Monday, October 17, 2005

Get You Damned Hands Off My Kids

If a total stranger slides up to you and leers, "Where did you get your curly hair?" you might or might not respond with specific and distinct directions on how that stranger may commit a sexual assault upon himself.
And if that same stranger then proceeded to tweak your nose, pat your kneesies and make playful buzz-dives at your mid-drift, you certainly would overcome any lingering dislike of bad, bad words. You might even go so far as to smartly crank him one or indicate your immediate intention of calling the cops.
Why, then, do parents feel compelled to permit similar impertinent idiocy on behalf of their children and sometimes even feel obscurely grateful for it?
At first, that is.
I too was once meek and polite and obscurely grateful. I progressed to amused exasperation then tongue-tied frustration, and finally to restraining the impulse to pound the perps into the ground.
I finally realized that many of the questions directed at the parents of young children were, in fact, not "friendly", but agressive and hostile. That certain people were not "just interested" they were simply social sadists.
The sight of parents with small children affect some the way a vegetable seller's street stall affects a Brahman bull. A view of a mother with a young baby positively inflames others like the smell of blood affects a school of sharks.
The day I was plainly told I was an unfit mother because I had been spotted buying a tube of diaper cream was the last straw. I seethed home, dismembered a barbie doll and became a Parent Militant.
I worked out ways of warding off the leg-jigglers, the head-patters, the candy-pushers and the like, and a few responses to those damn fool and often cruel questions like "Why does your baby cry so much?"
It became a short course in creative rudeness.
The primary line of defence is the cold stare. Grim, arctic cold. Baffin Island cold. Eyes of death.
You may wish to refine this by slowly and carefully looking the person up and down before turning your back. If you are feeling particularly vicious, let your gaze pause fractionally in the vicinity of a man's crotch or a woman's front and smile with comiseration.
For those impervious sorts who are determined to rush to their fate, instead of finalizing plans to attach scythe blades to the stroller wheels, Just Get Mouthy.
Leg-jigglers: Can be driven off with the cheerful comment, "Artificial legs are so life-like these days, aren't they?"
Kiss-beggars of the "I must kiss him, let me kiss him, he's soo bee-u-ti-ful" varity can often be deterred by an indulgent "Baby has thrush mouth."
Candy-pushers: are really the hardest to get rid of. It is entirely a waste of time to point out that (1) your dentist will excommunicate you, (2) a six-week old baby can choke on just about anything, and anyway may not care for a beef-and-wine lozonge, or (3) the lint-encrusted candy - pulled from the depths of an ancient pocket or a large, black handbag - is dirty. Neither is it expeditious to simply take it politely with a thank you and get the hell out of there. Next time you and Baby are taking the air, that particular individual will be hovering like a waiting vulture to do it again. Simply state loudly that you're not conducting interviews for child molesters right now. They will leave you and your child alone. Oh yes.
Head-patters: The graybeard on the street corner fondling your daughter's head may be a kindly grandfather. He may also be a dirty old man or a syphilitic drunk. You can not be expected, by some secret parental radar, to automatically and immediately know which. Nor are you obliged by the briefness of the contact to either condone or ignore it.
"Don't touch - it's alive!" will generally hold them until the light changes. If not, just tell them to keep their hands to themselves. Be loud about it.
Sure, it's crude. But the safety of your child is infinitely more important than a temporary loss of dignity. Children, incidentally, have the same rights as adults do, not to be mauled by total strangers. A point many people sometimes forget. Children do not belong to some Social Collective, available, like a petting zoo, to be fondled at will.

to be continued....


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I hear what you're saying! It's especially hard with a first child, since we're hyper protective of them to begin with.

When my first was one or two months old, a mentally challenged boy got his face right in the basinet. Of course, his parents just smiled. Now the boy can't be blamed, but parents sure can.

Muse said...

How glad I am to have been an asocial child with a fierce mother.

It happens to adults, too. Each time someone appraises (silently or explicitly) my breasts or hair, I'm tempted to say, "Thanks; I grew them myself." And I am of the hugging generation, whose cohort (mostly women and sometimes men) rushes around greeting one another with hugs in declarations of exaggerated intimacy. To resist is to be branded cold.

But if I was Desmond Morris, I'd point out that social hugging, like smiling with the teeth, is a demonstration of aggression. Unconsented-to hugging is a physical invasion of another's space, a means to obtain subtle information the hugger is, perhaps, too stupid or neurotic to read in someone's eyes or body language. I conclude that many social huggers are incompetent or unwilling to handle a conversation which would more cleanly establish the degree of frienship, acquaintanceship, or enmity.

Like Bernita, I don't think people fondle and hug strangers' children (or adult acquaintances) out of affection or a desire to connect. I think they do so out of fear.

Ric said...

Are we having a bad day?

I think most parents out in public are showing off their kids. They want you to notice, to comment. I do agree touching or hugging is a bit much, but acknowledgement should not be met with a cold stare.

Is this what you were going after here?

Bernita said...

Ric, I'm not talking about simple pleasantries, which are always welcomed by parents.I thought that was obvious. I'm talking about physical assaults and rude inquiries by complete strangers. Perhaps I was less lucid than I thought.
And all expeditions of parents with children are not taken with the intent to display children as trophies. Rather peculiar,that,
Interesting adult comparisons, Muse.
Jason, I sympathize.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Oh, Bernita, that was great. Between you and the snarklings today, I have shot coffee out my nose a total of four times...but my sinuses aren't bothering me at all anymore!

Bernita said...

Bonnie - "Laughter, the best medicine."

Sela Carsen said...

I remember taking my infant daughter out in a sling one day and an elderly man (NOT a gentleman!) actually reached into the sling to touch her cheek. I know baby's cheeks are nearly impossible to resist, but hello! My boobs are RIGHT THERE! Back off, buster!

Bernita said...

Baby = public property
Mother = convenient carrier.