Socks in my pockets, socks in my diaper bag, socks scattered all over my house. Socks anywhere but my baby’s feet. Colder weather has begun, and I can no longer ignore the fact that my daughter’s bare feet will be cold when we go outside. Alas, I also cannot control the fact that my daughter’s feet will be bare, and cold, when we go outside. Babies take socks off; it’s a fact of life. Yes, you can complicate it for the kiddo by putting shoes on her too, but a determined baby will usually figure out how to pull off her shoes as well. Such is life. It doesn’t bother me.
But it does seem to bother all the old ladies at the grocery store.
“Oooh, look at your little cold feet!”
“Oh my goodness, no socks?”
“Aww, look at your little piggies, aren’t you cold?”
I grit my teeth when the grandmothers of the world begin these conversations. It always seems like they are passing judgement on my fitness to be a parent, and it always puts me on the defensive. Babies always take their socks off. You put them back on again, they take them back off again. Most of these women have raised children – don’t they remember?
The state of my daughter’s feet has begun to be dependent not on the weather, but on the likelihood that someone will see her and comment on her poor cold little feet. If we’re going to playgroup (where nobody will care), or to pick up her older sister at preschool (where nobody will see her in the car), I don’t bother to put socks on her. If we’re going for a walk around the block, I definitely won’t put socks on her, because she’ll take them off and drop them on the sidewalk, never to be found again. But the grocery store? Definitely socks. Except I’ll often take her outside barefoot and then put socks on her in the lobby of the grocery store, so as to maximize the amount of time in the grocery store that she will actually still have the socks on her feet.
Sometimes when a bystander comments on the barefoot babe, I’ll whip the socks out of my coat pocket to show them. “Oh yeah, she had socks on, she just took them off a moment ago, of course I’ll put them back on her before we go outside.” Other times I will just try to nod and smile or shrug to quietly communicate, “Yup, what can you do?” And sometimes I’ll smile distractedly while intently surveying the bottles of salad dressing in front of me, in hopes that I won’t actually need to respond.
I came home from a grocery trip a few weeks ago completely flustered by one of these conversations. The baby and the two-year-old had both been fussing throughout the trip, so by the end of it I was completely drained. The bystander commentary (a grandpa this time) came 40 minutes into the trip, and it felt like an assault on my character. But as I relayed the story later to my husband, I finally realized, he didn’t mean anything by it.
None of them ever mean anything by it.
Really – they literally don’t mean anything by it.
It is not a premeditated conversation. None of these little old ladies are thinking to themselves, “I’d better set that mom straight. She’s not taking good enough care of her children.” They’re not even thinking, “She must not realize how cold it is! I’ll just give her a gentle reminder.” Instead, “poor little cold feet” is really on par with “Cold enough for you?” or on a rainy day, “Sure is wet out there!” These little old ladies are not seeking to engage me in conversation about the care of my children. It’s much more innocent:
They are drawn to my children.
And they simply want to connect.
They are reaching out, with just the first words that come to mind, because they actually love the sight of my beautiful babies. They loved raising their own babies and it makes them smile to see mine. If I stop listening and look instead, I’ll see that these grandmothers of the world are usually smiling as they’re looking at my kiddos – not frowning at their bare feet.
It’s still hard, because I often do need to respond, and what do I say? I have yet to come up with the perfect response; I’m still not sure how to avoid becoming defensive. But here’s hoping that I can remember, the next time, she doesn’t mean anything by it. She literally doesn’t mean anything.