We take our seats. Seats on the edge of the row for a quick escape if needed. Nappy bag tucks under the seat, nursing bra flicks open, and as the lights dim, baby is brought to breast and settles in for a long feeding session before a sleep. It is, after all, bed time.
Before the lights dim, I can’t help but notice a familiar aura emanating from our neighbours. The screwed up nose, the groan, the nudge to their neighbour and the point. The low ‘tut’ under their breath which signals, in case we missed the body language, that they are none too happy about being seated two seats away from a baby. I can understand it. We are at the theatre, to watch entertainment not targeted at children. We have encountered these signals several times in the last four months. So far, our son has attended two theatre productions and one movie. Each time we were subtly (and not so subtly) reprimanded for bringing a baby into the adult world, where interruptions are the enemy. Again, I get it. We have all paid good money to see these shows. I’m sure some people have also paid a babysitter to watch their children for the evening. A night in peace, doing adult things.
But let’s take a look at how this particular show went. Midway through the first act, our baby was asleep. A few times loud numbers or sudden noises startled him awake, only to be immediately soothed back to sleep without any of our neighbours being alerted. Midway through the opening scene, a group of young adults arrived late and needed to be escorted to their seats, disrupting an entire section of the audience.
During the intermission, our baby slept. During the second act, our baby slept.
At intermission, we experienced the part of these evenings that I enjoy. A disgruntled neighbour repenting to themselves. Starting a conversation with us about how surprised they were that they had forgotten they were seated next to a baby. When I explain that it’s his bedtime now, he has been out to these things before, and hasn’t let us down yet, our neighbour said
“You must have such faith in him, that he will be good…you’re lucky that you have such a settled baby.”
And there’s the rub – babies are good or bad. They are either unsettled or settled. The assumption is unsettled, bad, and not welcome in the adult sphere.
Yes, we have a child who is not in pain, he generally sleeps well when it’s his time for sleep. I use breastfeeding to put him to sleep, to feed him, and to soothe him. I’m fortunate enough to be able to do that. But we also come to these events, like most parents, with a contingency plan. If he audibly cries, we go to the crying room. If he needs to be changed, we go to the changing station. If it’s all too much and we can’t cope, we (would) go home. This is what we have faith in: that if his needs require us to change our plans, we will change them. He is a part of our lives which is remarkably portable right now; we can take him with us wherever we go, slotting into our lives and making them more vivid and beautiful. But so many places in our lives prefer to think of children at best as an inconvenience, and at worst, a nuisance. How do we navigate this, especially when the message is mostly subliminal?
We dare to dream and hope for a world where children are more than an inconvenience, and can contribute more to society than being seen and not heard. We’re not naive though. We wanted to see Hugh Jackman this time around, but decided it wasn’t going to work with a baby, and that’s okay. Some days I need to stop everything I had planned to be at home helping my baby sleep, and that’s okay. He makes me stop and take stock of my plans, my dreams, and my feelings.
To push back against the assumption that children are nought but an inconvenience, we will take him to the places where we are met with groans, until such a day that we can’t predict his needs like we can now. We will refuse to groan and point at adults bringing children into our sphere, and we will encourage all to get down off our high horse as adults and look the smallest and most vulnerable of humans to see them as truly human and worthy of space in our sphere.
I must add, after considering this post for a few days how this came to be…
We were gifted tickets to the first show for Christmas because I REALLY wanted to see it. I hadn’t considered that I would have a young baby when it rolled into town. We ummed and ahhed about what to do. Should we just use the money for something else? Should we get a babysitter and hope that he finally takes a bottle?
My mum reminded me that I had all I needed to soothe my baby if it came to it…a right and a left edition. She encouraged us to go and enjoy. Without that encouragement, perhaps we had gone, but perhaps not. I do know that I would have been anxious.
That first experience led to a calm approach to the second, and the third.
So, in working towards a world where children are more than an inconvenience, be an encourager.