I don’t often strike up conversations on public transport. I’m polite when spoken to, but I usually just keep myself to myself.
So one afternoon when a lady spoke across the aisle to me on a tram into the city, I responded genially – until the conversation took a downward spiral into jaw-dropping territory, which I was powerless to overcome.
It started off innocently enough, I guess.
“Nice to see a little one out with her mum,” says the lady as she enters the tram and sits down.
I smile politely and murmur something non-committal.
“Saw a man with three kids hanging off him yesterday,” she continues. “Why would you do that? That’s not right, making the father look after the kids. What a witch.”
“Oh,” I say, taken aback. The conversation is already taking a turn I’m not expecting and she’s been there eight seconds. I notice people are beginning to pay attention to us – she’s not exactly quiet.
“She wanted to have them, she should stay with them. Simple,” followed up with a vehement head-nod.
I’m just smiling stupidly at her, at my kid, out the window, anywhere, really. I don’t know what to do or say. I thought she was done… but I was wrong.
“I know it’s probably old-fashioned, but he should be out doing his car, playing his video games, you know? The mother should be the one feeding the children and looking after them, taking them places. Not him. He should do his man things.”
“Oh… ah yes, that is old-fashioned,” I say, almost apoplectic at this point. There are about 45 things I want to say all screaming around in my head, tripping over each other and getting confused. I can’t leave this unchallenged, but I also don’t want to provoke her. This was all I could muster.
ALL OF THE STEREOTYPES, LADY, YOU’RE KILLING ME.
“I remember when I was a baby, I craved my mother holding me. I remember that,” comes more evidence from the prosecution.
Desperate to be contrary, but not in an upsetting way, I proffer: “Oh I was a daddy’s girl, myself”. More placating smiling, more desperately trying to arrange my face into a non-threatening but disagreeing expression. People are really listening to us now. The modern parenting movement is resting on my shoulders, I WON’T LET YOU DOWN.
She goes quiet for a bit, and I wonder if she’s abandoned her public sermon about the correct roles of mothers and fathers as regards travelling children and video games.
Then she turns to my four-year-old and says: “You’re beautiful. You’re going to be a princess (NOOOO! You did not go there. What if she wants to be a goddamn engineer? A mechanic? Quit it with the princess bullshit, help this conversation is breaking my brain), you go to school and go to university. Make mummy proud”.
I smile stupidly at my daughter because I simply don’t know what else to do with my face.
The lady turns her attention back to me.
“You should be a model. You have that look about you. Kick Megan gale out of the picture!” she says as we arrive at her stop and she exits the tram.
Ahh finally, something we can agree on 😉