There is such a thing as a stupid question.

June 24, 2008 at 5:48 pm 19 comments

OK, I admit it.  One of the reasons I love taking Grace out with me, especially to comfortable places where my family is well known, is the attention.  Church is one of those comfortable places, and there’s a hundred surrogate grandmothers eager to dote on “their” new baby.

One thing that happens whenever we go out- whether it be among friends or strangers, is that there are a few standard questions that get asked.  The answers, in no particular order, include:
– almost 3 weeks.
– very easy- it’s raising them that’s hard.
– 7lb 12oz (and the corollary answer: just over 8lbs).
– yes, she does look just like her sister at this age.
– sleep deprived, but this won’t last forever.
– Ruth adores her, and is being very gentle with her, we’ll see how long that lasts.

There’s one question, though, that I’m never sure how to answer. “Is she a good baby?”

And maybe I only notice it now, because I’ve been reading FA blogs, but that use of the language of morality attached to a 2 week old is just… jarring. What’s the alternative to a “good” baby?

“Nope. She’s a bad baby. I wish I could trade her in for a better one.”

Because the question is usually asked by well-intentioned Church ladies, I try to stick with a neutral answer. “Is there any other kind?”

Often, they’ll sort of splutter back, “Well, I mean, is she a quiet baby / is she easy to take care of / does she cry alot / is she letting you get any sleep?” I know what they meant. I just really hate the question. It comes down to “Is she convenient?”

“Nope. She’s an evil baby. She sleeps in the afternoon and is hungry at night just to screw with my head.”

She’s 3 freakin’ weeks old. She isn’t supposed to be convenient. And somehow, attaching moral language to that, calling it ‘good’ nor some vague ‘not good’ is… irritating to say the least.

And I wonder, too, where this came from. Grace happens to be breastfed on demand. That’s my choice, we’re able to make it work. Not everybody makes the same choice or has the same options. Different strokes and all that. Even knowing that, my family asks questions such as “are you putting her on some kind of schedule?” (um, no. “on demand” means she eats when she wants to, and she’ll settle into a schedule that works for her soon enough. At which point, I’m fortunate enough to be on leave so I have time to fit my life into her schedule, not the other way ’round.) “Are you thinking about supplementing her?” (um, no. Formula isn’t any more filling. Her stomach is tiny, changing the food we put into it isn’t going to change that.)

Whatever. This really didn’t start out as a merits-of-breast-feeding rant.

The thing is- the whole thing about sleeping and eating and ‘being good’ comes back to this idea that somehow “good” is all tied up with the ability to fit into someone else’s idea of what she should be eating. A “good” baby is one that eats as much as, and when, it’s convenient for someone else. And I wonder, too, about the application of this “good baby” crap to formula-fed babies. A “good baby” is one that wants to eat the externally imposed amount. A baby who is content with less is an endless source of worry, and the one who cries for more is something other than “good”. Sound familiar?

Nice to know that by the age of 2 weeks, a good girl knows how to restrict her eating to keep someone else happy.

Good Baby? Don’t know about that. She’s an awesome baby, a delightful, wonderful, beautiful, crazy-making, loud, inconvenient, shaved-howler-monkey of a baby. And awake now. And hungry.

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I’m baaa-aack. New Mommy Fatshion

19 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Rachel  |  June 24, 2008 at 6:28 pm

    Congrats on the new little bundle!

  • 2. AnnieMcPhee  |  June 24, 2008 at 7:06 pm

    Heh, I remember getting that one at church when my son was a newborn. I stood there flustered for a second, about to launch into a description of how he was pretty fussy but he was also very wonderful, when another woman standing next to me, who seemed to feel the question was as dumb as I did, interjected, “Uh, they’ll keep him!” and nodded like, “Duh.” I think it’s as good an answer as any lol.

    Congrats on your wonderful new baby!!!

  • 3. Marste  |  June 24, 2008 at 7:06 pm

    Congratulations!
    And what an interesting observation. As someone who is childless, it wouldn’t have occurred to me to see those cultural ideas being imposed so early (although intellectually I know they are). It’s actually a little frightening.

  • 4. fillyjonk  |  June 24, 2008 at 7:12 pm

    “Is there any other kind?”

    Damn, that is an EXCELLENT answer. The sputtering means it’s working!

  • 5. kate217  |  June 24, 2008 at 7:44 pm

    Congratulations!!!! I agree with Fillyjonk. I think that’s the perfect answer.

  • 6. Limor  |  June 24, 2008 at 7:56 pm

    I hate that question. My daughter was also breastfed on demand, and I can’t even count the number of times I got comments on how often she nursed. I never made the connection of “good baby” and the whole eating thing, but it makes a lot of sense.

  • 7. April  |  June 24, 2008 at 7:57 pm

    I love this post. For a long time I used to have a mental collection of “stupid questions”. You know like “Oh, are you home?” This one has to go on that list now; along with your snazzy answer.

    Congratulations on your amazing little howler monkey 😉 May you always teach each other new things!

  • 8. nuckingfutz  |  June 24, 2008 at 8:00 pm

    First off, CONGRATS! 😀

    After having 4 children, I’ve had to answer that question countless times. I never liked the sound of it, either, but I never could think of a “good” answer. I wish I’d been as quick at the draw as you!

  • 9. Rose  |  June 24, 2008 at 8:05 pm

    I was a sickly baby and kept my mother up at night. At 38 years old she still likes to bring up what a “bad” baby I was. So I personally find this post very moving. You’re clearly a very caring mother.

  • 10. Miriam Heddy  |  June 24, 2008 at 8:58 pm

    Though I sometimes refer to my 7 and 4 year old as “the monsters” (strictly tongue in cheek, except when my tongue is sticking out), I’ve long hated that “good baby” thing. Gah.

    Now, with a 3.5 month old, I get to hear that again, often tied not just to food but to sleep. “Is he sleeping through the night?”

    “Yes, he is, except for when he wakes up to nurse and I roll over and nurse him, but insofar as I don’t get up during the night, then yes, we’re both sleeping through the night.”

    And y’know, I’ve had to supplement with formula for all three kids (using a Medela SNS) but hey, I am typing this at work while pumping).

    Anyhow, yes, babies bring out the stupid questions.

  • 11. Aurora  |  June 24, 2008 at 10:36 pm

    I got this question a LOT too, when my daughter was an infant. I think it’s partly our cultural emphasis on conflating the person with behavior; that is, praise such as “good girl” or “good boy” instead of “good job with the sweeping.” But there is an added dimension when it’s applied to an infant, who, after all, isn’t “doing” anything except being a baby! It really drove me crazy: really what could they expect the answer to be? No, really she’s DEVIL SPAWN!! I started just saying “yes, she is a wonderful baby, as all babies are” and not answering ANY personal questions such as how much/what/when she was eating or sleeping. No one’s business.

  • 12. Lindsay  |  June 24, 2008 at 10:37 pm

    First off, CONGRATS!

    I’m somewhat appalled at the good/bad baby thing. A baby’s job is to make lots of noise (early forms of communication), make lots of mess (yay poopy diapers!… wait…), drink milk/formula, get the occasional nap. “Driving parents batty” is part of the Official Baby Job Description. Good or bad does not enter the picture. My brother was a screamy baby, fussing easily and extremely picky about what he would or wouldn’t eat when he started eating soft foods. I was almost the exact opposite. But we were both loved. And that right there? That’s where good or bad comes into play; at that point, we’re not really talking about the baby anymore.

  • 13. katiekind  |  June 25, 2008 at 1:45 am

    “Is there any other kind?”

    That’s brilliant! No! There is not! She is wonderful just as God made her. She is feeding just as God made her to feed.

    Your post was wonderful, I’m glad I stumbled across your blog.

  • 14. christina  |  June 25, 2008 at 3:07 am

    amen. i just had to comment. i have a 9 month old, and this question drove me crazy. it really hate (even now) when people ask if he is sleeping through the night. it drives me crazy that people have an expectation that their babies only eat every 4 hours and should sleep through the night. i signed up for being a parent 24/7, not just from 7 am to 7 pm!

  • 15. bfer  |  June 25, 2008 at 4:05 am

    There is a bit of truth to formula fed babies eating less often. Formula *does* actually sit in the stomach longer, because it is so hard to digest… so not at all for the reasons people imagine, it´s actually quite negative.

    nice post

  • 16. wellroundedtype2  |  June 27, 2008 at 6:09 pm

    Wonderful post.
    I can’t believe you have the time/energy to post, but I’m very thankful. Your daughters are very blessed to have you as their mom.

    It’s radical, in a way, to put a baby and her needs in the center, rather than trying to get a baby (a tiny newborn one at that) on a schedule.

    Babies don’t exist to fit conveniently into our lives, like a handbag or other accessory. They are people, although small and without a whole lot they can do for themselves (hence the crying).

    Thank you for reminding me what it was like to be asked that question. Someone asked me if my little one was “dificult” and I thought for a minute and said, “no,” reflecting that my difficulties in being a parent are not my little human’s fault.

  • 17. fran  |  July 9, 2008 at 3:28 pm

    I’m a new lurker (academic, Episcopalian, parent of 2, fat but emphasizing healthy) and I enjoy your posts very much. Thank you for your perspectives. Congratulations on your Grace!

    Speaking as a mom with medical reasons for formula feeding my babies, the breastfeeding-formula issue is a difficult one for moms. If a good baby is one who eats and grows into the life she has been given by God, then a good mama is one who knows that she must feed that baby, no matter what happens. You do what you need to do, whether it is feeding on demand despite public idiocy over naked breasts or mixing up a bottle of a breast milk substitute. And you hope that God helps you live into BOTH the difficulties caused by not sleeping at night because the baby is howling and the pleasures of holding a sweet little bundle while everyone coos around you.

  • 18. spacedcowgirl  |  July 11, 2008 at 5:05 am

    Those are some really interesting points about how early on we can internalize that our hunger is not as important as other people’s convenience, or how much other people think we “should” eat, etc. Same for sleep and other “scheduling” issues. It’s kind of scary.

    And congratulations, and it sounds like you’re a great mom. Actually many of the comments upthread gave me the warm fuzzies… I’m glad you guys have children since you obviously love them a great deal.

  • 19. goodbyemyboy  |  August 9, 2008 at 8:38 pm

    Wow, I would never have thought of it that way. That’s actually kind of scary.

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