Matt Knutson: Solutions come with improvised parenting

Published 9:18 am Friday, July 29, 2016

Rochester resident Matt Knutson is the communications and events director for United Way of Olmsted County.

“I felt like I was stealing my own baby,” I told my wife when she got home from running errands. Gracelyn stayed at home with me in an emotional state best described as kindergarteners on a seesaw. Her back-and-forth faces of pure joy and utter unhappiness were a side effect of her latest ear infection, and the medicine wasn’t quite doing the trick just yet. After a few minutes of cycling through activities around the living room, I determined a brisk walk outside would be the trick to calm us both down.

I changed out of my work clothes, laced up my running shoes, and grabbed Gracelyn to strap her into the stroller. Where was the stroller? Of course it was in the back of the car with Sera. Not one to be deterred, I quickly shifted gears to searching for the baby carrier we purchased for those occasions where the stroller just didn’t seem ideal. #FirstWorldProblems, right? It turns out that item was also in the car with Sera. Now my emotions have joined Gracelyn’s on the seesaw.

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What solutions might I have left? We do have this body wrap that I’ve witnessed Sera use, but I’m pretty sure I couldn’t figure out how to use it safely in the hours before Sera would return home. For a split second, I wondered how supportive it might be for me to wear a tight shirt and slide our daughter inside. Sensing my wife’s wide-eyes from miles away, I ruled out that option too. If Gracelyn and I were going to go on this walk, I would be carrying her.

That may not seem like that big of a deal, but have you carried a six-month-old baby recently? They’re heavier than you think. I was determined to get us out of the house though, so our journey began. It started off fine, moving through our part of the neighborhood pretty quickly. I had to shift her between arms fairly often, but both of our emotional states had calmed as some semblance of a cool breeze brushed over us. Then I noticed people staring.

Now, our neighborhood is known for people being outside. Several houses keep their garage doors open and have patio furniture in the driveway, despite the beautiful decks and gardens I see in their backyards. I don’t understand it, but I’ve at least come to accept the behavior as a local norm. Perhaps they’re all members of the neighborhood watch and we’ve just never been invited to a meeting. Either way, the further we got from our door, the more people were glancing at me a bit more oddly than normal.

It then dawned on me that I had never seen someone in my neighborhood on a walk actually carrying their child. That’s not something people normally do. Isn’t it weird that we don’t do that? Occasionally people would cross my path, smile at Gracelyn and then look at me with a question mark in their eyes. Maybe the paranoia was setting in, but suddenly I felt as if I was doing something wrong while on a leisurely stroll with my daughter. I wasn’t, of course, but the feeling persisted.

Of course at this point of the walk, Gracelyn’s antibiotics for her ear infection were starting to kick in. We’d transitioned from emotional seesaw riding to something akin to a zombie watching television. Her wide eyes, mouth agape and a slight drool probably didn’t do me any favors. Eventually we rounded the corner and made it back home just as my wife pulled into the driveway with our vehicle filled with baby-carrying-devices.

Though I have a hunch some people suspected something suspicious was up with Gracelyn and I’s walk, I never heard of any overzealous neighbors filing a police report, thankfully. Part of me wants to continue this practice with increasingly longer walks while carrying Gracelyn just to see if I’m greeted with similar reactions. However, if I’m being honest, I’d much rather push a stroller throughout the neighborhood and go unnoticed like we have on past walks. We’d have a much better chance of reaching the nearby playground and an actual seesaw that way.