My husband made me stop lying about my age while we were still dating (I used to shave off a year, just to take the edge off) and I haven’t done it since. Recently, however, I’ve been tempted to shave a couple of weeks off my newborn daughter’s age. See, the thing is that I make small babies. My seven-week-old currently looks about three weeks (she weighs just over 8 lbs). I went through the same thing with my son.
Her small size is not something I worry about as she is healthy and growing and has been able to hold her head upright without support since the day she was born, thankyouverymuch. But I am still exhausted by people mostly strangers asking how old she is and then inevitably following up by telling me how tiny she is and how she looks younger than her age (as though I had not yet given her a really good, hard look).
I do have a bunch of stock responses along the lines of: ”Small people make small babies,” ”A big baby would have required a paternity test,” or even, ”My son was small, too, and look how well he’s doing,” at which time I point to my 26-month-old (who still wears size 18-24 months clothes) as proof that I do, indeed, feed my children. But it’s a conversation I dread. Incidentally, most people’s follow-up question yes, they have a follow-up question tends to be, ”How much did she weigh when she was born?” which I find so irritating that my follow-up question has almost become ”Why? How much do you weigh?”
Of course, these comments fall into the harmless if irritating box. Worse are the ones that are downright rude. Take what happened just a few weeks ago. I was sitting on an outdoor bench, nursing my daughter while talking to my son (we had been walking home from the grocery store when the baby got hungry). A random woman sits down next to me and tells me that my daughter is pretty. I realize that she is talking about my son and I correct her, while thanking her for the compliment. She defends herself by bringing my son’s long eyelashes into evidence (they are apparently ”too long for a boy,” at which time I make a mental note to stop putting mascara on my 2-year-old son).
She then looks at my daughter, who is now finished nursing, and tells me that she is too skinny. At this point I muster up every ounce of self-control I have (as this woman is surely not too skinny and I’m tempted to tell her as much), put my baby back into the stroller and walk away with my “skinny daughter” and “girly son.”
Afterwards, friends were full of suggestions about what I should have said to this opinionated stranger, from the overly-polite-too-highroad-for-my-blood, ”Thank you for your comments,” to the clever, ”She’s a girl, she can never be too thin,” to the very rude, ”Eff off.” But the bigger question is not necessarily what I should have said, but why this woman felt like it was acceptable to say anything to begin with. I mean, had I been standing there alone with my husband, would she have felt entitled to make similar, appearance-related comments? Why are people’s children fair game? And by children, I am also including zygotes, given that comments start the minute pregnancy is suspected (”Is that a baby bump or just a big lunch?”).
And while most comments are harmless, if inappropriate (like the time my friend’s husband commented on my prego boobs), some are not. For example, I was constantly made to feel worried and self-conscious because I didn’t “show” all that much until the very end of both of my pregnancies (”Wow! You’re nine months pregnant? You look less then six!”). And I have a friend who was constantly made to feel like a beluga whale during hers (”Wow! Only six months? You look like you’re ready to pop!”).
I wonder if people feel entitled to comment because of the manner in which pregnant celebrities and their babies are objectified in gossip magazines or because it’s assumed that once you are ”with child” you are less person, more vessel. Though I have no clue why people feel a right to comment on our children’s appearances. It must come from the same place as their desire to constantly give unsolicited advice. Which, I don’t know about you, but I find super helpful in the same way that I find people who remind me that my baby shouldn’t be crying in public by giving me dirty looks helpful.