Just Don’t Call It a Waddle

Today I came across a list of ways of walking. It’s a vocabulary list, on an Argentinian ESL language site, and its breadth and the generousness of some of its inclusions made me smile. “Mooch,” for example, breaks free the shackles of glommingdom: to mooch is to wander, walk slowly without any purpose. Why, the French have a whole literary genre devoted to the glories of mooching. “Wade” goes from neutral to positive: one doesn’t just walk without shoes or socks in water that is not very deep — one walks with pleasure. In addition to jog and scamper there are scuttle and scurry, lope and lollop. How wonderful, to learn a language through its variants! Not a=b, walk=promener=caminar, but a=b,c,d,e,f,g,h,i and sometimes j. Marcher, saunter, flaner, pasear, andar, lèche-vitrines.

Buried towards the bottom of the list, just above prance and, my personal favourite, frogmarch, I found my personal bete noir. “Waddle,” the list goes. Walk with short steps, moving the body from one side to another, used especially to talk about birds or people with fat bodies.

It’s also, at least in this country, used to describe the movements of pregnant women — often, deprecatingly if not derisively, by the women themselves. “I’m full-on waddling now / I can barely waddle around our block / I waddled after my toddler, fully aware of my own ridiculousness.”

Hmmph. I would like to go on the record as saying I have never witnessed a pregnant woman waddle. Do some pregnant women, especially late in their third trimesters, walk slowly? Sure. Do they walk with a wider gait and occasionally lean back so as to redistribute their centers of gravity? Also yes. But take aborted, bow-legged steps, in a penguin-like fashion? Exempting the time, last weekend, when I tried to hula hoop, no.

The persistence of waddle is I think, is just another manifestation of our culture’s desire to infantilize pregnant women, in the same vein as hideous jumpers and animal-printed empire-waist blouses and absolutely terrible, high-waisted maternity underwear, if less insidious than the stripping away of choice and intuition and, fuck it, science, that runs rampant in pre- and post-natal healthcare and is so cherished by the greybeards of our southern legislatures.

For centuries, the approach to maternity style was to hide the evidence, whether in vast tents or in literal confinement (an occasional exception being made for the bear-witness-to-my-fertile-womb portraits granted to queens and other ruling classes).  It was only in this last century that anyone thought to make clothes designed specifically for that four- or five-month period (and what clothes they were). Once (male) doctors took over from midwives, the approach to prenatal care was not so much discreet as ghastly. Forceps. Twilight sleep. I suppose I should be grateful my chances of ending up raving mad and forcibly restrained on a gurney are slim to none.

But back to walking. I’ve been doing a lot more of it, relative to running. My first pregnancy, I ran through my thirty-eighth week. I don’t know if the blame resides with my, um, weakened core or a weakened resolve, but running is a lot less enjoyable this time around. Oh, I still do it, and sometimes, when I’m on the outer, shaded trails of Prospect Park, it even feels good. But most of the time, I have to pee.

So I walk. In Fort Greene Park there is an abundance of dogs and small children and newly planted lilacs. In the playground, two teenagers loll against the smaller slide, assessing selfies, while toddlers, mine included, scamper about their legs. “You know your left side is your best side,” one says, earnestly, and I remember that there was a time when I knew my best side. On the stretch of Myrtle that bounds the park’s southern border, I walk with my son, grabbing for his hand, which he, indignant, shakes free. He scuttles like a crab while I do my best sheep dog. On Willoughby, with its hushed greenery and planked, slate sidewalks, I scan for elusive “for rent” signs. There is a particular brownstone with a carriage garage and a triangular, canopied deck strung with twinkle lights and english ivy — what would it be like to live there? Like a dream, I’d think.

On the Brooklyn Bridge, a girl with Rapunzel hair and a Disney princess dress — seafoam and robin’s egg blue chiffon smiles triumphantly into her friend’s camera while sweeping her furbellowed skirt. It is not quite eight on a Thursday. What is the word for “to walk through a fable on one’s way to work?”

Whatever it is, it isn’t waddle.

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