Babies and toddlers are social magnets. Compliments zing through the air to make their way to you. Strangers swoon in your direction. Silly commentary slides along the sidewalk and lands at your feet. It warms my heart to see people react in an open and friendly way to Stella and all children for that matter. That’s the way it should be. Children, especially little ones, are still deciding just what this world is all about and gauging their place in it. A warm reception to this planet is what they need and deserve.
But that magnet sure is powerful. I’ve noticed that once in a long while, a baby’s magnetic magic can draw out the ugliness in some not-so-well-adjusted folks, the ones who perhaps were not warmly received here on earth themselves. So, not all of our run-ins with people on the street have been positive. Maybe it’s because we live in an urban area, where there are many people living very close together yet somehow with much distance separating them.
I’m still processing what happened, but while strolling Ballard this morning, we had a disturbing run-in with two men. I really don’t want to ever repeat what they said, which apparently seemed to them to be a harmless, hilarious joke. It was too disturbing. Beyond inappropriate. Pretty much unfathomable to me or any parent.
Here’s what I’ll say about the interaction. They said something friendly to Stella. They seemed happy to see her. I said hello on behalf of Stella and myself, Stella stumbled, they reacted in a jovial manner, and I smiled and moved Stella along. They laughed a little too hard as we walked away.
Then, a block or two later, I processed their jovial response. And I got the joke. And it was not okay, not remotely okay. And I’d smiled at them as we parted. Did they think I was in on the joke? Oh god, no. No, no, no. I turned around. They were nowhere in sight. I made a quick, admittedly unfair judgement based on the way they were dressed that (at that non-commuting hour) they may have been headed for the bus stop. Two or three blocks later, I found them there. I confronted them. I confronted them because it was not right in any way. Because that kind of bullshit toward children can not be tolerated, and because I desperately, desperately needed to defend Stella (and me).
I don’t know that I’ve ever felt as confident heading into any other confrontation in my life. I was so calm, so lucid, so certain of what I needed to do. With Stella in my arms, I approached them and said, “Excuse me. Did you make an inappropriate joke about my daughter?” There was a brief but possibly telling pause. Or maybe they were in shock. They denied everything, and explained what they’d said. They made very sad expressions. I looked them both dead in the eye, I told them I’d heard the joke and heard their laughter. Again they tried to explain it. I took in their solemn faces and their responses. I so, so wanted to believe them, but upon reflection, my gut did not. There was nothing more I could do, and it didn’t really matter. I’d done what I had to do. I told them, “Okay, I hope not. I’m a protective mom and I needed to stand up for my daughter.” The more vocal of the two said, “That’s good.” We turned and left them there, waiting for their bus.
This had not been on my agenda, but I proceeded to walk into the boutique behind the bus stop, where I bought a pair of ass-kicking Frye boots for me, and some rain boots for Stella. Somehow, it seemed entirely appropriate.