Thursday, March 22, 2012

On Trusting in Strangers

The basic logistics of child-rearing have always been something of a problem for me. To say the least, this problem has not been helped by adding a new baby to my family every other year.

Still, maneuvering through life with three children under the age of four has proven to have an unexpected upside in that it has forced me to depend, like Blanche DuBois before me, on the kindness of strangers.

We live in an age where parents are programmed to be paranoid about the people their children encounter. The ceaseless drum of terrifying news stories about child predators naturally make parents start to feel that there are threats to their kids around every corner and thus we need to fear all people, everywhere, all the time.

When you have only one child it is not too difficult to live in a bubble of control and supervise your child as intensively as your heart desires. With a second closely-spaced sibling, however, this ability takes a couple of hits. I had two wildly mobile boys under the age of three and it was not at all uncommon for me to yell to complete strangers,

"Will you grab that little blonde boy? He's trying to make a break for it!"

And you know what the strangers did? They grabbed my kids and then they brought them back to me. People at the zoo, in malls, and at the park have all helped me to corral my multi-directional offspring, bending down sweetly and telling them,

"Woah, buddy! Let's wait for Mommy."

On airplanes I've handed babies to flight attendants and fellow passengers alike so that I could use the bathroom. In the supermarket, I've had checkers and baggers offer to help me to my car only to end up carrying one of my toddlers in a pinch.

Last week it was raining, so I took the boys and the baby to my local McDonald's for an afternoon of energy expenditure. The playspace was filled with a motley crew of parents and their kids. There was a well-dressed older woman with her granddaughter, a young hipster couple with their two kids, and a young Dad sporting a backwards baseball cap and a couple of facial tattoos.

Throughout the afternoon I had to leave the play area for different reasons. The grandmother helped my big guy out of the tubing when I went to go get more napkins, the couple stopped my two-year-old from wandering out of the restaurant while I was grabbing some food, and the tattooed dad held the baby for me when I had to take my oldest for an emergency potty run.

While all of this helpfulness has had the obvious effect of making it possible for me to survive outings with my kids, it has also helped me to get a handle on my paranoia about strangers. Folks, the reality is that most people out there in the world like children, want the best for them, and are more than willing to give a struggling mom a hand.

It also means that I am not in a position to teach my children to fear strangers either. I hope that my reliance on random folks outside of our house is showing my kids that it's OK to trust the people they meet and that they can turn to people other than me for help. I also firmly believe that a lot of interaction with people who my kids don't know will make them better at identifying those strangers who are truly "strange".

The fact is that when you have three little ones, it really does take a village. 

And I'm glad it does.