The Child-Friendly Initiative

"Babies Are Present"

By Kristen Caven

Through the eyes of a mother with a small child, the world changed for me.

I felt like I was suddenly speaking a different language, or visiting a

different country. As common as it is to have a baby, no one seemed

to recognize what life was like for me now. I was thinking for two,

shopping for two, almost literally being two people at once. Between

the gear, the logistics, and the emotional and physical needs of us both,

I found myself juggling several economies of time, money, and sheer

bandwidth of attention.

Navigating in the world became a completely new experience for me. I was constantly on the alert for places to nurse and/or pump, clean bathrooms with diaper tables, play areas and friendly faces. New places could be complete disasters for the tiniest reasons. Waiters who brought lemonade before a meal rather than with the food, for example, could set up a domino effect of fullness and hunger that could culminate in blood-sugar rushes and meltdowns that could make us want to leave the restaurant in shame.

The ideal of motherhood is a harmonious one. We want to create peaceful childhood experiences so the little brains and hearts we care for can grow to their full potential. However, the protective space to do so requires social structures that can be hard to come by.

I was delighted and relieved to find like-minded mamas in the Child-Friendly Initiative organization who were doing something about it. When new-mom-educator and baby advocate Michele Mason first told me stories of Sweden—where women could leave sleeping babies in their strollers outside restaurants—it sounded like heaven. Imagine a world where people would help you onto the bus! Where there were parking spaces outside a bank—and someone to keep an eye on the kids for thirty seconds! These women dreamed of a world where people would know to offer a nursing mom an extra glass of water, hold down a credit card slip for her to sign when there was a baby in her other arm, keep toys and books handy in case mom forgot to bring one, and patiently bring spoon after spoon when the silverware went onto the floor.

Not only did they dream, they worked together to try to educate the world about the needs of new moms. They created checklists for businesses, and designed a Child-Friendly seal of approval, so moms would know where the safe havens were. Michele’s vision was so strong, and her voice so gentle, that she got the attention of Phil Donohue and even the United Nations, who created criteria for child-friendly cities.

The world has changed in so many ways, since then. Even as CFI faded away, powerful mothering communities everywhere have create awareness about breastfeeding, commercial-free public spaces, and common-sense media. But the need for education continues with every generation of babies. As Michele liked to say, “Babies are present.” There is a presence that babies bring with them into the world. New human beings, with their immediate concerns of interest, delight, or distress, bring us older ones into a certain state of mind when they are around. CFI can create an awareness of this wonder that is in our midst, and spaces where we can all be more present to the needs of our most vulnerable and precious companions. “When we heal childhood,” Michele would say, “we heal the world.”