In the Miami area, you never know when the mail is actually going to show up. When I lived in Manchester, New Hampshire, the mail carrier was promptly at the community mailboxes every day at 11:00 am. Here, we were surprised to find that mail delivery, like nearly everything else, does not run on a “clock-work” schedule. Some days, the mail carrier came through around noon, other days it was closer to 6 pm. One day, I didn’t see the mail truck all day, and I was suddenly surprised to hear it rushing from house to house at 10 pm (I later heard that mail carrier had been fired–finally, a direct demonstration of the “standards” expected down here).
On Saturday, I opened the mailbox and found this inside it.
Now, in fact, my first reaction was to go online and look at all of my credit card statements. About a year ago, I came home one day to find two inconspicuous packages sitting on my doorstep, neither of which I had been expecting. I discovered that both of them contained bottles of some kind of testosterone supplement (which I, I assure you, did not order). I immediately called the bank, we identified the fraudulent charges on my account, and they were removed. To this day, I am still baffled by this–I certainly did not order them myself, and, if someone who stole my personal information and credit card managed to do so, I wonder why he/she thought it was best to have the supplements sent to me? Unsolved mysteries.
At any rate, it was clear, upon inspection, that this was simply a package of free samples.
Of baby formula.
I’m thirty-six years old. I am female. As far as the federal government is concerned, I am “single” because my partner, Stephen, and I are not married. Apparently this information alone is enough for Similac to assume that a free sample of their product will make me a faithful, repeat customer.
Stephen and I do not intend to have children. Neither of us feel as if something is missing in our child-free lives. We enjoy doing too many child-free activities together. Further, Stephen is a merchant marine whose rotations away at sea can last anywhere from around 70 days to over 120 days. Any decision, then, to become parents would essentially mean that I would be a “practicing” single parent for a significant part of every calendar year with no such similar requirement placed on my partner. As for me, I am a PhD student at long last working on my dissertation. I’ve been out of the more traditional, full-time work force for three full years now, and I’m not willing to extend that sabbatical any longer than I have to. This, to me, means doubling-down and really pushing this dissertation research and writing process forward as much as I possibly can. In short, even if Stephen and I were suddenly struck by the realization that our collective “biological clock” is ticking away fast, this isn’t the right time for either of us to start a family.
But, apparently, Similac has completely different ideas. I’m in my mid-thirties, and, therefore, I must be a mother. Or thinking about being a mother. And, if that is true, of course I will be on the front line consumer in this household where buying baby supplies are concerned.
First, assuming “me” and “motherhood” are concepts in any way related today because I am a woman “of a certain age” is ridiculous. And insulting. This seemingly generous gesture essentially, in one fell swoop, groups me together with thousands and thousands of other woman on the basis of one biological function, not to mention all the other women unwillingly swept into this category. It assumes that because I am a woman in my mid-thirties, motherhood is important to me, and, if so, I am primarily in charge of buying baby-related things in this household, quite naturally. No where, anywhere, online or otherwise, is there any impression given that I am a mother, interested in being a mother, etc. All of this is solely determined by my age and gender. This would be the equivalent of the NFL sending some kind of an “introduction to football fandom” package to every man over the age of 15 in the United States (and, even then, at least football interest wouldn’t be based on someone’s perceived biological function).
Second, my partner and I, based on those criteria, are separated by only one factor–gender. And, apparently, that was the determining one because no similar box of samples arrived with his name on it. Now, Similac, online, advertises itself as a resource specifically for “moms.” Is this 1950? What about gay, male couples who adopt children? Single men who choose to become parents on their own? And, quite shockingly, what about dads? Increasingly, and admirably, men envision their involvement in parenting in much more involved ways. It appears that Similac’s declaration of “mommy support” is nothing more than a lawyer-encouraged way to cover itself from any allegation of parental support sexism. “See? We say we’re all about moms! Just moms!”
There is something gratifying in the knowledge that this company must have invested money in the products, the packaging, and the shipping costs and, in the end, I will simply bin the box unopened, largely because of the company’s ignorance and demonstrative sexism. But, that said, I have long since grown tired of being solicited by companies hawking child-related products. Similac is far from alone here in this group–I receive fliers for summer camps, coupons for diapers, and a regular brochure from my investment company about starting to save for my child’s college career. Instead, I have to actively sign up for publishers’ catalogues of college textbooks and historical studies, for information from relevant museums and material collections, and for organizations that represent scholars–I’d love to have a box of free samples from any one of those sources show up in my mailbox.
I have great respect for parents, and I’ve spent several years of my life educating their kids. I, however, don’t want to be one. And, I wish society would stop assuming otherwise.