The Parental Acknowledgment Nod

Josh, Nellie and I have been enjoying walks more often now that it’s warm out. … Okay, warm is an understatement. It’s effing hot. Winter turned directly into Summer. There was like, 2.5 days of Springtime before Summer was all, “HAY GUYS, HERE I AM. LOL IS THAT SWEAT?! HAVE SOME WATER, ASSHOLES.”

On our many walks, I’ve noticed an interesting social interaction that occurs between parents, and it’s something that I like to call the Parental Acknowledgment Nod. The Parental Acknowledgment Nod (or P.A.N. , because Parental Acknowledgment Nod is a lot of letters to type.) is an exchange between two sets of parents – and it’s not limited to couples and it generally goes down like this:

  • You approach another person or persons pushing a stroller.
  • If your child and the other child are close to the same age, both parties will give the other the P.A.N.: A tilt of the head, a slight smile, and maybe even a short, “awww”.
  • Don’t make the “awww” too loud or enthusiastic, because that it just creepy. Think about it. Do you want some random person, parent or not, staring down your kid and going, “AWWWWW”? No. You don’t. Get the eff away from my kid, Uncle Creepo.
  • If the passing child is younger than yours, you initiate the P.A.N. The other parent will generally smile at your child in a way that suggests that they are imagining their baby at that age.
  • If you pass a parent of school-age children, the P.A.N. generally doesn’t happen. You are in two different worlds.
  • Sometimes, the other parent thinks that their little Jimmy Precious Face is the best thing since sliced bread and they cannot possibly spare your child a glance. This is when you give them the Hey, Eff You Your Kid Is Funny Looking Anyway Glance. Or the H.E.Y.Y.K.I.F.L.G.

Another strange – and slightly uncomfortable – social interaction that occurs between parents (or grandparents) is the Forced Baby Interaction. That’s when you pass someone else with a stroller and instead of doing the simple P.A.N. exchange, the other parent gets all freaking excited to see another kid and takes a detour, making a beeline for you. That’s when they push their stroller as close to yours as they can, point at your child and squeal at their offspring: “Look, Katie! ANOTHER BABY! SAY HI TO THE OTHER BABY! HI OTHER BABY!”

And you stand there, laughing uncomfortably and watching the babies/toddlers stare at each other, drooling. The babies don’t care. The babies don’t give a shit, they don’t know that other kid and they are probably wondering when the hell you’re going to throw another handful of goldfish crackers in their snack cup. So the parents are left awkwardly asking questions and making inane and obvious statements about the other kid (“Look at all that hair! What a cute blue shirt. Oh, that child also has two eyes and they are green.”)

I HATE the Forced Baby Interaction (F.B.I.). I’m socially awkward anyway so when I get approached by an over-zealous fellow parent I kind of freeze up and say lame things.  I wonder what someone would do if I were to stroll up to them and appreciate their baby and ask questions like I would if they had a really nice car.

Me: Heyyyy, that’s a nice baby you have there. What model is it?
Other Parent: Uh. …………
Me: 2010? Looks like a 2010. I’ve got one of those. How’s yours run?
Other Parent: *slowly puts their hand in pocket to grab cellphone to call for help*
Me: Mine runs real well except sometimes, she emits this high-pitched whining noise and the only way to get ‘er to stop is to give her a cookie. I don’t know, but it works! Anyway, you made a nice lookin’ baby with your fornicating. Keep up the good work!

It’s a fascinating aspect of our society that we feel the need to connect with other parents, even if it’s just a slight nod and an acknowledgment of their kid. I suppose it’s just that parenthood is such a mindfuck that we feel just a little bonded with complete strangers just because we both happen to have children. We’re all riding this crazy ass roller coaster together after all, so I guess a little casual camaraderie is expected.

So the next time you pass another parent with a stroller, make sure to give your P.A.N., but don’t be that F.B.I. offender, because those people are just nuts.