I know that in a limited manner, I have experienced this expectation that I am not competent to deal with children. I have, on more than one occasion, found myself in the company of a number of women and a baby (which was generally related to one of the women). The baby is passed around the circle a number of times, magically missing me every time, somewhat similar to a joint being passed around a group of friends, but instinctively being passed by the friend who happens to be an off duty policeman. For fun, or quite honestly at times, just at the sheer annoyance of being presumed to be incompetent to hold a baby without it exploding on contact with my all too male hands, I would motion that the baby be passed to me. I would never ask as to do so immediately reinforces that I would not normally be expecting to be holding the precious cargo. The below are the standard responses:
- Tension sky rockets among all women present.
- The mother of the child turns grey.
- The woman presently holding the child, with not much subtlety, checks eye contact with mother.
- The mother’s body language communicates distinct discomfort, but an equal discomfort to appear sexist.
- The mother places a forced smile of agreement on her face.
- The baby immediately gets nervous because all the talking has stopped.
- The present baby carrier readjusts the baby to a tight hold just in case my hands, eyes or heart suddenly fail me.
- The baby’s lip turns down due to the uncomfortable hold and general expectation of his impending serious injury.
- The baby is stretched out to me so that if I do drop him, the last holder can be as far away as possible so as to be beyond blame.
- All the other women close in to act as a circus trapeze net.
- The baby screams on his arrival in my arms, as he has clearly just been handed to a Taliban warlord.
- Fourteen hands approach to rescue the terrified bundle of joy from the aforementioned terrorist.
- All faces show a knowing that this is what happens when men carry babies.
And this is how I respond
- I take the baby and simply turn it in towards me in a gentle but assured way.
- I fake a bemused look at all of the women waiting to catch him.
- I pick a banal subject, 100% non baby related and ask the women beside me a question; „Sarah, are you still involved with the World Wildlife Fund?“
Baby still screaming
- As you finish the sentence (in the same breath and in a low voice) you verbally acknowledge the baby but without asking it to be quiet. You whisper in his ear, but loud enough for all to catch, thus creating and showing a direct relationship with the child that no woman at that moment posses. Sample line: „Aren’t you a handsome little fellow“. At no time take your concentration off the enemy.
- Sarah splutters an answer, as a bit confused.
- Distract: Ask another question – this time to all of the women. Something that requires thought; „Is it not a shame that we all don’t have more time to do good things like Sarah“?
Baby clearly now not your focus, and Sarah now empowered and an ally
- The safety net starts to recede sheepishly, as an imminent drop looks unlikely.
- As baby and I still await an answer from some pretty outspoken women, I add forgetfully, that with this little boy, Mary has a big enough project on her hands not to need to be in the WWF.
- Mother, who is now empowered, has relaxed massively and is onside.
- While in direct eye contact, I tell her how beautiful her son is and then directly to him, hugging him gently some more.
- Although baby still crying, now all women don’t want to take him on in case he won’t stop.
- So continue the conversation with the physicality of your hold insuring the physical comfort and security of the child with short, peaceful, regular and direct verbal communication with the baby punctuating the regular conversation. Look comfortable in the belief that the baby is not crying because he is in your arms, and that you are a stalwart and will stay with him, for a week if necessary until he stops.
- And believe it
Baby stops crying
- All women present, for a fleeting moment, want to procreate with you.
- All women immediately come to their senses.
- Say to the baby (just audible to all) that he must be now happy because he is surrounded by beautiful women. They know that you are full of shit but that doesn’t matter, all women want to hear that they are beautiful whether from Sean Connery or a blind psychopath.
- Make some lame excuse that you would love to stay (implying you can hold baby for the next year) but that you have to be somewhere else.
- Acknowledge how much you were honoured with being trusted to hold the mothers baby.
As you depart, decide if you will gently pinch the baby on the arse so that he’ll cry in somebody else’s arms.Extract from Chapter 2.