There are certain protocols that are expected from baby admirers (that is, anyone in the immediate vicinity of their parents or grandparents), regardless of which camp they belong to. It seems easy to get it right: throw out a generic compliment (which the parent always accepts as their own achievement, eg 'he's cute', followed by 'thank you', as though it was something they have done themselves!) and you're off the hook. So long as you get it right, that is.
family-run beach accommodation in Samoa. They would serve up communal meals each night and sometimes join us for dinner. One night, a burly baby dressed in a blue stretch-n-grow crawled among the guests, under the watchful eye of an aunt. Someone picked the baby up and asked, 'what's his name?'. 'Felicity,' was the reply. Oops. It was left to another guest to break the embarrassed silence.
A former colleague of mine, Jenefer, had a great strategy for avoiding potential minefields like this. When faced with a pram containing a baby of indiscriminate sex and being expected to front up with a suitable comment, she would ask, 'how old is your baby?'. She figured that the parent would gush, 'oh, she's 11 weeks on Tuesday', or something similar, giving a further clue to go on with. Jenefer insisted her strategy was fail-safe; it was hard to find fault with her logic. I stored it away for future use.
We spent last week near the mountain, where my sweetie grabbed various opportunities to ski during breaks in the weather. One afternoon, I sat in a sunny spot in an upstairs bar at Turoa along with various other non-skiers similarly huddled over books, puzzles and other time-filling activities. A young father with a tiny bundle dressed up in a white bear snow suit, complete with little ears, sat near me. I couldn't tell if the baby was a boy or a girl, and briefly contemplated using Jenefer's strategy before going back to my book, deciding that I didn't really need to know either way. Another guy ambled over to him. Here's what they said to each other:
Observer: How old?And that was it. A grand total of four words exchanged and possibly a tiny nod or similar gesture to round off their conversation. No other questions, no politely interested or admiring comments about 12 weeks being very young for a baby's first experience skiing, and absolutely no clues about gender. Nothing at all. Maybe it's different for guys and they're somehow exempt from the obligatory gushing required of women? How can they cut to the chase so quickly and easily and get away with it? Or does this peculiar piece of societal convention just not matter to men?
Father: 12 weeks.
[End of conversation]