A few weeks ago, I was out at the playground with my two kids. They were playing together, while I sat on a bench and stared off into space (a favorite pastime of mine). A little boy, who may have been about two, came over to me and started babbling. He put his hands on my knees and acted very familiar with me. I started feeling really uncomfortable and also like the parent would not be happy seeing me so close to their kid.
My two sons saw my distress and came over, and I asked them to play with him. They tried, but he would not leave me. I asked him where his parents were, and started to look around. About ten minutes later, a man came over and stopped when he saw me.
“Is he yours?” I asked.
“Yes.” He tried to take the kid’s hand, but the boy slapped him away. “Sorry, you look like his mother, who died last month.”
I was too stunned to say anything, and the man walked away, leaving me with his son. He had given me no guidance as to how to act, and generally parents frown on a stranger even touching their kid. My kids eventually got him to play, but he kept coming over to talk to me (I couldn’t understand anything) and trying to pat my hair. I let my hand rest on his shoulder, but the dad wouldn’t meet my eye, so I don’t know if he approved or not. I also let my kids play in the park for roughly two hours, because I didn’t want this kid to see me leave. I also hope that seeing me did not scar the kid somehow further.
If you can stand it, here is another emotional incident! Last week I was at the grocery store getting some things for my son’s seventh birthday party (how did that happen?). I was in the aisle that has decorative plates and whatnot, and a woman in her 70s was also there. She held up a black plate with a picture of a purple birthday cake on it, and asked me if I thought it was “too girly” for her son, who was turning 31.
Now, I’m not the type to start talking with an older woman about gender norms, especially when she was just trying to be sensitive to her son and do a nice thing, so just I told her I thought it was fine. We started talking about candle choices, and I convinced her to get the same ones I got for my son, which were sparkler candles (Note: They weren’t as spectacular as the packaging would lead you to believe, but still pretty cool.)
We talked about our respective “kids” for a few minutes, and she gave another glance toward the paper products and asked, “Do you really think it’s okay?” I told her that if my mother had been alive to celebrate my 31st birthday with me, not to mention being thoughtful enough to contemplate whether the decorations would please me or not, I would have been so grateful. We hugged and then I went to sit in my car and cry for a good ten minutes. And then I pulled myself together and continued being a mom.