In defense of nice

My middle school English teacher banned a handful of words from my writing, including “nice.”  According to Mrs. Mell, if I felt compelled to use “nice,” “good,” “really,” “very,” and the like, I wasn’t really doing a very good job of being descriptive.  While I took the message to heart, dutifully attempted to follow the rule for the last decade and a half, and even passed the message on to my own students, I recently decided that “nice” sometimes fits the evocative bill perfectly.

When I first started to show, random pregnant women whom I passed on the street began smiling at me.  We’re not talking big grins here, just a slight upturn accompanied by warm eyes.  I quickly learned to reciprocate and even initiate this secret pregnancy greeting.  As I got bigger new categories of strangers began casting unusually friendly looks my way:  first older non-pregnant females, then younger ones, and finally, when I got really huge, men.  I suspect that each person smiled when he or she felt confident that my bulge reflected presence of a fetus rather than a large meal, tumor, or unfortunate weight gain pattern, with pregnant ladies emboldened by being attuned to their own midsections.  Some folks even went beyond the facial expression, inquiring about my expected arrival, describing their own experience with children, and even reflecting on the circle of life.  Near the end, many offered me their seats, opened doors, and even gave up places in line.  Prompted only by the convexity of my stomach, a TSA employee gifted me a piece of gum.

Now that we tote Viv around town, strangers seem even more likely to strike up conversation or lend a helping hand.  At the very least, people try not to cause us harm.  One exceedingly large and heavily tattooed gentleman pulled his proportionally big truck into a crosswalk with the air of a habitual offender, and upon noticing us reddened, threw his vehicle into reverse, and responded to my “thank you” with “always,” “most definitely,” and “my pleasure” issued in flustered, rapid succession.  Another guy held his breath and covered his cigarette with his hand as Ian and I pushed our gigantic stroller passed him.

“Kind” is a bit too warm, “civil” too cold, and “amiable” too passive to describe these casual and fairly costless gestures.  People have been nice to us, plain and simple.  So simple, in fact, that I’m left wondering why few among us actually meet our niceness potential.  What’s to fear, “LA Story”-type collisions of the niceness where, for example, nobody can enter a building as we stand around holding doors for one another?  I think we have some distance to cover before that phenomenon becomes a legitimate concern.

The adjective’s secondary (and arguably even more damningly generic) usage also merits defense.  Especially in light of the whirlwind of emotion circling our apartment these last two months, I realize that some things just feel nice.  On the day marking the start of Viv’s third month of extra-uterine life (this phrase is meant to skirt the abortion debate; my two cents on that score will stay in my change purse for the time being), we visited the pediatrician for the dreaded weight check (as well as six immunizations).  V put on more than an ounce a day, bringing her grand total to eight pounds, nine ounces.  She’s still only at the tenth percentile for weight, but it’s more than we could have hoped for when we celebrated breaking seven pounds just a few weeks ago.  Again, the supposed synonyms fail.  To say it felt “pleasant” is too tepid, “amazing” and its ilk too enthusiastic, “gratified” too smug, and “relieved” too fraught with connotations of anxiety we’ve never experienced.

It felt nice, and I smiled at every animal, vegetable, and mineral we passed on the way home.

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4 thoughts on “In defense of nice

  1. Hi Gail,
    yes little Viv does look “nice”, but I see that you have a little roaring tiger there too.
    An interesting future presents itself.
    (P.S.
    adding formula kept me from the proverbial throwing out the baby with the bath water)

  2. I love how you write! (and I am not paraphrasing Barbra Streisand to Robert Redford). This particular little piece belongs in The New Yorker – one of which you have been but not as long as Ian or me. Think about it…
    The only time I’ve ever enjoyed Britney was when you sang her stuff to Viv, dancing around the living room. My generation sang around the campfire, My Country Tis of Thee and such in grade school and in high school we weren’t even embarassed to be in the glee club or madrigal group (and you know the potential for embarassement in high school is overwhelming).You have a more than creditable voice – even before Kaitlin I tried to convince you to consider voice lessons. And I don’t blame Viv one jot for loving it. A word to the wise, though, don’t try My Country Tis… with her – it’s one of the worst British products foisted on this anglophilic culture. Love, Dad

  3. This is a particularly appropriate read for me, given, as we all know, that I’m worlds away from my meeting my niceness potential 🙂 Love the new pics too!

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