Saturday, April 22, 2006

What do you say?

Like most women, I like babies. At this stage in my life, I particularly like babies who belong to other people…the ones who get to change the diapers and pace the floor at 3 am…but I still adore babies. So, like many other women, when I espy a pram at the mall or the market, I am compelled to peek in at the little creature and make some kind of complimentary noise to the parent. It’s not generally difficult…even the most visage-challenged babies generally have at least one or two features upon which a stranger can make a truthfully complimentary remark. If the child is truly cosmetically-challenged, there is usually something like smoothness of complexion or plumpness of cheek or thickness of locks or blueness of eyes over which to coo.

So what do you say when you find yourself leaning over the pram and looking into the face of a truly ugly baby?

I’m not talking about a child who has had the misfortune to have been born with some kind of congenital malformation or who is afflicted with a disfiguring malady like eczema or a port wine stain. I am talking about a child who, for all intents and purposes, was born perfectly normal but the shape of the features and their arrangement was less than fortunate. Do you say something untruthful but complimentary, hoping the parents haven’t really realized that Junior’s ears look like wings or his nose looks as if it has been surreptitiously replaced with one from a piglet?

The cliché “a face only a mother could love” exists in our lexicon for a reason…parents seem to see their own children through a filter the rest of us simply cannot seem to replicate. I’ve been known to comment on an otherwise plain child’s deliciously dark and curly eyelashes, eliciting a glowing response from her mother who now has one more thing to dote upon in her…through her eyes…flawlessly configured offspring. But suppose the parents of the bat-winged baby I saw this morning were not labouring under the misconception that their child was a future Miss South Africa? Suppose Mum had already begun a saving account for the otoplasty? What if the child’s other cosmetic flaws are clearly recognized and accepted by the parents? What do you say? Do you say anything at all?

It usually only takes me a matter of seconds to zero in on a feature that can be complimented, and additional time spent gazing into the little one’s face surely is interpreted by the doting parent as rapt admiration on my part. Wouldn’t they be alarmed or disturbed if I took a long look at their child and then just turned and walked away? I would have considered such behaviour very creepy in the days when I was pushing a pram. So, when you’ve looked into those little washed-out blue eyes fringed by stumps of lashes, when you’ve wondered how long it will take the child to grow into that nose, if it will ever grow hair, will the lips ever shape up to more than a thin, colourless line, what on earth gave it that greyish-yellow pallor, and is there any hope that the kid is more intelligent than that dull expression suggests…just what do you say?

Sweet. “What a sweet baby!” Who can argue with that? Mum…who was no Miss South Africa herself…beamed, and pallid, beak-nosed infant waved its arms and legs about and emitted a typical shrieking sound, giving me a perfect opportunity to flash a quick grin and escape.

Later, however, as I was strolling out to the car with a trolley full of groceries, I happened to pass the outdoor area at Mugg & Bean. Due to the inclement weather (Cape Town is finally getting some desperately needed rain!), the outdoor patio was surrounded by plastic and canvas drops, permitting the feeble sun to penetrate into the seating area, but not permitting the dense cloud of cigarette smoke to exit. Consequently, even though the seating area is technically outdoors, the trapped smoke made walking past the area a bit of a choking affair…and I found myself walking past a familiar pram and looking down into a familiar little face, breathing in all that second-hand smoke, a considerable amount of which was being contributed by Mum and Daddy in the airspace immediately above the kid’s face.

What are the chances Mum smoked during this pregnancy? What are the chances that the tyke breathes this kind of stuff all day and night long and now, with winter approaching, he’s going to get an even heavier dose of this poison to breathe? Could the kid’s pallor and generally dull appearance be due to hypoxia? Should Mugg & Bean have refused to seat a person below the smoking age in the smoking area? Should I have spoken up and suggested the mother take the child out for some fresh air instead of the choking smoke the poor little tyke was breathing? Or should I have done as I did…walked on by, shaking my head but unwilling to start a confrontation with a bunch of strangers over the well-being of a child I don’t know, a confrontation guaranteed to result in little more than those parents feeling unjustly attacked by a busybody stranger?

What do you do when you walk past some really ugly parents?

1 comment:

  1. just re-reading this post. Desperate times ? heheh.. but u post nothing so ..
    luckily i had read even then that 2nd hand smoke could stunt (I believe that was the term in those days) a baby's growth so pretty much gave up smoking during both pregnancies and after they were born was VERY careful never to smoke in an enclosed space with the kids about. It paid off as both are larger than life and nowt wrong with their brains :} I have to agree that it is so wrong to smoke close to kids in enclosed spaces aargh.. in fact - disgusting considering the warnings everywhere.
    I miss u SV....WT :}


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