I was texting with my sister this week and she sent me a message about how she started laughing hysterically after seeing a baby in a restaurant. I should probably preface this by saying that we’ve always joked about how awkward I am with children and like to joke that I’m going to have my sister raise my children until they can talk because I don’t know how to communicate with them if they can’t say what they need.
Whenever I see a baby I always end up making eye contact with them and then feel super uncomfortable because they stare, and then I stare, and then we’re just staring and thinking about how weird the other is. If I cross paths with a dog I always smile and say hi, but if I see a baby I freeze. I think that maybe some of the tension between me and babies comes from how similar we can be.
For instance, at work the other day (I work in a bakery) I was envying the smell of the popcorn being made across the way from me. It smelled so good and actually made my stomach rumble. I’m over here practically salivating like Pavlov’s dogs and look to see a little girl sitting in a cart, clutching a bag of popcorn as big as she is, and laying on it like a pillow. She was smiling so big and looked so happy that you wouldn’t question that it was the best day of her life.
I couldn’t help but smile and think “you smug bastard” all at the same time. I was jealous but also knew that, if I was honest, I would do the exact same thing if I had a bag of popcorn to cradle.
Because our store is all about customer service, we’ve been told many times that we must always greet the customer, say hi and ask if there is anything we can do to help them. So, I temporarily overcome my natural instinct to become invisible, and always try to make eye contact and say hi. Everything goes fine when the customer has proper social cues and goes about their business, but when the customer is a parent with a kid in the cart, I know there’s only one way this interaction can go.
I’ll smile and say hi to the parent, then see below my eye level a little human looking at me. Sometimes they smile, but mostly they stare and then of course I stare and then we’re just staring and I can’t help but think that I don’t want to be the first one to break the staring contest but then realize that the parent is probably noticing that I’m staring at their kid and try to discreetly go about my business while trying to nonchalantly win the staring contest. Sometimes I make faces when the parents aren’t looking so the kid blinks. Usually they look at me horrified.
One of the suggestions our store manager made about “above and beyond customer service” was
“If you see a little kid crying, imagine how great it would feel to them if you walk over and hand them a cookie to make them feel better”.
I was just like, do you know how awkward I would make that situation? Flustered, I’d jab a cookie at them and be like “um, here’s a cookie” and then probably stand there uneasily and hope that the parent wouldn’t be mad that this weirdo was giving their kid a cookie that they may or not even be able to have.
One mom and her daughter asked me to write “Happy Birthday Nanno” on a cake for them. When I brought it back, the mom showed the little girl and said excitedly, “Look how pretty!” I looked at the girl and said (I thought sweetly) “Is it your birthday?!” The girl looked at me like I had just suggested that she eat her own poop and the mom said slowly, “No, it’s her grandma’s birthday”. “Oh, ok. Have a good birthday!” I said and then quickly walked away.