Regular Life

Regular Life

In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on. – Robert Frost

Unhand Him, You Fiend

The guy just grabbed Ben, without asking him or me.

I sat in the waiting room, catching snippets of the program, “Mega Machines” on the Discovery Channel and perusing a junkmail catalog Ben brought me from the magazine table. Ben stood near the chair to my left and played with magazines, thrilled with each card that fell like a gift from between the slick pages. They invited him to subscribe to titles ranging from Golf Digest to Self. He just called them “mail.”

A doctor somewhere behind the heavy spring-arm door undoubtedly had removed Shannon’s protective lenses to find out how her eyes looked the morning after her Lasik surgery. The full write-up on her surgical adventure is coming soon.

A gentlemen of about 40, wearing the same protective goggles Shannon had, sat in the chair beside Ben’s. I’ll call him Teddy. He reached out his hand in the “gimme five” position. Ben looked at me, then back at the man, and slapped Teddy some skin.

This must sound very strange to someone whose culture does not include this custom. One thing almost every man in the United States will do when interacting with a young child, even if he is horrible with children, is ask that child to give him five. It involves holding the hand out, palm up, in expectation of the other person slapping it with an open hand. If you are a parent in the US and your child does not know how to do this, then please teach him or her immediately. If nothing else, it gives all men, regardless of their comfort level with children, a way to interact. Usually it makes the child smile, too.

Whether he got it from his native India (by my guess) or picked it up later, Teddy seemed fascinated with this custom. He asked Ben to hold out his hand for him to give five back. Ben has never done that, but I tried to show him how to accept the slap. He didn’t get the hang of it, so Teddy shifted gears.

He should have shifted to Reverse.

Teddy reached down, picked up Ben, and set him on his left thigh. He never looked at me as if to ask permission. I hid my incredulity and watched carefully. I thought maybe it was a cultural difference I need to bear out. Ben looked unsure of this new arrangement, so I came up with something to try to comfort him without making him think it was okay for strangers to pick him up.

“It’s okay, Ben. I’m here with you, so it’s okay.”

I cast my eyes about the room to see if anybody else had noticed. I was trying to get some kind of reading on this one, because it was my first time. They all had their faces buried in magazines or locked onto the TV. You can count on Americans for that. If nothing else, we mind our own business.

Put my kid down now, dumbass.

Teddy looked at the TV and then back at Ben to see if he was watching. A large bulldozer on screen pushed a massive load of dirt over a cliff.

Ben just stared at Teddy, still not sure this was a good thing.

A nurse called out a name with at least one “j” in the later syllables.

Teddy said, “That’s me,” and lifted Ben down from his lap less than a minute after he had snatched him.

I don’t know which bothers me more, that Teddy picked up Ben without asking, or that I didn’t immediately tell him to put him back where he found him. I was proud of Ben for remaining wary, and hoped that had I not been there, he would have kicked and screamed with everything he had. I don’t think he’s quite at that level of awareness yet.

Mulling it over in my mind now, I’ve decided I was too easy on Teddy. I also came up with a message: don’t grab a stranger’s kid before you ask, unless said kid is about to get hit by a piano or meet some similar fate.

Thanks To Everyone Who Commented

I appreciate everybody who expressed their thoughts in my post about getting fired.

8 Responses to Unhand Him, You Fiend

  1. Yeah, not cool. Don’t be grabbing the progeny without written consent.

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  2. Mark,

    This is an interesting point you’ve hit on. In many (most?) non-anglo cultures the event you describe is PERFECTLY NORMAL. Many brazilians I know who have spent any time in the US can recall at least one incident in which they discovered (the hard way) that we Americans are, in general, really uptight about strangers picking up our kids.

    It’s something I still haven’t got completely used to … although even down here it is not that common for a MAN to pick up a stranger’s child… and it doesn’t usually seem to bother me as much when it is a woman that picks up my kid. (I wonder if you would have had the same feelings had “Teddy” been a woman?)

    I’m not saying the “furriners” are right and we are wrong … but it really is just a cultural thing. I don’t think you should have been harder on the guy, but you could have maybe subtly, respectfully requested the return of your offspring. Some day, this Teddy will end up picking up a kid of some less self-contained Mommy-bear, and he’s going to learn about this aspect of American culture the hard way. I probably would have done just what you did though.

    I will say this, however: if some guy with a beer picks up your kid and tries to carry him across a suspended catwalk in the rain … call the police!!

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  3. Jim – I suspected as much. Thanks for the perspective. If there’s one thing big cities everywhere have, it’s “furriners” with a wide variety of social mores. I would expect that those cultures that permit child-holding also accept a certain level of responsibility for making sure that child does not misbehave or get into trouble in some other way.

    Your catwalk story will (or should) live in infamy. I would like that here, but I can’t find a search feature on your Blogger blog. Sorry. Go ahead and plug it, if you want. Folks should read it. Hilarious.

    Simon – I still lean your way. He’s the best thing (my wife and) I have ever done/been around/held in our arms. When you’re trying so hard not to screw something up, you get a little stressed sometimes.

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  4. I’m probably a “…less self-contained Mommy-bear,” however, in this day and age, you can never be to cautious when a stranger picks up your child, cultural difference or not. With that said, I probably would have done the same thing as you, Mark. Just given the location and circumstances, the chances of this guy being harmful were slim. In situations like these, my personal feeling is that you should listen more to your gut instinct than your inner pc voice.

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  5. Very interesting post and replies. 20 years ago I would have been wary, but not freaked out had a stranger picked up my child. These days however I’d be a bit leary. However, I am very trusting generally with people when I am in their presence. I am the opposite when I cannot see them or their actions.

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  6. Yeah, I’d have probably said to Ben “Ben, lets get down off the man and not bother him”… and if the man protested, I would have mentioned that we’ve taught Ben not to be so open with people, for his own safety.

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  7. Allen and I ran/walked a couple blocks tonight. We ran into (not literally) 3 different groups of people out walking, doing yardwork, playing, etc. Allen wanted to talk to all of them, so we did. The kid has not met a stranger. On the one hand, I’m proud of him for being so outgoing, on the other hand it can be kind of scarry.

    So in other words, Allen would have probably buddied up with this guy. :)

    Don’t wear yourself out over it.

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  8. And that last comment is from me, not Susan. I didn’t pay attention to the auto-fill.

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