Remember that scene in Sweet Home Alabama when Reese Witherspoon sees an old friend of hers in the bar back home… and then notices that said old friend has a baby? Reese Witherspoon’s character (Melanie Smooter!) was shocked and possibly judging, but really also just digesting what she was witnessing. The picture didn’t make sense to her, so she said it aloud. “Look at you! You have a baby... in a bar.”
When I watch the scene back now, what I really see is less shock that there is a baby in a bar than that there. is. a. baby.
"Melanie Smooter" went off to the big city and worked on a serious and life-encompassing career, while her classmate stayed in the town that they grew up in and worked on some serious and life-encompassing procreation — the baby itself is part of an alternate universe for Witherspoon's character, as much as the Civil War reenactments and the country twang she's hidden from her Yankee fiancé. It’s a strange thing when we realize people lead very different lives than our own. It’s hard to imagine how we could possibly be like them, when their circumstances look so different from ours. Especially when there was a moment in time when we saw ourselves exactly like we saw them.
A baby in a bar is a flag that we wave in the air to declare that we are still here.
Babies are EVERYWHERE. And yet, it appears we collectively still think they are relegated to certain spaces. They’re on the backs of bikes as we navigate streets and the fronts of our chests while we’re hiking up hills. They’re on the subway and in the backs of cabs. Australian Senator Larissa Waters breastfed her baby on the Parliament floor. Our babies are an extension of ourselves. But it is essential that their presence not mean the end of ours.
And that is what a baby in the bar can represent. (If we like bars. Not everyone does, and in that case, replace the word "bar" with "dry rave" or "SoulCycle class" or whathaveyou.) A baby in a bar is a flag that we wave in the air to declare that we are still here. We have some additional cargo, now, and our bag is filled with burp cloths and diapers and pacifiers, to boot, but yes we would still like a Belgian Tripel ale. As long as we’re not in the bar to get dangerously loaded on alcohol, why the hell can’t our babies be there with us? It’s not like they are being served.
We stepped over by the pool table and took a picture of ourselves. A grown couple in a bar on a Monday night. I hadn’t felt that way in years.
It took me nearly three years after having my son to understand that it wasn’t "wrong" to have him in certain places — that his being with me, wherever I was, should only be determined by whether having him in that certain time and place was right or wrong for me. I stayed home so much more than I wish I would have. I let days pass without going into public, because I wondered what was appropriate or what would feel less than perfect. I didn’t want his presence to annoy anyone, or to seem out of place. I stopped doing so many things that made me feel like me.
Last month, my husband and I took our son to a bar. This particular bar, on a particular night, has a guitar-playing man on a stage who plays kid-centric songs and makes them laugh deep belly laughs. The kids congregate up by him on the stairs and don’t so much as look their parents’ way for 20 minutes at a time.
My husband and I ordered burgers and fries and beers and sat at a table in the back of the slightly dingy room. We stepped over by the pool table and took a picture of ourselves. A grown couple in a bar on a Monday night. I hadn’t felt that way in years. I felt adult. I felt free. I felt lucky. I felt like I hadn’t given up who I was for our son.
The lucky babies are in the bar, if that’s where their parents want to be. The lucky babies are the babies born to the people who look at those babies as a necessary and welcome part of their identity.
Lucky, too, are the people who realize that the addition of a child doesn’t make them that wholly different from those around them that don’t have children. When we can see our sameness and not our difference — in all forms — we will be better off for it. So the next time you see someone in a bar with a baby, smile at them. Make them feel like they are right where they are supposed to be. Raise a damn glass to them, and to their baby.