It is not unusual if we get stopped by strangers when we are out in public with our kids. I’m really not trying to toot my own reproductive horn here. But, whether they feel the need to comment on their great hair, grinning faces, or mostly, their piercing, matching, blue eyes, strangers feel welcome to approach my children.
Normally I don’t mind. At first I used to put myself in between my daughter and strangers (especially during flu season). Now, I’m so preoccupied with just getting things accomplished with two toddlers in tow, I’m less concerned and just take it as a compliment.
The most common place this tends to happen is the grocery store. Maybe it is because we start to see the same people walking up and down the aisles. Or maybe it is because my kids are the loudest and most talkative kids in the store. Whatever the reason may be, strangers approach them as if they are old friends. We say our ‘thank yous’ and other pleasantries related to the compliments given and then we move on. My daughter clams up a bit and my son usually gives a sheepish grin, as if on cue.
So why am I boasting about how much attention my kids receive in public? Well recently, the attention was clearly unwanted. We were leaving the check-out line of the grocery store when an elderly woman approached us. I should probably clarify approached as cornered. We were stuck between another check-out lane and her (I was not about to run over an elderly woman with a shopping cart).
My daughter was standing on the end of the cart (which was full groceries) and my son was up in the child seat. As I was slightly distracted tucking the receipt into one of the bags, she approached the cart, touching each of their shoulders saying, “you are beautiful” to Maddie, and “you are handsome” to Jack.
I thanked her, smiled, then watched (which felt in slow motion) as she leaned closer to Maddie at tapped her own cheek. My eyes widened at Maddie as I realized this woman wanted Maddie to kiss her cheek. I was at a loss for words. Everything in me did not want to offend this sweet, older woman but at the same time I could tell my sweet daughter was clearly uncomfortable. Maddie, being like me, gently but quickly kissed the woman on the cheek then looked at me for approval. I grinned at her, knowing that was hard.
The woman then began to approach Jack to request the same. Jack, being only 18 months old and having no understanding of social pleasantries, leaned closer to me and said “no, mama, no!” She said something about that being a typical boy and I just told her he isn’t really that fond of strangers. We said our goodbyes and walked quickly to the car.
Even though both my daughter and son were perfectly fine after this interaction, I could not shake it. I should have done something. I should have told the lady that was a ridiculous request. I should have told Maddie she could say no. I should have made her feel safer. Then I realized, I was making this into more than it was; it was an odd situation but it didn’t have it to happen again.
As we drove home in the car, I decided to use it as a learning situation.
“Maddie, that was kind of funny how that woman asked you to kiss her on the cheek wasn’t it?”
“Yeah, it was. Really silly.”
“Honey, I just want you to know that you were a very nice girl for giving her a kiss on the cheek. But, you absolutely never have to do that again if someone asks you to do something like that? Okay? You can just say ‘No, thank you.'”
“Okay, momma, I will.”
Simple as that. Conversation over. Later that day, we were stopped again by another stranger. That stranger commented on their eyes and I said my thank yous. The compliment sat differently with me. I will still be appreciative but realize that it’s not just me getting unwanted attention toward my kids; my kids really dislike the attention as well. I guess I am okay with their disdain for strangers – stranger danger keeps them a little safer.
Thankfully, Maddie did not seem affected from our interaction earlier that day. This distracted toddler mom, however, is way more aware of her surroundings.