It’s like a Pavlovian response. I see someone taking a group shot, and I automatically steer their way and offer to take the photo so everyone can be in it. It’s a good human thing to do, I think.
But a recent event may have begun dismantling the conditioning process. We were heading out of the stadium after a baseball game when I spotted a man lining up a woman and two boys, I’d guess about 7 and 9 years old.
“Can I take the shot so you can all be in it?” I asked.
“Yes! Thank you!” the man said, then handed me his camera and pointed to the shoot button.
“Say ‘chili-cheese fries’!” I said, then I looked through the viewfinder and noticed one of the boys was doing his best impression of a troll face. “Seriously?” I asked, as I lowered the camera. “Is that your best choice?”
The kid looked surprised that I’d called him out, and for a second, I felt badly that I’d ruined his fun. Maybe he’ll appreciate it when he’s 30, I thought to myself. But then his dad looked over and laughed as he saw his son’s expression.
“Nice catch!” he said to me. “You must be a mom.”
“Yup,” I choked out, as I lined up the shot again and captured a keepsake of four normal-looking people—three of the four with unforced smiles.
I handed back the camera and accepted their thanks, and wondered to myself if it would have made any difference if I had responded, “Nope. I’m just a woman who used to be a kid, who loves kids, who gets kids. Don’t have to be a parent to do that.” Did I miss a teaching moment? Could I have given this one family something to think about, a little more awareness that childfree people are human too? Could I have gently impressed upon them that we don’t need to give birth to have parenting skills?
Sometimes it just seems easier to nod my head, swallow the slights, and keep the game moving. But the fact that I’m still thinking about this months later makes me wonder if I made the right choice.
And then to make things even more complicated, I start to wonder why I assumed this was a dad taking his family out to the ballgame? Maybe he, like me, was an uncle who loves his nephews, who also comes naturally to great parenting skills. Funny how our conditioning, our trained responses to situations, takes over. Funny how, in the midst of bashing other people’s preconceptions, I am confronted smack in the face with my own.
Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. Although she came of age during the Los Angeles Dodgers’ glory days, she’s now a committed fan of the San Francisco Giants.