I was confident that everything was going to go great. I was going to put on real clothes for the first time in two weeks. I was going to dress my newborn son in the cutest outfit he had. I was going to walk through my beloved community. The doctor said walking would help me heal from my c-section, so what better excuse to go out, run an errand, have lunch in a charming café, and grab coffee? Turns out, there was so much I wasn't prepared for the first time I took my baby out in public.
Discovering how to operate in the world outside of your home with a baby is frustrating and has a steep learning curve. Just when you get used to one issue, another one arises. Like, you finally get a handle on bringing 700 pounds of equipment and changing diapers in tiny bathrooms without a changing table and then, boom. They're toddlers. Toddlers don't need as much stuff and, eventually, most of them are potty trained, but then you need to worry about your 2 year old running in the parking lot and knocking things off shelves and planning trips around when you think they will probably have to pee. (Spoilers: they will have to pee at the most inconvenient time humanly possible. This is a law of nature. It is known.)
But that first trip was eye opening, and there was so much I just wasn't ready to face, much less overcome with grace.
How Much Longer It Takes To Get Ready
Life before kids: get dressed, put on makeup (optional), put on shoes, grab bag, and head out the door.
Life after kids: pack diaper bag; feed baby; change baby; get baby dressed; get yourself half-dressed; sooth baby when they cry; get your other half dressed; pick up baby to dress them; change shirt after baby spits up on you; get baby dressed; get baby undressed when you smell poop and notice enormous blow out; get baby cleaned up and re-dressed; remember at least three things you forgot to pack in your diaper bag; debate taking stroller or baby carrier; pack baby carrier under stroller because who knows, right?; wistfully observe your awesome makeup collection gathering dust; walk out door; come back for another item you forgot to pack; really head out the door this time.
This is going to be the best five minute trip to the grocery store ever.
How Much Stuff I Would Need
I'm someone who normally travels pretty light. Seriously, all I need is a wallet, lipstick (always), keys, MetroCard, gum, and sunglasses. Done. I once went to Europe for two weeks with nothing but a duffel bag. So having a teeny tiny creature that required a variety of stuff that wouldn't fit in a small purse was daunting, annoying, and took a lot of getting used to.
"An extra outfit? Why would you ever need an extra outfit?" I once thought. Oh, 2011 me. You poor, naive girl.
How Difficult Managing All That Stuff Can Be
I felt like I was about to escort someone on a three-week expedition up a Himalayan mountain when I took my newborn out into the world for the first time. From the bag full of stuff, to the stroller, to the baby, there's just so much more to keep a handle on when you're out and about. It's cumbersome, it's unwieldy, and after a few minutes it gets heavy.
This was all especially fun with a still-healing c-section incision. By "fun" I mean, "Why, God? Why?"
Complete Lack Of Baby-Friendly Facilities
As an able-bodied person, I am used to the world and society catering to my needs and not unduly challenging me in any way. Oh, is there a little step to go up in order to enter that Starbucks? No problem! Do I have to pull this door open manually? OK, great! Is the restaurant configured in such a way that any path one could walk is narrow? That's OK, I'll just scootch along carefully.
Yeah. All of those things are really goddamn challenging when you're by yourself with a baby and a large, well-supplied bag and a stroller and limited mobility due to surgery. It's also difficult for any number of people who may not have a baby in a stroller, but might have a wheelchair, scooter, or other considerations that otherwise enable them freedom of movement, so thank you ADA.
This is all to say nothing of places that do not have areas to either change or feed your baby in a comfortable or sanitary manner.
Having To Stop Every Five Minutes So People Can Coo
I mean, I can't blame them. My child was ethereally beautiful (#itstruethough). I would've probably stopped to worship at his altar, too. Certainly it's nice to have your child admired, however, there's a limit. Ladies and gentlemen, I just wanted to run out for a hot minute. He's going to have to eat and have a nap soon, and I'd rather be at home for that, so you're kind of cutting into my "outing" time here. Could you please fawn from afar? Thanks
Fielding All The Unsolicited Advice
This is something all parents get used to pretty quickly, but never stop being completely annoyed by. Ah yes, thank you, well-meaning but annoying grandma at the pharmacy. My newborn son should totally be wearing an extra layer of clothing and a hat on this fine summer day. Thank you, random dude on the street! I'm so glad you feel I should introduce solid foods "as soon as possible." I'm sure you have many degrees in infant nutrition from the world's most impressive universities. I know parents far and wide must all be clamoring for your advice, and here I am getting it for free. Lucky me.
I was pretty determined that I was going to do my bit to normalize breastfeeding by nursing in public, but that didn't mean I wasn't nervous about it and constantly worried that someone was going to be rude. (Fortunately, no one was.)
Eating An Actual Meal With A Baby
Most of my eating at home had been done either one-handed, while my partner tended our child, or while he was sleeping. But on this outing I had to manage an actual meal, in front of people, with a baby who, at the moment, refused to be laid down in his stroller. This also marks the first (but not the last) time I dropped a sizable amount of my lunch on my son. I think of this as his baptism into my church: the Holy Order of the Delicious Sandwich.
How Much Longer It Takes To Do Anything
Just about everything I have mentioned above contributes to specific annoyance. I wasn't ready to give up my ability to simply zip about my day. I'd never thought of myself as zipping before then, but I had been. I walked fast, I could navigate the world effectively, and, frankly, I didn't have all that much to worry about. All of a sudden time moved differently and I had to recalibrate my sense of planning, as well as achievement.
There are no more five minute trips. Not with kids.
How To Effectively Improvise
In short order, parents become masters of improvisation. Like, the other day my potty-trained-for-eight-months-daughter-who-has-never-had-an-accident-in-public daughter straight up peed herself on the playground. Because she has never had an accident, I stopped packing extra clothes a long time ago (ha). Did mama panic? No. I went to the trunk of my car, found a bandanna, and fashioned a skirt for her. Perfect? Oh God no. She looked a mess. However, she wasn't covered in pee and she was OK to be in public. (Fortunately the friend I was meeting at said playground had spare jeans for her son and all was right with the world: I'll come back to this in a moment.)
That first time out with a baby in tow? Definitely hadn't perfected the MacGyver mom skills yet. There was an incident with a blow out and paper napkins and a ruined blanket. I can't get into the details. Honestly, it's too soon and too ew.
How Helpful Other Parents Would Be
This is something that continues to be true and never ceases to melt my icy, cynical heart just a little bit. In my experience, other parents are more than happy to lend a hand out in the world, because they've run through this gauntlet and they know how it goes. From that first time out to now, if I have received help from another person out in public it is almost always a fellow parent. They hold doors. They hold a baby. They help with groceries. They give an extra diaper (or pants!). That first time I went out, between the tiny baby and my aura of harried panic, I'm sure the more experienced parents in my neighborhood could sense I was ill-prepared and nervous. They didn't judge: they helped.
Stay awesome, parents. All you newbies out there: courage.