Friday, March 27, 2015

I Let a Stranger Hold My Baby

I realize it's been ages since my last post, and we've got a lot of catching up to do. Here's what you need to know for the purposes of this post:

I have a baby now - let's call her A.

She's four months old, and freaking adorable.

On to my story: I was visiting my grandmother at the rehabilitation center where she's recovering from a bunch of not very fun stuff, and naturally I had the baby with me. We were hanging around outside, waiting for the nurses to finish a procedure, and A was busy making friends with with the other visitors. 9 times out of 10, she would receive coos and happy exclaimations from passerbyes, with some people even reaching to hold a tiny argyle-socked foot. Although there was a little voice in my head freaking out over the idea of everyone else being covered in germs and getting her sick, there was a much louder voice reminding me that not only has she had her shots, but that the antibodies I give her through breastmilk and her being exposed to the world while she still has that additional protection is pretty much the best thing I can do for her health right now.

Another visitor, a woman, came over to smile at A. She then made eye contact with me, still smiling, and grasped A with the intent to pick up the baby. I had a choice: let her hold A, or tighten my grip and refuse. And I'm no saint -- my first thought was "AHHH NO WAY!!" But I took a breath and recognized that she didn't mean any harm. I let go, and let her hold the baby. And because I didn't immediately respond by telling her to back the hell off, I got to witness the most gorgeous exchange:

A, smiling in the hands of this new person, as the woman made funny faces and noises to make that smile beam even brighter. She then kissed A on both cheeks, and handed her back to me.

I admit I was on edge the entire time, and I inwardly grimaced at those kisses, crossing my fingers that she wasn't sick. And that was kind of uncomfortable for me. BUT. The joy this woman took in greeting A and the smile on my child's face -- that was priceless.

As you probably suspect, A turned out fine after this encounter -- no sickness, just richer for having been welcomed into this world by another friendly face. And I wouldn't have made the same choice if I had felt like the woman didn't have good intentions -- but it did still require that split-second decision to trust. Which got me thinking: recently, I've seen a number of assertions from individuals swearing they would never allow a stranger to hold their baby. Similarly, there's been a spate of stories about police being called on parents for having allowed their child to play at a park or walk home without an adult. Obviously, there's an appropriate age for leaving childen unsupervised, and my daughter is nowhere near that age. But to think that we've reached a point of protecting our children where we can neither allow them the freedom to explore on their own (in a controlled risk situation), nor trust other people to have good intentions toward our children even with us there -- that seems a sad state of affairs. Tracy Cutchlow, writing for The Washington Post, lamented the loss of caring for children as a community, and called for the reestablishment of "block mother" behavior, where adults help care for and keep an eye on the neighborhood's kids, not call the police when they see an unaccompanied minor. But such behavior requires a sense of empowerment on the part of the adults - that they are allowed to act in a caring capacity toward a stranger's child. And I wonder if the initial refusal of many parents to allow interactions between well-meaning strangers and their baby isn't contributing to the hands-off, "call 911" approach.

For me, allowing a stranger to hold my child proved an example of the good that can happen when we don't asuume the world is out to get us -- and I'm glad I did.