We took time out from shoe-hunting for little M today, to have have a bite at a local cafe. It was crowded and we didn’t get a seat all to ourselves. So Mr. R and I sat across each other sharing the table with two elderly gentlemen intent on their bhaji-puri. M sat on my lap, munching on the hot crust of a fresh batata–wada and drinking ‘joosh’.
As the meal was ending, I heard a man come up to us and pinch M’s cheek saying “What’s his name?”
“Don’t touch him", Mr. R shouted. The young man in the gaudy red t-shirt backed off. “Okay, Okay”, he said, walking away, his sunglasses still on indoors.
After he left, Mr. R told me that he (the man) had touched M’s cheek before but I hadn’t noticed, intent on the busy road outside.
Startled as I was by Mr. R’s outburst, he was right in doing what he did. There’s a fine line between encouraging your child to be social and letting strangers run their hands over your baby. In India, people don’t think twice before pinching a child’s cheek or trying to forcefully carry one in their arms for a cuddle. Bad enough if a relative is force-friending (yes, I just invented a new word there) a child, but what do you do if it is a stranger?
If it is a woman, I often let the act go without comment. You can tell that they’re just trying to be friendly. It is their way of telling you that you have a lovely child. If M is uncomfortable with the attention, I take him away, with a smile. If not, I let him be.
With a man, though, the gloves are off.
This very familiar scenario repeated itself in the bank the other day. I was standing in the queue waiting for my turn at the counter. M was standing beside me, looking around with his 20-month old curiosity. Suddenly, before I could react, a man from the next queue leaned over across the divider and stroked M’s cheek.
I flipped. “Don’t touch him!” I yelled, not caring who was around or how disproportionate it sounded to the gesture.
Why can’t people talk to a child without touching him?
Some time ago, we broke all contact with a young man who we thought was our friend. This seemingly intelligent and articulate person left a comment on M’s photo on Facebook saying “…he brings out the pedo in me”.
Perhaps he meant it as a joke (he never really clarified or said more than a token apology). But would you, as a parent, take that risk of never being sure? Would you be able to come face to face with this person always wondering what he was thinking about your child? Would you invite him into your home possibly putting your baby at risk?
In our opinion, no friendship is worth that much. The comment was beyond forgiving. In my mind, it was the equivalent of someone saying “You’re so cute. It brings out the rapist in me.” What would you do if someone said that to your child (or to you)?
Protecting our children from strangers and their intentions is a cross parents have to bear. Today’s incident taught me how important it was to be vigilant when in public places. There’s no scope for day-dreaming or people-watching when you have a child with you.
So. Here’s what you need to know. Don’t stroke, pinch or attempt to caress a child you don’t know. Don’t touch children without their parents consent. Children need to interact with adults in order to develop a healthy social framework – help them enjoy the process. For a child as young as M, try saying hello first. If the parents (and the child) don’t seem to mind, progress to the ‘shake-hand’, if you wish. It is perfectly possible to have a wonderfully entertaining ‘conversation’ with a toddler without touching him.
As a parent,I will trust my instinct and decide who looks harmless and who doesn’t. The three men I describe in this post fall into the latter category – you know who you are. Stay away from children.
If I don’t know you and you touch my child without my permission, I will not be responsible for my actions.
You have been warned.