From the time Monkey was a baby and continuing today with Munchkin, it's the latter interaction that has struck me to be full of expectation. Usually there is a routine: First the person asks the baby's age and makes small talk with me. Then the person leans in to try to make the baby smile or laugh. Regardless of the age, gender or ethnic background of the person in question, there is this sense that the baby has to smile. Not only that, the adult doing the baby talk or peek-a-boo, walks away visibly pleased and validated by a baby who smiles and disappointed by the baby who doesn't. That's a lot of pressure on a baby!
My kids are both pretty smiley kids, so they "perform" most of the time. People comment on what a "good baby" I have. While I appreciate a compliment, such comments make me uneasy. If my kids are good babies, are there bad babies? There are shy babies, there are anxious babies, and there are quiet babies, none of whom might smile for a stranger. But they're not bad babies. How is it that people are so quick to decide what is good or, if not exactly bad, not-as-good? Why is everyone so quick to label a tiny baby after a 60-second interaction?
It's not just strangers who do this, I'm guilty of doing something similar. When people would ask how I was doing with my newborn, I'd say, "She is eating a lot and sleeping okay, so I can't complain. She's a good baby." But the thing is, even if she wasn't a eating enough and started waking up a lot (which did happen), she was still a good baby. All babies, who for some reason or another have trouble nursing, are colicky,or just won't go to sleep are not being bad, they are just being babies.
I find it a little disturbing that there is so much pressure for babies and kids to behave in a certain manner. American culture puts a lot of value in the outgoing, happy child who can talk to adults and not hide behind their mother's skirts or, more realistically, jeans. Not all kids are easygoing and happy all the time and even happy kids aren't that way 24 hours a day. Adults get grumpy and irritable and though we know better when to hide it, socializing kids to always be happy seems unreasonable. They should always be polite, but not be required to fake a smile.
Even though Munchkin will eventually have to say please and thank you, hello and good-bye, she will not be "bad" if she doesn't smile for people in the elevator or want to hug people she barely knows. I've learned that Monkey, who has some shy tendencies, is more comfortable giving a high-five than he is giving a hug. Even though I can sometimes feel the expectation for more, I won't be pressuring him to do otherwise any time soon.