On Sunday after Mass, I found myself at a church breakfast where I was seated across from a young mother with a baby and two little girls about 3 and 4 years old. Other family members, presumably the mom’s parents and grandparents, filled the other seats. I had arrived late after finishing up with the choir and took the last available place. It was the loneliest meal I’ve had in a long time, far lonelier than eating alone at home.
The mother was probably in her early 20s, dressed in a tee shirt and tight jeans, her hair pulled back into a ponytail that was coming apart. She never said a word to me nor I to her. I thought about squeezing in at another table, but everywhere I looked I saw the church moms talking to each other. I’m not a mom, just a musician. So I decided to just study this baby for a while.
I thought the infant, age maybe six months, was a boy, but he turned out to be a she. Cute kid. The mom was feeding her bites of scrambled eggs, pushing them in with her fingers. When the baby started spitting out the eggs, the mom shoved a plastic bottle of orange juice into her mouth. Soon the baby squirmed and the bottle fell on the floor. The mom picked it up and put it back into the baby’s mouth. Holding the bottle with one hand, she fed herself a spoonful of eggs with the other.
Meanwhile, one of the little girls was banging on her arm, seeking attention. As she turned to her, taking the OJ out of the baby’s mouth, the other girl picked up a fork full of eggs and jabbed it into the baby’s mouth. I watched in alarm. The mother, not watching, informed her older daughter that if she wasn’t going to eat her food, then she’d eat it. She picked up her fork and started eating while her daughter sulked.
By now, the baby was crying. The mother turned back and slapped her other daughter’s hand. “She don’t want any eggs,” she said. The mom took the fork from the baby’s mouth, licked it clean and took a bite of her own cold scrambled eggs as she shoved the juice bottle back into the baby’s mouth. The crying stopped. Soon the bored little girls were running around the church hall as adults carrying cups of hot coffee dodged around them.
Throughout all this, I knew I should say something or at least step in to help, but I didn’t have a clue what to do. I have no experience with babies or small children. I mean, I don’t even know when babies start eating solid food. I feel like such a loser. Of course, none of this woman’s family stepped in to help either, but that’s no excuse.
I picture my mother in this situation. She’d be cooing at the baby, standing up to intercede when the sister started shoving a fork in the baby’s face, picking the baby up and rocking her when she started to cry. She’d be sharing memories with the mother and her family of when her kids were small. Me, I just sat and ate my pancakes, eggs and sausage as quickly as possible and got the heck out of there.
Is there any other woman with such a completely babyless life that they don’t know what to do around little ones? If there’s a puppy in the room, I’m right there giving advice, but I hold back when it comes to babies. I’m embarrassed even telling you this story, but maybe I’m not the only one.
On the other hand, for those who are mourning because they don’t have children, would you want to trade places with this young woman who doesn’t have time comb her hair or eat breakfast in peace?