their boyfriends were busy doing some serious fraternity business, like drinking until they passed out.

But becoming a mother did make me part of a larger group of women. And even though, for a moment, that woman turned around and only saw a big dyke, the minute we started talking baby stuff, the minute I identified myself as a parent- and my cart contents of chips, sandwich meats, and juice boxes clearly verified my claim- we chatted away. For a brief moment, it wasn’t about being gay or straight, it was about being moms.

I did not say I was a lesbian. Or that I had a wife. I could have easily told the story about the time Jeanine put the diaper on backwards and what a mess it made. I stayed invisible. It was safe. Easy.

On all days, family pride day, I stayed quiet.

I see, now, what challenges the next level of parenting are for me. Not only to be prepared for the odor that emit from three boys size 12 shoes, but to out myself standing in line at Costco. To find a way, in my sharing of wisdom, to let that woman know I am a mom, I have three boys, I know I know I know what its like to go through teething.

And I am a big dyke, too.

Because for all the babies I can make giggle and smile, it’s a lost opportunity if I don’t take that extra step, and wave the rainbow flag. To make sure I'm seen for who I am. All of who I am.