Baby Small-Talk

I spent 45 minutes in a waiting room with Dylan today, waiting for my doctor’s appointment to get started. I walked out with a prescription that will (I hope) help me be happier. But this story is not that story. This story is about how every single thing that people said to Dylan was amazingly annoying and offensive. When people talk to Dylan in public, I don’t want to get tense every time and communicate to him that there’s something wrong with people. So, to distract myself today I got out my phone and started taking notes on what people were saying.

First, there were a multitude of variations on, “He’s such a boy! What a boy! Oh, you can tell he’s a boy!” Joshua says I had that one coming since Dylan was dressed all in blue.

Next up for sheer repetition was, “He’s going to be a linebacker!” This one was repeated by more than one person. The one person who said, “He’s going to be a quarterback,” was corrected by someone else. Linebacker! They even discussed what team he would play for.

One person leaned over and said, “You take care of your mama, don’t you?” I said, “No, I take care of him.” This didn’t stop her, though. She said, “Oh, but one day you’ll take care of your mama.”

Another time, one person was talking to Dylan and he looked away over at another woman. The first person said, “He sees a pretty girl! It’s too bad she’s not his age.” Um. Because then what? They’d start getting it on here in the waiting room?? Sometimes I feel like a weirdo for finding so much fault with what is clearly normal small talk about babies. But seriously. I’m not the one who just suggested that it’s too bad that the full grown woman isn’t 3 months old, since Dylan finds her so pretty and all. This was quickly followed up with how I’ll “have to use a bat to keep the girls away from him.” Vomit.

Also, I’ll give you a helpful hint about talking to strangers and their babies. If you and I are chatting about my baby in a waiting room, and you explain to me that you had a son but you lost him, you should not then come over and stand over my baby saying, “I could just take you home.” Because that’s really, really creepy.

Note that with the exception of the woman wanting to take my baby home, all of these statements revolve around gender and sex. Why is it so important to brand Dylan a football-playing boy who takes care of women? Does that have to be so rigid? And can’t it wait a little longer than 3 months before we start studding him out?

I’ve got to develop some comebacks for these things, because I know this kind of small talk is going to continue to follow me around.


  1. I struggle a lot with these types of comments – given the degree to which gender is entrenched in US society, it shouldn’t be surprising, but I’m always at a loss as to what to say. It somehow seems rude to lecture people on gender identity and role performance and all that other Ivory Tower stuff. I’ve found it’s even more bewildering coming from my family, who know me, and my views on gender and gender role socialization. At least once per conversation my mama will say some variation of “boys will be boys” and I grit my teeth.

    I am trying to practice “turning to wonder,” as my minister puts it, so maybe next time I’ll remember to ask, “What makes you think that?” Hopefully it can be a more productive conversation that way – and deeper, too, than just the kind of small talk where people say things they think other people want to hear.

    • I love that phrase “turning to wonder”. I saw you mention that on your blog. It reminds me of the idea I got from Nonviolent Communication that everyone is always doing the best they can to try to meet their needs. I’m afraid I feel too bitchy about many of these things to have a curious attitude. But it’s an ideal that appeals to me.

  2. I can understand how that would get annoying. Especially if you are a not a fan of Football like me. I guess it kinda goes with the territory. I will be interested in seeing what comebacks you come up with. You might be able to shut the football people up by saying no I have high hopes he will become a gymnast or swimmer.

    • People who play football are not the brightest crayons in the box most of the time either.

      • Okay, okay. Let’s not go there. That kind of generalization is uncalled for.

      • Joshua beat me to it, but yeah… there’s no need for stereotypes about football players. All they have in common is that they play football.

        • Sorry but growing up everyone fawned all over the football players and cheerleaders and the majority of them ended up not having the best of jobs. Not to mention they were mean and self centered. That’s just how i saw it, I speak from experience. And I did say “most of the time” Not every last one of them. My Uncle was a football player and is now College football coach.

    • It has nothing to do with what I’m a fan of or not. It would be just as annoying if everyone in the room were convinced he was destined to be an accountant. Or whatever. I don’t have high hopes that he’ll be anything other than whatever he wants to be. He’s 3 months old for crying out loud. I have high hopes that he doesn’t spit up overly much today.

  3. It’s not any easier if you have a girl, believe me. “Oh, she’s so pretty! You’re mama’s little princess aren’t you!’ “Girls are so easy and calm” “Just wait till she turns 13! (mildly threatening tone).” Really, conversations like that aren’t normal. They’re pathologically common, but they’re not normal.

    Is it so hard to make comments about a baby’s friendliness or cuteness or (as it applies) “look at all that hair!”? I’ve never had difficulty keeping my public baby comments to gender neutral and age-appropriate limits.

    If I’m really annoyed I tend to be blunt, but usually I just smile and nod because I don’t have the energy to correct everyone.

  4. Hoooo lady, if you keep taking every last thing so seriously you will need several more prescriptions. ;)

    Just bear in mind these poor, poor women are so brainwashed they don’t even know what they’re doing. :P

    I would simply counter with “Or lead dancer in the NYC Ballet…or head cheerleader for the football team…the next Chaz Bono…” etc.

  5. I guess I’ve always just ignored the specifics of what people were saying to my babies, since they were using such a goofball voice anyway. I was certain my infants would know better than to take them seriously! ;) It’s when my children get older and they DO speak English that I get really pissed. If I don’t immediately firmly correct the person who says some ridiculously prejudiced thing to/in front of my child (because maybe it’s a senile old man) then I’ll tell my kids as soon as we’re out of earshot precisely why that person’s comment was painfully asinine. Hopefully providing an instant, impassioned antidote will keep them from developing Numbskull Syndrome, which apparently is a widespread epidemic.

    • I try to keep my reactions to a minimum since Dylan can’t understand and I don’t want to mess up an enjoyable experience for him. The guy in the waiting room who was going on and on about the linebacker thing had a deep, gravely voice that Dylan was really getting a kick out of, and I would hate to take that from him. On the other hand, later when it does matter, I don’t want to have spent the last several years practicing ignoring these comments. I want to have spent the last several years practicing reactions and responses that make sense to me.

  6. I don’t know, when I was younger (preteens/teens/young woman) and more impressionable, and around more children, I would do the exact same things these women are doing. I followed what my mother, sisters and friends did. “Pathologically common.” It wasn’t until later in life that I became aware and changed. Still evolving. And I must say, I’m learning even more from talking, listening and reading you and Sarah in these past 5 years. Thank you!

    • That’s one of the reasons I think some good, pointed, yet non-aggressive replies could be useful. I’m sure a lot of people just haven’t thought much about what they say about babies, and we all have that first place we hear about a new idea.

  7. I just posted a link to this on my genderqueerchat FB page… hopefully they can give you some good comeback lines. The whole article just made me hostile. I would probably do what you did (ie he doesn’t take care of me, I take care of him, DUH) but that stuff just goes in one ear and out the other of binary-oriented folks.

  8. I didn’t notice to much external talk like that to be honest. Though I think that was mostly die to the high amount of social anxiety I feel, I was normally hidden in a corner trying to blend in. On the odd occasion I was spoken too I was so focused on not panicking I didn’t really register

    • What they were saying.

      It was harder with Sophie as when she was 7 months old she had to wear a helmet to protect her head as she was having so many fits. If she wasn’t in the sling or the buggy or my arms (basically if she didn’t have her full body supported she had to wear it) that attracted a lot of stares, evil looks and wholly innaproprite comments at a really difficult time when it was thought she had a very serious life limiting illness (Infantile Spasms). I know the commenter is not wholly aware of the situation but when your trying to come to terms with the fact that if she does indeed have what they think she does she won’t ever make it too adulthood and they say ‘I’m sure she will grow out of it’. I’m still kind of raw about the whole experience.

      Lauren my eldest on the other hand is very verbal and normally deals with adults making comments about her looks and what she is going to be when she grows up by herself which I am happy to let her do as long as she is happy to do it. The conversation normally goes -:

      Person- your very pretty aren’t you!
      Lauren – yes I am. Look at Sophie/mummy/daddy/some other person nearby, they are very pretty too.

      P- are you a princess
      L- no, I’m Lauren

      P -Are going to be a (insert profession here) when your older?
      L- no, I’m going to be Lauren

      P – what do you want to be when your older?
      L – Lauren

      Mostly this just stops the conversation and they either walk on, or move on to a different topic.

      Sorry for the 2 box reply somehow I managed to only submit part of my post.

      • Lauren could also say, “I’m going to be awesome,” even though she already is. I really, really like her replies!

        • She is so self assured, I’m so proud of her. Not sure where she gets it from because neither her dad or I are that confident. It makes me feel like we must be doing something right as parents if she is that sure of herself.

      • Oh, that’s fantastic! Lauren sounds wonderful, and those are some really great replies! :-)

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