A strange thing has happened since we had Nico. People in the neighborhood have started coming up to us to introduce themselves. Even though we’ve lived here for nine months. And by “people” I really mean couples with kids.
Just the other day, a man and his wife, who was carrying their wide-eyed two-year-old girl in a carrier on her back, literally yelled at us from two blocks down to get our attention.
“Hello!!!” the man hollered, rushing to cross the street to reach us as we were getting out of the car, me carrying Nico in her carseat. “We wanted to introduce ourselves!”
Marta and I paused, looking at each other warily. If it weren’t for the baby girl I would have thought they were missionaries. We waited for them to continue.
“We noticed you just moved in,” the man said, “Welcome to the neighborhood. We live just across the street.”
I explained that we had actually been living across the street from him since last August. He looked embarrassed. I tried to make him feel better.
“We’ll she just moved in,” I said, waving Nico around in her carseat.
His eyes lit up. And what followed were a series of pleasantries about her age, how cute she is and the name of the munchkin on their back and what big eyes she had, etc., until we were left with nothing else to stay. We stood there, staring at each other on the street corner. Then we said how nice it had been to meet each other.
Just two days before that, another neighbor–this time a mother with a stroller–had accosted us on the sidewalk a few blocks from our house.
“You live down the street don’t you?” she said, after waving us down. “We’re the family in the brick house.”
Marta and I nodded, though neither of us knew which brick house she was talking about.
The woman explained that she’d noticed we’d had a baby and wanted to introduce herself. We said thanks and how nice it had been to meet her, our neighbor. And it was.
Another neighborhood, a man who lives two houses down and usually waves at us but had never spoken to us before, saw me on our balcony one evening and yelled across the two adjacent lawns: “Congratulations Sarah!”
I had no idea what the guy’s name was, but I yelled back a hearty “Thanks!” just the same.
“We heard you two have a new baby,” he continued. “Don’t be surprised if you see something from us on your porch in the coming days.”
He never left us something, but our old landlords, who also live on the same street with us and also rarely spoke to us before Nico was born, left us a small wrapped package with a card on top that said “Congratulations” followed by several explanation points. The gift was a onesie that says “Peace. Love. Iowa.”
In recounting all these neighborly onslaughts of nicety, I don’t want to sound like I am complaining. It is really nice that all these people are being so nice to us. It is. But it’s also strange. Like we’ve suddenly gone from invisible to visible.
Marta was joking about the change to a friend of hers and that friend joked back, “It’s call heteronormativity.”
And it’s true, in a strange way. Having babies does make you a little more “normal” in the eyes of most people. There is a feeling of suddenly being allowed into some club, whether you ever wanted in or not.
Like today when I went to buy dog food for Finn at Paul’s, our local version of Walmart. The middle-aged woman at the check-out counter eyed the ginormous bag as I pushed it onto the counter and said, “I miss my dog, but I sure don’t miss buying him food.”
I agreed that buying dog food was a pain. I then confessed that we’d run out of dog food the night before and my poor pooch had gone all morning without eat. The cashier sympathized and then added, “At least it’s easier than having kids.”
“We’ll I’ve got one of those too,” I said. And it felt strange. Like I was coming out, but in a much more acceptable way than when I came out as gay twenty some years ago.
The woman nodded in sympathy. “Don’t tell me. I’ve got three.”
And just like that, we were on a team. What team, though, I’m not quite sure.