A few weeks ago I had two experiences that broke my faith in humanity and then restored it within swift succession.
I was at a cafe in a large suburban shopping centre with my 12-week-old baby girl. While I waited for my cheese toastie and extra large long black to arrive my husband texted. He’s a freelancer and was stuck in the city between jobs, sitting alone in a cafe in another large shopping centre, missing his baby. I pulled out my phone and took some photos of our girl to send to him. He texted straight back so we went back and forth a bit swapping notes on the baby the way people who used to be a couple but are now ships in the night do every day.
Sat at a table nearby was an older woman, probably not much older than my mum, and her adult daughter, who must have been in her thirties. The mother, in what she probably thought was a whisper but was actually just normal volume, said something to her daughter about women of my generation – Generation Y, which she spat out like a four letter word – being too obsessed with their phones to mother properly. She had decided that, rather than texting my baby’s father pictures of her to help him through his day, I was doing whatever nefarious thing she believes Gen Y-ers do on their phones.
Shamed, I made a big show of stowing my phone in the generous basket beneath my stroller and plucked up the baby. I sat her on my knee and chatted to her while I nibbled toast and tried not to spill rapidly cooling coffee on her head. After a little while, as we were getting ready to leave, the two women walked over to me on their way out. The daughter remarked on how cute my baby was, and made all the right sounds as if trying to make up for her mum's comments. Her mum, seemingly on a roll about other people's parenting, decided to make one last swipe before we parted ways. Looking at the baby sitting in my lap she mentioned what a bad idea it was to ‘coddle’ babies by giving them too much physical affection - babies who are kissed and cuddled too much become problem children, apparently.
It felt like I'd been slapped in the face by a woman wielding a dead fish. She started brunch by thinking I was neglecting my child. She ended it by announcing I was smothering her with too much affection. I could not win - and in my exhausted, emotional new mothering state I almost burst into tears. But new motherhood also makes you kinda numb, so tears come when they shouldn't, and won't come when they should.