If you’re like me, you may have a friend who has recently made a worrying life choice. At first, you didn’t know what to say. Is this really happening? You didn’t think they could sink that low.
Your friend was driving around with a 'Baby on Board' sign.
You know the ones. First introduced in the USA by Safety 1st Corporation in 1984, the Baby on Board sign is a novelty-sized replica street sign that is placed in the rear windows of cars, which have, quite literally, a baby on board.
It seems something happens to most of us once we pass into parenthood. Personal preferences – the very things that once proudly defined us – begin to erode, while new ones take their place. It’s part of a process that, in my life, included the rejection of ‘girl germs’ as a plausible threat. Maybe there’s a part of the brain that manages a collection of beneficial aversions to things around sexuality and parenting, removing them at the appropriate times, and unlocking certain developments as we become sufficiently mature. Presumably this part of the brain later opens the door to things like talk-back radio, sandals with socks and the phrase “make love”.
But most of us manage to resist the Baby on Board sign.
I recently faced a distressing problem when a couple of very old friends had a baby (and I don’t mean my friends are old – although they are regrettably weathered for first-time parents). The point is, we’d known each other for years, and by the time the spit had dried under the adhesive Baby on Board suction cup, I knew it was up to me. I would have to say something.
But this needed to be handled very delicately. Mark and Anna were sweet people, but easy to offend. My wife and I gathered a few trusted friends as a support team, and tried to come up with a scenario where the confrontation could take place: some innocent-sounding get together. I knew that Anna, who once earned money as a dominatrix, now loved cheerfully decorated cupcakes. I knew that Mark tagged along as required by Anna.
So it was arranged: an intervention, with coffee and cupcakes, at our place.
When they arrived, we wasted no time. “Mark, Anna, we’re here to tell you that we love you. And that you need to stop using the Baby on Board sign.”
Once cornered, we expected them to begin snarling, so it was straight onto the front foot as we made successive pre-emptive strikes. We had already discussed the crazed excuses we anticipated our deluded friends would come out with, so we were ready.
EXCUSE NUMBER 1: Safety (because of the sign, drivers will take extra care around us).
False. Firstly, if you’re a driver and you have kids of your own, aren’t you being safe already? If you’re not curbing the old life-threatening tendencies for the sake of your own kids, why someone else’s?
Secondly, what about motorists without kids? Unfortunately, they apparently hate people with children, on account of all the ways we ruin their lives. Parents create the living nightmare of café congestion, with our hybrid bulldozer-prams; our children fill the air with wailing noises; nursing mothers carelessly shove bare breasts in the faces of young men, confusing the poor chaps before their time.
These childless people are hovering around you in traffic, every day, just praying for some incident – anything – to give them an excuse to ‘accidentally’ ram your car.
“Anna, Mark, these are just the facts.”
EXCUSE NUMBER 2: It’s ironic.
Rubbish. Irony needs the right context – otherwise it's just attempted irony.
Example: school assembly, age seven. While on stage being awarded a special prize for spelling, I wet my pants in front of 500 students – children whose collective drug of choice was the misfortune of others. Upon emerging from the sickbay with a pair of ill-fitting replacement pants, I told the waiting pack of vultures that what I had done was intentional. It was “ironic”. Back in sickbay, nursing my bruises after a chubby-fisted bashing, I comforted myself that they probably didn’t even know how to spell the word.
So consider the context of that Baby on Board sign: two people of child-bearing age in the front seats, completely free of Nazi piercings or nostril tattoos, driving a sensible car, WITH A BABY IN IT.
As ironic humour, unlike my schoolpants, it’s very dry. Too dry.
EXCUSE NUMBER 3: It’s just a bit of fun.
I’m all for a bit of fun. Look at the cupcakes I chose. Anna? Yellow smiley faces! But is the Baby on Board sign really that fun? Hey – we’re you’re friends; if you ever need a bit of fun, we’re right here.
To illustrate my point, I joked that one of the cupcakes had been laced with a large dose of the designer drug 'Fantasy'. Ha! Cupcake roulette!
Anna immediately vomited.
That was enough for Mark and he stopped us right there. Turns out we should have done a bit more research.
MARK AND ANNA’S EXCUSE: If we’re ever involved in a severe accident, emergency services will know to save the baby first.
We sat there playing that film out in our minds.
It’s a pretty good reason to use the sign. Excellent reason, in fact.
We all apologised. I ate three yellow smiley face cupcakes, hoping to increase my chances at roulette.
Then we all went home.
Peter Brennan is a father of one. He now bashfully displays a Baby on Board sign in the rear window of his sensible family wagon.