• Are Babies Public Commodities? Embracing the Stranger's Embrace

    Since Bubs was born right at the start of RSV season last year, I fully planned to cash in on my ticket to having a great excuse to avoid all people for a good, oh, 6-months or so. I knew we couldn't just stay inside our house until spring, though, nor did I want to. So, for our daily walks I'd planned to make sure he was completely bundled and completely shielded from the devastating germs that were surely spewing from every passerby. I couldn't believe the radical statement issued by our pediatrician when he examined our tiny little 6 lb 11 oz son at his 5-day-old appointment and said, "You can take him out anywhere with you now. Grocery shopping, the mall.  He'll be fine."

    "Well," I thought, "He'll be fine because I'm not taking him to any of those places."

    I'll never forget that very first attempted walk with our days-old babe around our favorite neighborhood lake trail (I say "attempted" because we didn't get very far, what with healing from major abdominal surgery and all). It was mid-day so hardly anyone was out - just as I preferred it.  But the very first passerby we came across going in the opposite direction, a kind-looking and spry elderly gentleman, stopped us. It all happened in a flash, so I don't remember the exact details, but I could have sworn he actually put his hand on our stroller handlebar and stuck his head right in under the shade to look at our little baby. I'm sure Zak will say it wasn't quite that extreme if he were telling the story, but he was surprised just as I was to see a stranger stick his head all up in our baby's p-biz. He said something like, "Oh you've got a cute one there!" and then he was off just as quickly as that.

    In all of my life, no one had ever actually stopped to say something to me out on the trails. Yes, I received the occasional cordial, "Hi," over the shoulder, of course. But I think I always look fearsome enough when I'm out walking or running and in the zone, off in my own thoughts, so that no one is compelled to say anything more than that to me. For someone to actually stop us and stick their head in our stroller, well, I wondered what kind of parallel universe I just entered. Parallel universe, indeed, I would learn. Before you enter the ranks of new parenthood, you just can't imagine all the ways your interactions with other human beings will change. But it started for us with this man.

    The next day, a similar thing happened. But the wonderful Asian grandmother-aged lady was unfortunately frustrated in her attempts to peek in and look at the babe because I was ready with the sunshade buttoned up like Fort Knox. I remember she looked up at me, visibly disappointed, and almost as if to say, "How dare you take your baby out for a walk and not let me see him."

    At church when Bubs was 6 weeks old, I remember a fellow church member very considerately asked if she could touch Bubs before she did it (thank you!) and I said, "You can touch his feet." She accepted that concession on my part, but then she quickly said, "Well, I can't wait to touch his face."

    For babies who have compromised immune systems, this is the exact protocol you, as a new parent, need to follow in order to keep your little one out of harm's way.  When Bub was born, though, his only problem was having a ridiculously over-cautious mom.

    I think it probably did end up being somewhere around springtime, when Bubster was 6-months-old, that I finally realized the weird first encounter of a guy sticking his head in our baby's stroller had become more of the norm rather than the exception for a public appearance involving our little guy.  People were always touching Bub's arms, trying to tickle him for a smile, and cooing at him. Several other moms of different cultures stopped me on the trails and in stores, and in their beautiful broken English they would ask how old he was and if he was sleeping through the night yet, and then share their own progress with their little ones. And even those who didn't speak a word of English would stop and say something which I imagine was completely lovely and heartfelt, and then go along their way. This is where my paradigm completely changed about these stranger encounters.  They weren't weird.  They were a complete godsend.

    How beautiful it is that babies elicit an uninhibited positive response from people that transcends age, culture, etc.?  My little guy just happens to have the most stoic and curious demeanor, so he never gets frightened.  He usually treats these encounters with a good level of quiet inquisitiveness to see what's going to happen next. But often times, he can't help but smile as strangers try their hardest to put on silly faces and voices just for his amusement. Bubs is learning that the world is a good place filled with people who have good intentions, and I love that. I am happy for the reminder, myself.  Yes, we live in a world that is full of horrific stories of kidnappings, pedophilia, etc. and the time is coming soon that I'll be teaching my little guy about strangers. If I let myself dwell on those thoughts of what strangers are capable of, though, I would easily turn into an agoraphobe. So instead, I have to embrace the thought that most people who approach us right now are truly well-wishers. Don't worry; my mom radar is always on in the background.

    Honestly, I'll be truly sad one day when Bubs is in school and I go out to do the shopping or walk along the trails by myself again. I'll just go back to regular old me - nothing compelling enough to make a stranger stop.  So, for now, I'll just embrace the fact that a quick trip to the store might take a little bit longer than anticipated because a stranger is waiting to say hello.

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