Walking in another’s shoes
They say you shouldn’t judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. For decades, I have rolled my eyes at just such a cliched viewpoint. I’ve understood “judgmental” to be a synonym for “being of firm convictions.” I know you’re supposed to be understanding of people with different beliefs, styles, and opinions, but that wasn’t my M.O.
Before I even thought about having a kid, I was appalled by all the squalling children in public places. In restaurants! In airplanes! In subways! In movie theaters! I was notorious for requesting a change in table or airplane seat if there were loud children nearby. I would also glare at them and their parents to further express my discontent. I never acted that way when I was a child, I groused.
Parents these days are so lax; my parents would never have allowed us to act that way. Why can’t people control their children? A few years ago, a friend of mine told me about what had happened to her older brother, whose friends were all beginning to have children. When he visited they would force him to wash his hands before touching their newborns. The nerve! We agreed.
What is wrong with people these days? I remember making a pledge with my friend that if we ever acted that obnoxiously, we would slap each other out of it. The same went with people who put their kids on leashes. What are they, dogs? We would say, rolling our eyes. That is so wrong. Why can’t you just hold their hands? When I was a kid, we held our parents’ hands. I read an article once about people who brought along their babies to a bar. If you’re that desperate to get out, just hire a sitter! I complained.
Of course, then I went and had a baby. What I had remembered about my perfect behavior was when I could actually recall things: as in, I wasn’t an infant or a toddler. For some reason it never occurred to me that you can’t, in fact, restrain your infant or toddler from screaming, because you can’t reason with them. And of course, they will save the most impressive yells for when you are in a restaurant or in an airplane… filled with people without children.
There are so many things I didn’t know before I had a baby. When you read a book about newborns or take a class that covers newborn care, they effectively frighten the pants off you about possible illnesses and infections that your infant could be stricken with ― from a handshake. Then you come home with the baby and you realize that this creature not only can’t survive on its own, it also can’t hold up its own hole-filled head. (Yes, I know fontanels have their evolutionary purposes, but they’re still disturbing.) When my baby was about 5 weeks old, we went to a big holiday party with something like 30 people in attendance. We brainstormed and agonized for days: how do you casually ask someone who is petting your baby’s gaping head with their germ-crawling finger to go wash their stinking hands with soap first? We resorted to having my husband wearing the baby in a sling the whole time, wrapped so tight that not a single patch of skin was visible.
We took my daughter to a baseball game recently. She is at a stage where she thinks she’s 20, and so will refuse to use toddler-appropriate utensils and insists on sitting in an adult chair for meals. She also prefers to push her stroller instead of sitting in it. Of course, she decided she would rather wander through thick crowds of drunk and tipsy people who were not paying attention to what was going on at shin-level, and each time I tried to take her hand she turned into molasses and melted into a puddle, kicking and screaming the whole way. I had become one of those people I had so scorned. Now that toddler leash is looking mighty tempting. I guess I should be happy that she didn’t try to order a beer.
None of this is original. I know that every parent goes through this. Maybe the whole point of new parenthood is to provide your own parents with a chance to roll their eyes at you after being on the receiving end for so long. (I know what my mom will say to that: we’ve been rolling our eyes at you your whole life!) I am still unforgiving when there are older children who don’t behave, but I’m sure that too will change once my kid reaches that age.
Unfortunately, my newfound benevolence hasn’t extended to people who embark on juice cleanses to “flush out toxins from their bodies” or those who insist on swapping hamburger buns with lettuce so they don’t ingest carbs. To each her own, I know, but what’s the point of eating a burger if you aren’t going to eat the bun? Why not just eat something else? And don’t get me started on soyrizo!
Chi-Young Kim is a literary translator based in Los Angeles. She has translated works by Shin Kyung-sook, Kim Young-ha, and Jo Kyung-ran. Contact her at email@example.com or via her website, chiyoungkim.com.