Paranoia or Protectiveness? You Decide by Heather Bowles
Everyone knows how to compliment a baby. Boys are handsome and strong, girls are pretty and sweet. All babies are “good” babies when they’re quiet, even for five minutes, and all these stock phrasings are designed to uplift the mom, whether she’s talking with friends, family, or a total stranger in public. I take the compliments in stride.
I know what my daughter is and is not, so when someone calls her good, sweet, beautiful, an angel, etc., I say thank you and smile. It’s not that I don’t believe what they say. She certainly is all those things and more to me. However, I do not expect that she is anything special to anyone else. She’s simply a baby.
Every once in a while, though? The creep factor goes up when someone looks at her and says those things. I cannot predict when it will happen, but every so often a stranger will stop me in public and say, “What a beautiful girl! How old is she?” and something in their eyes, the covetousness, the fact that they can’t keep their hands to themselves, it makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, and I want to cover her little face with a light blanket and run from the store as fast as I can carry her. Even friends can trip that trigger without meaning any harm. I have one friend that has a particularly quirky sense of humor. He told me a few weeks ago that she would fetch a good price on the black market. He meant only to say how lovely she was, but it still bothers me, not because I think he would do us harm, but because it highlighted my worst fears, made them a possibility somewhere outside my own mind, and gave them validation.
This week there was an incident unlike any in previous memory. My husband, my daughter, and I were in a long line at a state office building downtown, when a man with six children came up behind us, and the kids mobbed her. That description may seem a bit extreme. After all, none of these children appeared over the age of nine years. Yet there was this lump in my throat as her father hovered over her carrier and these gangly children danced around her ooohing and aahing. I just knew one of them was going to fall on her.
In the meantime, the brood’s father figure, who instantly appeared to be more like the creepy uncle type than anyone’s dad, engaged me in a conversation about his aunt or uncle? Maybe it was a distant cousin. Either way, the details are unimportant. It was a whopper of a story, involving someone reaching the ripe old age of 135, and at that point, I was just praying that the computers in the building would all shut down at once, so they would tell us we all had to come back at a later date. Somehow, I managed to maintain eye contact with him the whole time, but the only reason I tolerated his stare was because it meant he wasn’t looking at my little girl that way.
I have never feared strangers. Most mean no harm, but I keep thinking that it would only take one moment, one lapse in vigilance, and it could all fall apart. I don’t think I could take it.