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April 10, 2007

The International Baby Code

When I was extremely pregnant, forbidden to fly and anticipating a dark winter of newborn incarceration, I was of course consumed by the idea of getting the hell out of town. I knew that flying with a nursing infant is a whole lot easier than flying with a baby or toddler with any hope of mobility. I got it in my head that spring break was the time. The place was somewhat more vague, but we ended up in Buenos Aires, lured by the company of my cousin, among other rarely-seen relatives. Plus, the food’s great, the dollar is 3 to 1, and my cousin promised that she and her boyfriend would babysit for a night! Sold.

In Argentina, people don't start eating dinner until 9pm. Though we knew this before we left, we somehow failed to imagine it in reality. Our son was okay, if a little unruly and cranked out. The baby was a nightmare. She cried through every meal, and service was “relaxed”, so meals were endless. She was such a miserable wreck that we couldn’t even take anyone up on their babysitting offers. And did I mention it rained the entire time?

Bad weather and impractical dinner hour aside, Buenos Aires was amazingly kid-friendly. During the worst of those wailing restaurant fiascos, there was a family of locals seated next to us. The man, in his fifties, kept glaring over his blood sausage at whoever had the screaming infant. Was he pissed off at the inappropriate soundtrack? (I would have been.) Were we violating some unknown cultural taboo? When our food arrived, he clarified: Could he hold the baby, so we could enjoy our dinner? He then got up, put a napkin gingerly on his shoulder, and walked around with the baby for a good ten minutes, patting her softly on the back and singing to her while we wolfed down the world’s best steak.

But the biggest surprise was that this acceptance of baby reality is not just about individuals; it’s actually CODIFIED. I discovered this while waiting in line at the drugstore. There were three people ahead of me. The cashier motioned to me and said something to the other customers, something I might have understood, had I been a bit more diligent with the “Coffee Break Spanish” podcasts. They stepped aside. I came forward and paid, and asked my relatives to translate the situation. But of course, they said, if you have a baby, you go to the front of the line. You don’t have this in the U.S.? I laughed. We don’t even have paid maternity leave. And just to rub it in, we were assured we wouldn’t have a long wait at the airport, because we’d be ushered up front with our children. Two hours and four lines later, we realized that they had failed to take into account our airline: American. Diapers be damned: this is democracy.

by rebecca at 11:26 AM
in baby


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