When you are a parent you try to teach your kid basic fundamentals for safety. Hold the handrail on the stairs, don’t touch the stove, no running near the pool, don’t put things up your nose or in your vagina (you never imagine you will ever have to say those words, but you will), don’t talk to strangers, and tell mommy or daddy or a teacher if a grown up touches you in a way that makes you uncomfortable.
So how do well-meaning grown-ups undo all that work? Well, let me start with The Weird Waitress. Bambina and I went out for lunch to her favorite restaurant (the one with the talking moosehead). Along comes a friendly (although I would say “overly familiar”) waitress who not only says hello and engages Bambina in a conversation independent of me, but then sits next to her in the booth and proceeds to stay and chat for 5 minutes. I was out of my seat, I tell you. Like, what adult thinks its okay to walk over and sit themselves down next to someone’s child they don’t know? Bambina was giving her the hairy eyeball and I was glad. I WANT my kid to find that uncomfortable. So I stood up and got in her space and she finally moved along, but I was dumbfounded by the level of familiarity shown by a total stranger. So I just said it: “that was weird, huh?” And Bambina said, “yes!” So we talked about how that was not normal behavior and not okay for that lady to have just sat down near her without asking mama, blah blah. So at least I acknowledged and affirmed Bambina’s sense of self in that scenario, which is my goal. I want Bambina to trust her instincts, that little voice inside her telling her something doesn’t feel right. I want her to trust that voice. But how unfortunate that we even had to have the conversation.
Same with kisses and hugs, which we’ve talked about before. But it bears repeating. I don’t know many adults who would randomly kiss and hug someone they’ve just met, even if I assured them that the person in question was a really good friend of mine. "Mom, Dad, this is Sal my plumber. Come here and give him a hug and a kiss." It would just feel wrong, wouldn’t it? So--why do we do that to kids? Why do we want them to kiss and hug people who mean something to us but nothing to them, rather than recognize that we are asking the child to circumvent their little voice, their instinct to not want to kiss or hug someone they do not know? I have terrible memories of kissing people I couldn't bear when I was a kid. Smelly people, people with hairy faces, and people who just plain weirded me out (I'm talking about you, JN!). I had to kiss them all because some grown up told me to, as if putting my lips on a stranger's (or worse, a person I knew but who made me feel icky's) face was somehow the definition of "polite." It's just not right, in my opinion, to make your kid do something that you yourself would not do on a bet.
We recently had friends over and the woman did the High Five with Bambina. That is the way to go as far as I’m concerned. Because it gets the kid to meet someone you think is special, to interact with them, but without mandating intimate physical contact with a person who is, to the child, a stranger. Bambina will high-five anyone, as will most kids. But give a hug? Don't hold your breath. She loves getting hugs and kisses, and when she's in the mood she loves giving them--to people she loves. But anyone else is S out of luck. And honestly, that's just fine with me. I like that my kid is standoffish about unfamiliar people. I like that she balks at any command to display affection. I like that she is the kid least likely to wander off with someone who offers her candy.
And I especially like that we now tell and re-tell The Story of The Weird Waitress to anyone who will listen.