It has surprised me how much strangers want to talk when you have a baby. It’s almost impossible not to strike up mini conversations with people in lifts, queues, at traffic lights. I get compliments, questions, admiring glances. Sometimes it’s just an eye smile, but I can feel their kindness. You can bond through an eye smile. At least I let myself believe that. I used to fall in love across a wordless room. Though as friends love to remind me, it was always unrequited, and mostly I made a total tit out of myself, so maybe let’s move on from eye smile bonding…
If I stroll the streets alone, there’s much less chance I’ll talk to a stranger. I like to compliment people on their clothes – this kind of thing can brighten a day. Once I rushed straight to Gap to buy the same shirt (it was a hot and sweaty day. Beads of sweat tickled my back. She looked like a walking ice-lolly.)
I’m equally likely to talk at a stranger with a passive aggressive ‘you’re welcome’ when ignorados lack basic pavement manners. Or maybe I’ll tell a builder the rules have changed about leering at and objectifying women (that was Tuesday, and actually I was with RB, but would have said the same alone).
With a baby, my interactions are more real. They are conversations, not monologues, or questions with one word answers. People talk to me first. I see them cooing over RB, I smile at them, and then boom, we’re almost arranging to meet for dinner. They tell me about their daughters / grandchildren / nieces / nephews / best friend’s sons. I surprise them that RB is not yet two, and is just big for four months. I had an insanely detailed chat with a lady on the train about breastfeeding. The common theme is the warmth in the conversation.
Also, I realise how much people want to help me. At first I’d say thanks but I’m fine. Now I realise they want me to take up the offer. We both win. I knack my back slightly less, and they get to skip off knowing karma is going to reward them. I like the warm glow that comes with knowing we humans aren’t total arses, on the whole, too.
Contrary to common belief, I’ve found Londoners to be more helpful than out-of-Londoners. I think the faster pace of life in major cities speeds up peoples’ thoughts and reactions.
The exceptions to getting helped in London are when surrounded by Grade A tourists and the City of Londoners. Both types seem to be oblivious to those around them, for different reasons.
However, it’s a good lesson. It’s always a good lesson to have the shoe on the other foot. Now, I try to be kinder and more helpful to others knowing that I am more than capable of joining the total arse side of the human population. And it’s not the nice side to be on.
What it does make me realise, is we’re more of a community still than some social watchers like to say. I know we live more segregated lives than our forebears, but having a baby makes you realise we’re still social creatures, and thrive on social interaction. Sometimes, we just need an ice-breaker to get going. And I’m learning, when it comes to befriending strangers, a baby is the best ice-breaker you can hope for.