Now that Baby Tom is toddling around like a tiny drunk at a wedding, his world has dramatically opened up (interestingly, it’s directly proportionately to how mine is narrowing…). I used to have to lift him from swing to slide in the playground, but now, the park is his oyster, (was never sure Shakespeare got that metaphor right – once you’ve found the pearl, who wants the oyster?).
This new sense of adventure and freedom obviously brings with it a whole new set of politics. The one which recently reared its head is if it’s ok to touch someone else’s child. I’d never considered this to be an issue before until a woman kindly picked Tom up and moved him out of the oncoming trajectory of her child in a swing. I hadn’t got to him fast enough and was appreciative that the tooth fairy wouldn’t be coming early to our house to collect all 6 of his teeth.
But when I opened my mouth to thank her, she got in first with an apology: “I’m so sorry for picking him up, but I was afraid he would be hit”. She was genuinely remorseful, as if she had drop-kicked him into the next field. I was confused. And then I wondered if I had already made a name for myself as the local playground creep, as I have been picking up, moving or adjusting strangers’ children in the park for as long as I’ve been going there (which is only since having a baby….I’m not that creepy). There was the little boy who was standing on a swing, slipped and caught his leg, so I grabbed him and put him back in the right way. There was a girl who fell over so I picked her up, and countless little ones I’ve helped up ladders, or moved out of the way of slides just as a bigger kid had pushed off from the top. There was the little shit who began spinning a roundabout so fast that two smaller kids were terrified and about to be thrown into orbit so I took his hand and gently (ish) moved him away.
Only once did a mother snap at me and say “thank you” in a way that implied she wasn’t thankful at all.
Am I one away from getting my name on a list somewhere? Have I been unwittingly breaking some unwritten rule of motherhood that wasn’t passed on to me? I get the inherently inappropriateness of touching babies in prams – it’s akin to touching the bump – and there were many times I winced when some well-meaning stranger in a bus queue or lift would move their filthy, germ-ridden finger*s towards Tom’s perfect face and flick his chin or rub his cheek. They meant well, but I didn’t want them touching my beautiful new baby. But surely once they’re a bit older and running around, then a well-intentioned manoeuvring out of harms way is ok?
I wish I’d never found out that it’s an issue, as now I will check myself and second guess every time I see a child slip or need help.
Or maybe I’ll just carry on until someone sues me.
*probably perfectly clean fingers.