The unknown woman reached her hands out in front of her and spread them apart as if getting ready to hug someone. Then she beckoned the baby over by curling and and straightening her fingers and crooning "C'mon baby" over and over again. I held the baby, wondering what was going on.
This was the scene in a Starbucks in south Vancouver. It is one of many situations I have gone through with my baby which have left me wondering about human behaviour, especially where kids are concerned.
This took place in the middle of the annual Vaisakhi festival, a festival for the Sikh religion. My wife and I had been walking for quite a while with the baby, sampling curries and watching the colourful parade of sari-clad women and turbaned men that thronged the streets. We needed a rest so we ducked into one of the ever-present Starbucks coffee houses in Vancouver. Our 7-month-old baby, Eric, was cranky so we took him out of the stroller. After a little milk, he brightened up quite a bit. He started laughing and looking about.
It was at this point, that this woman started gesturing towards him. I, thankfully, was holding the baby directly in line of sight between the woman and me, so I was able to ignore her.
I think this was the right thing to do. I questioned the manners and even the level-headedness of the woman. Did she really think I would give my baby son to a complete stranger to hold? Or was she just caught up in the spirit of the festival? Was I being an uptight square?
Another incident occurred on my way home from the festival on the bus. My son was sleeping in a carrier bag (a Snugli... which is now like a part of my body) which was attached to the front of my chest. His face was towards me and, since he was asleep, he was slumped a little to my left side with his forehead resting on my left bicep. I was sitting in the courtesy seats (seats for the aged, and otherwise physically challenged) and I was facing a row of similar seats on the other side. There, sat a silver haired woman wearing dark, conservative clothes. On her hand were shiny rings decked with impressive jewels.
I noticed she had been looking at me intermittently. Generally you should ignore this type of behaviour on public transit, so I did. Then, in my peripheral vision, I saw a flickering. I looked up slowly and the jeweled right hand was making a frantic lifting motion while her left index finger pointed toward her nose. I gathered that she was worried about whether my baby was getting enough air. I knew he was, because the sensation of his breathing is always with you when you carry him next to your body. I just looked at her for a while and, when I felt she was a little more focused, I smiled and gave her the 'thumbs-up' sign. It took about two minutes to get to that point.
Finally, I was browsing in a large, local sports and hiking store on a Friday evening. It was full of people because there was a spring sale. The sun was setting and I was tired from the work week and from carrying around 8 kilos extra in the Snugli. I was daydreaming of the great outdoors, while looking at some camping equipment, when I suddenly saw a hand come in from the right and grab Eric's soother. I was stunned while I watched this complete stranger, a 20-something woman dressed in black, replace the sucking toy in my son's mouth. As soon as I gathered my wits about me I said, rather sternly, "That's enough, thank you." And I glared at her as my blood turned to ice. She walked away wordlessly. I felt like confronting her in the store and asking her what the hell she thought she was doing. Eric and I were both quietly going about our business. Eric was not even complaining that his soother had fallen out. But in the end, what does that matter? I don't know anyone who goes around shopping areas taking care of random strangers' kids.
I managed to calm down and just tried to be happy that nothing worse had happened. For a few minutes, I wondered again if I had been over-reacting. Perhaps I am overly paranoid by all the media horror-stories we are fed daily. Maybe I am overprotective. Maybe I strike people as an irresponsible parent for some reason. Perhaps it is sexism. As a man I am being patronised, or should I say "matronised" by over zealous maternal types. For now, I think I am going to stand my ground. Kids are parents' responsibility. I appreciate all the help I can get. But there are limits.