With one small bump, we are off. In line at the JFK security gate, waiting to remove her shoes for the crackerjack staff, a woman briefly forgets where her personal space ends and everyone else's begins. In this moment she lets her massive, SUV-stroller get away from her, and it lurches forward a bit, love-tapping another woman in line. In the cosmic scheme of things, this would appear to be insignificant; it's one saliva bubble gone free. But it is significant, and it sets off a chain of events illuminating a classic New York struggle.
"Could you please not bump me with your stroller. I have a cat in my bag." The offended sawed off each word expertly, letting them fall in a perfect configuration that pointed blame, suggested intent, and exalted cat ownership to a religious duty. It turned heads, including mine. Will this pass, we all wondered. Should this pass? Of course not but yes, probably. The stroller mom assessed her accessories - baby, waterproof bags, stroller snow tires, Keds - and, deciding she was too good for this kind of abuse and probably possessed the Universal Right of Way, searched her personal menu of suitable responses. She dismissed "controlled silence" or "absent-minded apology" as options and went straight for "establish dominance."
"Excuse me. If I knew you had a cat in your bag, I wouldn't have bumped you!" She then turned to others in line, bugging her eyes, which is semafore for, "am I right or am I fucking right?" We all turned away, finding other things to occupy our attention. I read and re-read an advertisement about irritable bowel syndrome (it wasn't offering a cure; it was merely promoting the disease), while another man rightly pretended to faint.
Within seconds, the two women were at each other, volleying words like "hostile" and "unnecessary" with increasing impropriety, given the petty grounds for argument. I quickly realized, however, these women were not arguing about errant strollers and offended cats and appropriateness of tone; they were arguing about who had made a more noble choice in her life. This is a question that probably assuages and occasionally troubles the consciences of women across North America, but is a great violent schism dividing New York Women into two distinct types: Baby Mom for Life and Feline Mom for Life.
The Feline Mom struck first, naturally, her instinct for self-defense built up from wedding after wedding filled with friends and relatives asking if she'd "met anyone" yet. She always claimed her job came first, that she was neither lonely nor alone. (As the wedding guests imagined a series of clandestine affairs, hopefully with men, she imagined her cat licking salmon oil from her fingers.) Two years ago, she dressed her cat like a baby for Christmas. In the cab on the way to the airport she spoke to it in hushed tones, preparing it for the scary flight, and said, "I love you" in a voice strong and deliberate enough to make herself momentarily uncomfortable. Today, bumping her was an act of immeasurable disrespect, particularly from...a Breeder.
The Biological Mom was much, much worse, in my opinion, if only for her very clear sense of superiority. With each swipe she took at the Feline Mom she seemed to be making a transparently veiled assertion that having babies is what makes us better people. Having babies means winning. Having cats means shitting it up. "Look at this baby!" she broadcast through her snide remarks. "This came right out of me - I made this! There is no finer use of the human vessel. I am holding a future President of The United States, made from semen and glue and God's twinkly tears and hatched right from between my blessed legs. And look at your cat, you selfish woman. If I had a stroller big enough, I'd drive it right over your pet caddy like the main event at a Monster Truck Rally, just to show you how great this work called 'man' is." Of course, she said none of this but it was all there in her haircut.
The great thing about this altercation, besides discovering the cat was a giant, pink-eyed Persian, and that the baby had a bad, squashed face, was that these two extremes of motherhood are both totally legitimate choices in New York City, perhaps more than anywhere else in the world. I don't know who was right and who was wrong - this was a complicated argument - but I do know this: a baby with whiskers drawn on its face is about one-zillionth as precious as a full-grown cat in a diaper. Case closed.