What is this? Leave your boundaries at home day?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010
We were at the post office yesterday and I couldn't believe our luck. We walked up to the counter. We never walk up to the counter. We usually stand in line for anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes, but not today! Today, we walked right up. I sat B up on the counter and handed over my parcel. The postal employee behind the counter proceeded to take B's shoe off and rub. her. foot. I shit you not. Who does that?!?

Then we went to Costco (I know, we lead a glamorous life.) I had to return something so by the time we finally get up to the counter, E has been tugging on my hand and making me crazy for a good five minutes. I smile at him and calmly inform him that if he wants to hold my hand, he's going to have to stop tugging on it. He tugs again. So I not-as-calmly inform him that we are no longer going to hold hands. And then a voice behind us says, "Here, I'll hold hands with you."

I turn around and the woman standing in line behind us has her arm outstretched and E slowly reaches for it. She is about 5'10" tall and a solid 200 pounds.
"Um, hey bud, you need to come stand by me." She twirls E around.
The woman behind the counter is demanding my attention but I can't do it. I can't not know where E is. And I certainly can't let this woman keep holding his hand.
"Sweetheart. I need you to come stand by me." The space between us is making me more and more uncomfortable. Costco, like the DMV, rigidly controls the distance between the next person in line and the actual counter. And so he's not within arm's reach of me. He's all the way over there.
"Sweetheart. I need you to come stand by me." I'm exuding calm. At least I'm forcing myself to. She seems like a perfectly nice woman.
"What's your name?" she asks him.
When he responds, she asks him how to spell it.
I almost laugh out loud at what a ridiculous request that is. He's two-and-a-half. He can't spell his name. But I digress. At this point I look at the lady behind the counter and smile a tight smile. I take the three steps toward my son and grab his free hand. "Sweetheart. YOU NEED TO COME STAND BY ME."
"He's very trusting," she says. "Don't do that with a man. Don't trust a man like that," she tells E.

I throw my receipt, my membership card and my refund in my purse and grab E. We get out of line and cross into the other side of the store. I usually allow him to ride on the front of the shopping cart but I put him up in the seat instead. "Why can't I ride on the front?" he asks. "Because I love you, sweetheart. Because I love you."

In relaying the story to D later that afternoon, I realized just how shook up I had gotten. Again, she seemed like a perfectly nice woman but she was crossing a my line. Her behavior was making me uncomfortable. It seemed like one of those pivotal moments...where everyone watching me crying on the six o'clock news would tsk tsk and think that I should have known better. That I should have seen it coming. What kind of mother lets some stranger hold her son's hand twenty feet from the front door of a busy store?

Am I over-reacting? I honestly don't know. Something about her, maybe her insistence on interacting with E even though I was asking him to come stand by me, or maybe the fact that she was the second person that day that seemed not to have any respect for personal boundaries, was making me prickle. Maybe I was just punchy from being a sleep camel. I don't know. But if it ever happens again, I'm ready. I will lean over, grab my child's hand with complete disregard for the person behind the counter as well as the people standing in line, and look the stranger in the face. "Thank you for being so kind to my son, but I'd rather he stand next to me." And that will be that.

7 comments to What is this? Leave your boundaries at home day?:

Stephanie Leach said...

The shoe thing: weird, but at least she's not trying to steal your baby. The holding E's hand thing, also weird. If she had any sense of decency, she would have told E to go stand by you when you said it the first time.

Anonymous said...

I get the flip side of the coin. These ancient grandfathers, fresh from a victorious marble match, prod and poke G or ask them something about Korea. Get a cat and leave my kid alone!

nej said...

@Stephanie - I agree. While I found the postal worker's behavior a bit awkward, it was totally harmless and we've known her for the three years we've been going to that office. As for the woman at Costco, her behavior put me on the defensive and I definitely had that "don't you dare steal my child" feeling in my gut.

@Chris - Funny, because after rubbing B's foot, the postal worker then went on to tell me how much her cats love having their feet rubbed. I wish crazy cat ladies didn't give cats such a bad name.

Jac said...

People are unbelievable someimes. I actually had a similar thing happen with DS and a lady a bus stop. The bench had no more room to sit on it, and a lady on the bench told my son that he could come sit on her lap(!). Son (who, lord help me, is friendly to the extreme and would happily sit on the Terminator's lap) made a move to climb up. I said, "thank you for the offer, but we're teaching him not to go to strangers", and grabbed his hand.

Geeks in Rome said...

Italians touch everybody so there is no hope here. But I would be totally freaked by her saying that same thing over and over again. what is that!!?? maybe she had changed her meds?

caramama said...

Just reading about that woman got me all slightly panicked! I definitely think this is one of those times when you simply listen to your gut. I've not read Protecting the Gift, but I hear the gist of it is to listen to your gut, even if it means you possibly offend some strangers. I say it's way better to err on the side of over-reacting than be on the 6:00 news.

You and @Jac have very good lines. I'm going to have to remember them.

z said...

I followed you over from caramama's blog and in reading this one of the things that Gavin Debecker says in Protecting the gift is how predators try to separate the parent and child either by gaining the parents' confidence or by gaining the child's confidence. I agree that this was really strange behavior on the part of the woman.

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