She looked at me first.
I pushed my cart into the checkout line at the grocery store and started to unload my items. In front of me was a cart with a baby sitting in it, facing me with an intense, unmoving stare. Her mother was on the other side of the cart, next to the cashier, placing the last of her groceries on the belt and getting ready to pay. Every time I turned to put another item on the belt, I couldn’t help but notice the baby’s gaze. She was hands-down adorable, and now, with my vast baby experience, I could make a reasonable guess at her age. Six months, I thought, just a few months younger than Violet. Each time I turned back, I gave the baby a smile, a goofy face or two. No reaction, just more staring. Then, after a minute or two of trading looks, her eyes started to crinkle around the edges, her bottom lip commenced sticking out, and I swiftly turned my full attention back to my groceries. She started to whine, a high-pitched, I’m-just-getting-going whine, and it seemed as if everyone in the store was looking in my direction. I felt uncomfortably warm. And then she started crying in earnest, and without even thinking, I almost – almost – moved to pick her up and comfort her. You’ve heard of alien hand syndrome? This was alien dad syndrome. For a fraction of a second, that baby’s cry was in control of me, commanding me to do what I could to stop the crying.
But the mom pulled the cart forward and scooted through the narrow gap between it and the candy rack, and she lifted the little girl out. I busied myself with my groceries, but I could out of the corner of my eye her looking askance at me, and if someone had asked me, I would have said that the comforting that followed was a bit drawn out and dramatic. I half expected her to ask the girl, loud enough for everyone around to hear, “Did the nasty man scare you?”