Hello Cis People, Let’s Talk Bathrooms

I don’t normally blog about trans issues. Why don’t I blog about trans issues? Well, I’m a cislady. I’m like, really really cis. So I figure it’s not my place, not my job, to run my mouth about trans issues. Instead, I do my best to elevate trans voices when I can, and I stick to writing about what I actually have expertise in.

CONTENT NOTE: homophobia, transphobia, and brief mention of rape. Plus lots of swears.

Apparently that’s like, ranting about kids and gender and one children’s album. I’m comfortable with that.

But, we have to talk about all of the bathroom shit (pun intended!) that’s going on. Yesterday, on twitter, I learned of an Oxford, Alabama law even more heinous than the North Carolina law we’re* all pissed (again with the potty puns!) about. Essentially, this law is in direct response to Target choosing to allow trans folks to pee where they’re comfortable. It makes following Target’s policy, or just your own judgement when you have to pee in any store or other public place, a crime for trans people.

Let’s all pause to look at a picture of a cat.

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I think we all deserved that break!

 

Ok, now I am speaking specifically to cis people. Everyone else, you’re free to stay, or free to spend the time you were going to spend reading this looking at even more cat pictures. It’s a big internet out there, enjoy yourself. Cis friends, family, and others, listen up.

This law is literally evil.

This law puts our trans brothers and sisters, and non-binary siblings, in a truly impossible situation. You probably already know this! But for real, we are talking, in many cases, about having to choose between risking assault and risking arrest, just to pee. That is utterly and completely terrifying and you and I cannot imagine what making that decision must be like. These laws are dangerous for all trans people, yes, but they are most dangerous for trans women and for trans people who do not “pass” as men or women. And bear in mind, when you think about this, that the murder of trans women has already been on the rise in this country.

Look, when the fight for “marriage equality**” was going on, some trans folks were upset about it. Lots and lots of cis people, gay and queer folks who wanted their marriage certificates (hey I get it!) but also straight allies, felt like trans people were just complaining. They were just muddying the waters, they were deflecting attention from the struggle. Look, we collectively said, we have to fight the good fight in some kind of order! Marriage just happens to be the thing we are fighting for right now! We will totally do your rights next!

But that hasn’t happened.

The broader LGBTQIA has not, as far as I can tell, regrouped to fight our asses off for trans rights and safety after winning our marriages. Instead, what we did was, we celebrated, and then we went to brunch or something.

That fucking sucks. That’s not ok. We have to do better.

I’m not articulating myself very well because I’m extremely emotional about this.

These bathroom laws, they aren’t really about bathrooms. There is a segment of the population in this country that is extremely uncomfortable with anyone who doesn’t do gender roles the way they think gender roles should be done. We often call these people homophobes, but that’s really a shorthand, because there’s a lot else going on there than just fear of gay-ness. These are folks who are deeply invested in the power structure of the patriarchy, and they don’t want to see it upset. These people fought tooth and nail over the marriage stuff, because as misogynists, they couldn’t see how a marriage between, for example, two dudes, could be anything but unnatural. Yes, they were overly fixated on their own fear of butt-sex. But also, to them a marriage has two distinct roles, roles that are defined by gender, gender that is defined by sex.

They lost the marriage fight, and they’re not over it.

And they’re taking it out on the people who are easiest to scapegoat.

Not only are they doing that, but they’re using the fear of rape to accomplish it. Because the claim behind all of these bills is the same: Some trans women have penises. Some penises commit rape. Your wives and daughters are vulnerable while they’re in public restrooms. Some trans women might just be dudes who are lying about being trans to get access to the bathrooms where your wives and daughter pee so they can rape them.

That’s scary. It scares people.

It scares people who weren’t necessarily afraid of trans people peeing before. It’s designed to do that. It’s created by people in power to stir up their base and terrify them. It is talking to those people on the ground who are vaguely afraid of gender roles not being followed “properly” and saying, “yeah, not only are they ruining marriage, but they might rape your daughter.”

And it’s a fucking lie.

Of course, the point isn’t just to keep trans women out of women’s restrooms. The point is to stall the movement. The point is to hit back, hard, after they lost the marriage thing. The point is to create a culture where trans people are not safe, and especially a culture where non-binary and non-passing trans people are not safe. The message is clear. Fit in, look normal, do the gender binary and do it well, or stay home. They’re trying to turn back the clock and put people back in closets. Of course, they can’t turn back the clock on the marriage thing, so they’re doing it to the most vulnerable among us. That would be: transgender women, non-binary and non-passing trans folks, and intersex people. They are not stupid, they know how power hierarchies work, and they know we won’t fight as hard for those people as we did for middle class white gay men.

We have to prove them wrong.

If we don’t fight for the safety of our trans siblings, then we are nothing but hypocrites and cowards. If you were in any way a part of the struggle for marriage equality, you don’t get to sit this one out. We have to make this our fight and we have to do it now, before it gets any worse. And it is going to get worse.

I know, we are all tired. I know, our oppression is not limited to one area, but occurs on intersecting axis. For those of us who are queer, and don’t have the incredible fortune  to have every other privilege on the planet, we have to spend a lot of time and energy fighting oppression, sometimes just to stay afloat. For me, I’ve got queer/femme/woman/parent/poor/fat to deal with. And in reality, I’m getting off easy, because I’m white.

But we have to take up this struggle. Don’t wait until it becomes “your issue.” What if you sit this one out, because you’re tired, and then three years from now your child comes out as trans? What if your lover does? Hell, what if your mom comes out as trans? You literally never know. We need to try to make the world safer for trans people now, not when it personally effects us.

Especially especially especially because, regardless of what we said, the fight for marriage equality has in many cases made trans folks lives harder, not easier.

***

Ok, that’s great. But what can we do? I don’t know. I don’t have all the answers. I’m going to share some ideas, but I’m sure I’m missing things (feel free to add to the list in the comments). I think it boils down to leveraging whatever privileges and abilities we do have to help in whatever ways we can, however small.

1.Talk About It With Other Cis People!

Cisgender people are often unaware of trans lives and the threats that trans people face (that is how privilege works). One thing we, as cis people, can do, is be super super clear about our stance on trans issues. If you have relatives who are grudgingly ok with the gays, but skeaved out by trans folks, tell them that’s not ok.
This means more than just sharing memes talking about how stupid bathroom bills are on Facebook. It means having the conversation. It means asking questions. It means piping up when someone in your life says something transphobic. It means doing the emotional labor that our trans brethren are exhausted from doing all the damn time.
“Oh, I can see why you are uncomfortable in public restrooms, lots of people are! But trans people have been using the restroom for a long time without incident, and statistically they are actually more likely to be assaulted than cisgender people. I think your fears are misplaced in this case.”
Your privilege as a cis person gives you the ability to have these conversations safely, even if they’re uncomfortable, and that isn’t always the case for trans people.

2. Always Always Always Use People’s Correct Pronouns When Discussing Them

While you are having those conversations with other cis folk, you may (or may not) want to be somewhat gentle with them. If they’ve never met a trans person (that they know of) they may need a serious case of trans 101 even if they aren’t malicious, and that has to be ok! But you should never compromise on a trans person’s pronouns.
If someone refers to a trans woman as “he” or “it” correct them. Do it every time. You can do it without being a jerk, but still be firm. If they say they have a hard time using correct pronouns (I hear this one all the freaking time!) then say something like “yeah it just takes time and effort.” Putting in the time and effort is part of being a decent human. Using incorrect pronouns purposefully is a form of violence against trans people. Under no circumstances should we condone it, and we definitely shouldn’t engage in it ourselves to make cis people more comfortable. I guarantee you it won’t get your transphobic loved one any closer to accepting trans folk, in fact the opposite is true.

3. Give Money If You Got It

Here is where you can donate to Trans Lifeline. They’ve seen an increase in calls due to the anxiety and fear caused by terrible bills and laws like these (which is, sadly, part of the point of them). If anyone knows where else to give money PLEASE PLEASE share it in the comments and I’ll add it to the post.
And let me just add that if you felt it was important to donate to the cause of marriage equality, and you aren’t sure if you’re going to donate to anyone about this, maybe you should seriously rethink that? (Unless of course, you’re facing severe economic hardship that you weren’t facing back then.)

4. Call/Email Elected Officials

If elected officials are considering anti-trans legislation, contact them. Elected officials want to be elected again in most cases, which means that while they’re more than happy to do lots of shady things for money, they do actually care what voters think of them. If you can, tell them.

(If anyone has numbers/email addresses we can add to this, let me know and I’ll add them!)

5. Uplift And Boost Trans Voices On The Issue

Yes, we need cis people to be talking about this, but that is not all we need. We also need to hear directly from those affected by it. Cis people who do not see trans folks as fully human won’t do so if they never hear from trans folks themselves. As long as trans people are a hypothetical idea to them, they’re free to demonize them. And besides that, trans people deserve to have a voice in their own issues, just as anyone does.

(I need to take my own advice on this one, will add links here later, feel free to share in comments.)

6. Be A Bathroom Escort

I just learned about this on twitter! If you are a cis woman, you can offer to be a bathroom escort for trans women who feel unsafe. This is probably most applicable in places with these heinous laws, but even in places without, this conversation is contributing to more vocal transphobia and I wouldn’t be surprised if trans women all over were feeling pretty unsafe right now.

If you are in Detroit, and I’m where you are, I will pee with you.

7. Do Not Try To Make This About Cis People

I am seeing a lot of cis people responding to these heinous laws with things like “not only trans people but also cis people who don’t look butch/femme enough could be affected!”

Stop. It.

These laws are bad all around, yes, but they are specifically aimed and keeping trans people unsafe in public spaces and that is what we need to talk about. Yes, they may have side effects that hurt others, but those people will have recourse, and also benefit from an overwhelming amount of privilege that trans people simply do not have access to. When you move the focus off trans people affected, and make it about cis people, regardless of what your intent is, it sounds like you are saying that the problem with these laws is not that they put the most marginalized of us in danger, but that they might also negatively affect a privileged person.

Stop it. You know better than that. Trans lives and experiences matter, and they should be the first thing that matters when they are being attacked. And y’all, this shit constitutes an attack.

***

That’s all I got right now, but I’m %100 sure I missed things so please let me know where my blind spots are. Let’s be kind to each other. Here’s another cat picture, a couple notes below that.

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Notes:
*if you’re not pissed off about HB2, I’m honestly not sure why you’re here? I’m assuming that if you are reading, you’re a decent person.
** I put “marriage equality” in scare quotes on purpose, because the marriage equality movement did not create actual equality in marriage. What it did, was to expand marriage rights from a narrowly defined exclusive group to a sight more broadly defined (but still exclusive!) group. We need to not forget that.
*** This should go without saying, but I will not tolerate any anti-trans sentiments in the comments. That includes “devil’s advocates” and people just bringing shit up “for the sake of argument.”
**** If I fucked something up, trans folk are MORE THAN WELCOME to let me know in the comments. I’m trying hard, but I am an imperfect ally. Happy to make changes and issue an apology if I made a misstep.
***** These laws are aimed at trans people, and that’s primarily what I’m discussing here, but it should be remembered that they are probably JUST AS DANGEROUS for intersex people in most cases.

Songs About Poop That’ll Make You Cry

A deep dive into Kimya Dawson’s 2007 kids’ album, Alphabutt

 

Hello! I’ve been burning the candle at like, twelve ends lately. Which is extra bad because candles actually only have two of those. Like, I’ve been literally working to the point of making myself sick, and so I’m behind on things. And on of the things I’m behind on is this blog. And I’m sorry. You’re all wonderful, and this is some of my favorite writing to do in the world and this is mostly where I want to hang out all the time. As the Unicorn awkwardly says to a sweaty, swearing, Molly Grue in The Last Unicorn, I’m here now.

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So let’s talk about kid’ music!

We mostly don’t listen to kids’ music in our house? I mean, children’s stuff can be ok, even good, but it tends to get grating after awhile. And we mostly feel like really young kids, just like anyone else, like the music they’re exposed to. So rather than starting our baby out with a bunch of kiddie tunes, we play him stuff that we like, and if he’s into it we’re into that, and if he’s not we turn it off. It’s a win-win, really. My kid gets to rock out to Kanye, and I never have to listen to The Wheels On The Bus.

Except, we do have this one kids’ album. And he freaking loves it. And sometimes we freaking love it. So we listen to it almost every day (and that’s why we only sometimes freaking love it). So today, for your reading pleasure, I’m going to go through Alphabutt song by song, and talk about all of my feelings. Buckle up!

 

Track One: Little Monster Babies

The album starts out strong, energetic, and fun. I’m not sure if my 11 month old loves this song specifically, or just loves the fact that I put on music for him. I think he likes that it features kid noises, baby noises, and sounds that sound an awful lot like blocks tumbling down. Either way, it’s totally danceable, and he’s recently learned some baby dance moves. Babies learning how to dance has always been one of my favorite things on the planet, and my own child is no exception to that. It’s a cute song, and it’s definitely a “he’s happy, I’m happy” kind of moment for me.

Track Two: Alphabutt

This song is about 90% about butts, farts, and poop. I am a full grown adult, and I laughed out lout the first time I heard it. It strikes me as basically perfect kid humor, and I can’t imagine a kid not liking it. Now, of course, my child doesn’t yet know what things like “doo-doo” and “loud and long farts” are yet, but he’s still a huge fan. He does his funny little head bob and it’s the best thing ever. I get mildly annoyed when she says “I is for eyeball” but I figure odds are my baby will still learn to read just fine.

Track Three: Bobby-O

Ok, here is where me and the child begin to have a difference of opinion. I just cannot get into this song. I can’t. I’ve tried. The rest of the album is so good, I feel annoyed with myself for being annoyed, but I am annoyed so there it is. I don’t like that his horse is named “Rambo” and I’m not into him wearing a sombrero and I really really don’t like  the somewhat mysterious use of the word “naughty.” Here:

He did something naughty
What it was we’ll never know,
But the hotel owner said
Man you gotta go.
Take your bathing suit
And don’t forget Rambo!
Oooooooh
Bobby-O!

Maybe it’s just that I don’t like the word “naught” in the first place? Maybe it’s something to do with the whole idea of secrets and shame and my desire to tell kids the truth? Either way, when you listen to an album one million time, the little things that you’re not nuts about really start to get under your skin. This is happening for me on this song.

So I used to just skip it… but… BUT…

I can’t anymore. The child absolutely loves it. It is, undeniably, his jam. He can’t stand on his own yet, but he will hold himself up on a chair, throw one hand up to the heaves, and just rock out.

Oooooooh
Bobby-O!

Track Four: Louie

Kimya Dawson has a daughter named Panda, and according to this song, Panda’s favorite doggie is named Louie. This song has literally everything that you could possibly want out of a song about a kid and her dog, and if you are going to question why the human child has a less traditional name than the dog, you can leave my house right now.

Track Five: Smoothie

Ok folks, you might not expect that this would be where the water works start, but it is. Let me explain.
In this song, a Mama (presumably Kimya herself) is asking a Papa to make her a smoothie, because she’s pregnant and the baby isn’t moving very much, and drinking a smoothie will get the fetus to move! It’s really cute, and she describes the various things a fetus might do after the gestating person consumes a smoothie using some really great language like “and then the head and butt start rolling like two balls bowling perfect games on the lanes inside of me.” Every time I hear this song, I want to sing along. And I start to, and then my voice catches, and I start sobbing. About smoothies.

I don’t know many people who were looking forward to being pregnant as much as I was. And I waited a relatively long time, I was 29 when my son was born, which is not OLD but did mean that I’d been daydreaming about being a mom for a decade already. I have always been fascinated by pregnancy and birth, and was really excited about those things being part of my life. And then, pregnancy and birth utterly and completely destroyed me.

I was sick for basically my entire pregnancy, I was miserable and incapable of doing things that I enjoyed, and I wanted to die.

And I drank smoothies, and my partner made them for me. But there was no joy in it. there was just wishing and hoping that this time I wouldn’t hurl immediately. There was drinking slowly and sitting next to a metal bowl JUST IN CASE and reminding myself that me and the fetus desperately need nutrition. I loathed being pregnant more than I could have possibly imagined.

Yet, stupidly, some days I still want to do it again.

But I’m probably not going to.

And so, I can’t hear a song like this one without feeling all of that heaviness. It just sounds like all of the joy and magic that I desperately wanted, that I didn’t get, and that I never will get. So I try to sing along.

Blub blub blub like a fart in a tub
like a fart in a tub inside of me!

And I cry and I cry and I cry.

Track Six: I Like Bears

Oh man! The first time I heard this song, it was when my wife and I were just dating. Kimye Dawson was playing a show at the contemporary art museum here, and that seemed like an excellent date idea. There was, for whatever reason, also a weird light show type thing going on that gave me a splitting heading. But Kimya was awesome, and we ran into a bunch of friends, and it was a pretty good time despite the headache.

Before playing this song she just said, “this is a song about big, hairy, gay men!”

And we all laughed. And I don’t think people stopped laughing the entire time. And it was great.

This track gets bonus points because my kid loves it, too.

Track Seven: Seven Hungry Tigers

Good times had all around.

Track Eight: Happy Home (Keep On Writing)

Oh my god. Hang on, sit tight, I want to find you all the lyrics for this one. Or maybe you should go watch it on youtube immediately.

There was a time in my life that I felt so all alone
That I never thought that someday I would have a happy home
A family and a four track radio shack microphone
A backyard and a hammock and a paid off student load
A backyard and a hammock and a paid off student load

So if you see me and I’m dreaming
About selling socks on ebay
Shake me hard till I’m awake
Stitches will unravel, the stitches will unravel
The stitches will unravel if you knit with fishing line
Though your cast will be refined
You’d be better off with twine

When I was a kid we would play Annie at recess
I was always Sandy because I was the smallest
From all that crawling on the blacktop
There were holes in all my jeans,
In the toes of my bowed shoes but I never complained
Because I didn’t think that I could sing
See I never perfected that nasally thing
All the kids sang in the school play
Now I know it’s better if we don’t all sound the same
Now I know it’s better if we don’t all sound the same

So if you hear me and I’m screaming
About auditions for Annie
I hope you will try out with me
There are parts for everybody
And you don’t need to be the dog unless you like being the doggy

He’s up against a team that he has never seen before
And they march into the outfield like they’re marching off to war
It’s a good one out to right field but they’re quick and make the play
And as the curtain closes he just bows and walks away
Singing, “If you’re breathing you are living
If you’re living you are learning
So write and write and keep on writing
Just make sure your life’s exciting”

So if you see me and I’ve joined the roller derby
Know that I’ve become something I always wanted to be
Fast and strong and part of a team

Teacher, thanks for everything
You said “If you’re breathing you are living
If you’re living you are learning
So write and write and keep on writing
Just make sure your life’s exciting
Write and write and keep on writing
Just make sure your life’s exciting
Write and write and keep on writing
Just make sure your life’s exciting
Just make sure your life’s exciting
Just make sure your life’s exciting

I have helpfully bolded the lines on which my voice start to crack and I have to fight not to start sobbing. Obviously, by the end of the song, I am basically reduced to a puddle. Honestly, this song is probably one of the things that helped carry me through my horrible postpartum depression and PTSD. My life is not the same as this, not by a long shot, but it’s a helpful reminder all the same. “If you’re breathing you are living” is such a huge, yet simple, thing to say. And it’s so important. And we don’t remind each other of that nearly enough. So I play with my kid and I write furiously and I try to keep my head up through all the crap in life and I cry like a baby to this song.

The baby is still little enough to think adults crying is funny. It’s awkward.

Track Nine: Wiggle My Tooth

So you are catching your breath from all that crying, and now Kimya is going to remind you that this song is for KIDS. Here is a song about a loose tooth. We like the kid who shouts “go!” on the track because that’s really fun. Since I had a real bad wisdom tooth situation a couple of weeks ago, sometimes this song makes my skin crawl a little bit, but it’s not the song’s fault. Teeth are fine, really.

Track Ten: I Love You Sweet Baby

Parent friends had warned me that this song was a cryer. It doesn’t disappoint. It’s basically a song that goes through an average day with a baby/toddler, and I have to say that as a mostly-at-home parent, there is something about spelling out the monotony in a joyous way that is just lovely. I’m not sure if it would be as relatable to parents who aren’t some kind of hippie-ish and attachment-ish type parents, she talks about nursing and co-sleeping and avocados, but for me it hits very close to home. It also feels very specific. This is not a song that is trying to zoom out and talk about the general experience of having a young child. This is a song about loving your baby, your very specific baby. It’s personal. I don’t know what was going through her head when she wrote this, but it sounds like the kind of thing a parent would write to get them through it and remind them that it is fucking magical.

It is fucking magical.

When you wake up we have more plans
say good morning baby and kiss your hands.
Then your gonna make a pee
in your little green potty.

Congratulations, you are now sobbing your eyes out and clutching your child to a song with the words “make a pee” in it. Welcome to the club. It’s a good club, we understand you here. Honestly? I’m not even listening to it and my eyes are misting a bit.

Track Eleven: Pee-Pee In The Potty

My wife finds this song slightly grating, either because of the sing-song nature of it or the bodily function content (maybe both!). I freaking love this song and I don’t know why. Maybe I think that if I play it enough my child will be inspired to learn to use the potty all on his own or something?

Track Twelve: Uncle Hukee’s House

So until writing this and actually looking at the track list, I thought this song was “Uncle Yuki’s House.” I still love it, but man was I delighted by the idea of Panda having an uncle named Yuki. Oh well. It’s a song about visiting friends and relatives and how much fun it is. I especially love the part where two animals (I think they are cats) get scared and run when the baby/kid comes over.

Track Thirteen: We’re All Animals

This song totally floors me in how effortlessly it blends different topics together. Is it a song that’s kind of explaining puberty to kids? Yup. Is it a silly song listing different kinds of animals? Sure is! Is it a song that teaches that human beings are just one of many different kinds of animals? Yes ma’am! I like the message that we’re all animals, and there’s nothing wrong with being an animal. My baby likes the kids making funny animals sounds.

I have one tiny quibble, and that’s the use of the word “natural” in reference to body hair. I like body hair! I like it a lot! I do not, however, find natural to be a very helpful or accurate word when talking about much of anything, including the removal (or lack of removal) of body hair. Honestly, this rant is really a totally separate post, so I’m going to leave it at that for today. WordPress says we’re already at 2,594 words and we’ve got more songs to talk about still.

Track Fourteen: Little Panda Bear

A sweet song that is easy to sing along to, me the kid both love this one. Sometimes I find myself singing it to him to cheer him up at random points throughout the day, and he seems like, impressed, that I can do it without the CD on. Yes I am your amazing mama I can do anything! It’s obviously a little song that Kimya wrote for her daughter, and that makes it even sweeter. In my family, the kid’s favorite stuffed animal is a panda, so it feels related.

Track Fifteen: Sunbeams and Some Beans

You probably knew that we were going to end with more crying. Maybe you didn’t anticipate that you’d be teaching your child about the importance of farming and the harsh realities of the world and how capitalism is evil. Now you know!

See there’s a surplus of food in this country
and nobody should ever go to sleep hungry.
But that food is kept under lock and key
considered a privilege for people with money.

We know a lot of urban farmers, and this song feels important to me. The people who feed us matter. Hunger matters. Teaching children about these things matter. I want to be honest with my kid about everything that is wrong and sad about the world, but also that we can do good things if we try. We can feed each other. We can keep each other warm. Caring for people is a virtue. So me and the baby slow dance around our tiny living room, and I sing along as best as I can, and sometimes I cry just a little. But it’s a different cry. It’s a brave, fierce, cry. It’s the cry of a mother determined to do her damn best, and to inspire her child to do his damn best.

We are making each other stronger.

Thanks, Kimya, is what I’m trying to say.

943958_10205385347381050_6658599649573850110_nThis is so much more than just a children’s album. It’s so much more than a folk album. It’s shaping the kind of parent I am and helping me to reflect on and refine my values. It’s delighting my baby and bringing us closer together because it’s something we can both love, rather than something I just have to “get through” for him. And yeah, it’s talking pretty unabashedly about poop. Poop, it turns out, is hilarious, and it’s a big part of parenting.

 

On “Good” Babies, And The Other Kind

Our child is now ten months old (which I really can’t believe most days) and this past weekend all three of us (mama, ma, bae) went to visit my older sister. We took the train, and we had no idea how that might go with a baby, especially a mobile baby who is inching towards toddlerism.

It was fine.

On the way there, he was well rested and excited about getting out of the house. He loves going to new places, and since I’m a little bit of a homebody, he doesn’t always go out into the world quite as much as he would like. At least in this stage in his development, he’s an extrovert, and he can become bored and frustrated at home.

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So we got on the train and he laughed as be discovered things about it. He touched the fabric on the seats, looked out the windows, climbed back and forth in our laps, nursed, napped, and LOVED the cafe car (what kid wouldn’t love a moving restaurant? I mean THEY don’t know the food is crap and overpriced), and nursed again. He was a little frustrated that he couldn’t crawl around, but only a little and he didn’t make a stink about it.

And we got a constant stream of compliments from our fellow passengers.

“What a good baby!”
“I can’t believe how well behaved he is!”
“He’s being really good!”

When other adults compliment your child, especially in a way that seems to also compliment your parenting, it gives you a kind of glow. By the time we got off the train, we were feeling smug as hell. Our child was just inherently wonderful, and everyone could tell, and we were great parents doing great parenting.

“Oh he’s so good!” Someone would say.
“Yeah, he’s loving this.” We would beam back at them.

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But the way home was another matter.

Our train home left at 7:20am, which meant leaving my sister’s apartment at 5:30 to get there on public transit in time for pre-boarding. Which meant waking up at 4:15. On top of that, he was having some trouble sleeping with the unfamiliar surroundings. So we boarded the train with a confused, overtired baby, who was thoroughly sick of being moved around the world. Even with all that, though, when we boarded he enjoyed making faces at the straight couple across the aisle from us. The woman smiled back at him, and shared that they had spent the weekend away from their seven month old daughter, and were on their way back to her. “How did he do on the ride here?” she asked, and of course we beamed at her and told her of our great success riding a train with a baby.

But we wouldn’t get a single compliment during the journey home.

As a parent, I can say that his behavior was only a little bit “worse.” But the fineness of that line didn’t matter to anyone else. He cried several times. He screamed during diaper changes. When he couldn’t get other passengers to interact with him, he tried raising his voice, as if maybe they just couldn’t quite hear him. But he napped really really well, and still enjoyed the cafe car, and bobbed his head to the sound of the train. However, the reactions he inspired from other passengers were totally different. Instead of gushing compliments, I overhead one man tell a fellow traveler that he was moving seats to avoid he “whiny baby.” In the cafe car, as he was merrily eating bits of soft pretzel, a family with an older child looked over in disgust at the mangled bits of pretzel he dropped on the table top.

We had become the annoying people with the baby.

It did not feel good. I was not glowing.

I’m not breaking any new ground here, but all of this left me thinking about the way we talk about “good kids” and “bad kids” as a culture. Good kids appear to be kids that adults do not have to interact with when they don’t want to, kids that are quiet, and especially kids that are not complaining. Adults who are vocally horrified by the phrase “children should be seen and not heard” still don’t hesitate to label quiet children as “good” and turn up their noses when children are loud. To tell the truth, I’m not sure I’m immune to this kind of thought myself. Have I ever congratulated my kid on being “good” when he refrained from fussing (and this made my life easier)? Probably.

But it still bothers me. Especially when we are talking about very young children, often when we talk about quietness what we’re really talking about is a lack of communication. Babies communicate by making sounds. Those sounds can sound like coos, like cries, like shrieks, or like whining, but they are often loud and they can be very grating. A baby does not have a way to tell you something is wrong quietly and unobtrusively. Whether they are hungry, tired, bored, or wet, the result is the same: they get loud.

I am now going to talk about baby poop. One day, no doubt, my child will hate me for having shared this, but it’s illustrative of a point.

Now that he is mobile and playing all the time, our baby rarely tells us when his diaper is full. He’ll just poop and keep right on playing. This is a huge problem, because it means that sometimes I don’t find out that he has pooped until it has dried to his skin, which leads to a pretty awful diaper change experience for all involved, and diaper rash. Now, I still don’t think he’s a bad baby for being too busy with his blocks to give me a heads up, and it’s my job as his parent to check his diaper often because I know there could be “stealth poo” at any time. But there’s no denying that it’s a case where a little more communication would be useful!

And yet, according to the conventions of goodness and badness in children, he’s doing the best thing he can do by keeping quiet and not bothering me.

I hate that.

I want my child to communicate with me. I want my child to know that be can always come to me with whatever is going on with him. I want him to know that he can communicate even when it is inconvenient for other adults. I want him to know that I am confident enough to handle the disapproving looks and lack of praise.

He was a good baby on both train rides, because he was sharing how he felt with his parents in the only way he knew how. It’s just that on one of those train rides he was more content, and on one of them he was more stressed, and that has to be ok.