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When Did Infants and Pets Become Cocktail Party Accoutrements?

Thanksgiving dinners almost always inspire conversation, so when the subject at the table this year turned to life in America, every cranberry-filled guest had an opinion. My host for the evening was an event planner for a major company in Philadelphia’s Center City. Rita’s dinners (and parties) are legendary, partially because she’s involved with setting up receptions for hundreds of people.

A subject that I brought up for discussion before dessert had to do with the current fashion of couples bringing their young babies to adult functions like dinners and cocktail parties. While I love a cute smiling baby as much as anyone else, I don’t think that infants in swaddling clothes belong next to corporate buffet tables filled with sushi and gourmet cheeses. For starters, some of the babies I’ve seen at these functions are newborns. Infants are small, fragile, vulnerable human beings who need to be watched and protected. They need to be protected not only from germs but from raucous adult partygoers who may, on occasion, have too much to drink besides not looking where they are walking. Adult cocktail holiday parties can also be quite loud, which is hardly a soothing audio backdrop for small babies.

While attending a large architectural firm’s Center City party recently, I noticed a small child being taken out of a stroller and placed on the floor of the reception room while party goers circled the stroller with drinks, plates of crab, blue cheese, and slices of roast pig. Not only was the stroller blocking much-needed room in that confined space, but the daddy of the baby insisted on giving his child walking lessons in the middle of the floor, making it necessary for guests to take wide-angled detours around them in order to avoid a collision.

Daddy was all smiles and not the least embarrassed about this very public display, but in fact seemed to take delight in the fact that this was his opportunity to shine and show off his baby. He’d even look up at the people taking wide-angled detours around his walking lessons to see if anyone was eyeing them in an admiring way. He reminded me of a fisherman waiting for a bite, only in this case he was fishing for compliments. While a few party goers did stop and say “Oh, what a cute little baby!”, most looked the other way and ignored the show, as if they were thinking: “Couldn’t you have gotten a babysitter?”

It wasn’t all that long ago when sensible couples would no sooner take their infant or child to an adult party then they’d arrive at parties naked. The operative word then was “babysitter.” Couples who couldn’t afford babysitters just didn’t go out on the town. But somehow, over time the social rules changed. Babies have become something like a possession to show off, like a tweed coat from Neiman Marcus, or a diamond from Tiffany’s.