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Say NO To Strangers

I wonder if I’m a prickly pear but I simply hate it when strangers come up to my grandchildren, look at them and say “How cute!” What is even more disgusting is the way they pinch their cheeks, blow kisses, chuck them under the chin or even play “peek-a-boo”.

The other day I was sitting in the garden when three pre-teen girls came up and said that they wanted to play with my grand daughter, who at all of 11 months old can neither walk nor talk. I wondered what the girls would “play” with her. Since I didn’t know them at all, I flatly refused to allow them to play with her and they just sat on the bench in front and began making silly faces. Of course, that amused the little one immensely, but it also annoyed me a lot. I wanted them to leave us alone and didn’t appreciate their amusing my little one.

Having heard all kinds of horrid stories about kidnapping little babies, I am even more careful when it comes to taking photographs. I never take photos of babies unless they are my own and am very careful about circulating them. I never share them on public platforms like Facebook and Instagram and even when I share them privately, I am careful that they don’t go to people who will use them on their social media identities.

Quite recently a family in our building was having their photographs done professionally and when the mother who is a dear friend asked the professional photographer to take a photograph of my grand daughter, I flatly refused. It may have sounded rude but honestly, I didn’t know the photographer and didn’t want him using my little one’s image as a Stock Photograph or even using it to peddle baby products without my knowledge.

Similarly, I get most cross when strangers offer the little ones chocolates or sweets. I was waiting in a shop when the shop owner’s wife whipped out some packets of “Gems” for her own grandsons who were hanging around. My little grandson is absolutely nuts about Gems and his eyes widened in surprise when he saw the packet. The lady very kindly offered a packet to my little one, but I firmly refused it. Of course the lady was offended: how dare I even imagine her to be a potential harmer of my grandson. But no, I’m sorry. Children can’t really distinguish between friend and foe and it is better that they only take chocolates and sweets from their parents or carers.

I know this does not go down well with most people. They get mad when I discourage them from trying to engage with the little ones by making silly sounds or silly faces. I get even more annoyed when they talk in the third person asking me questions via the baby.

I know this sounds arrogant and possibly paranoid but frankly babies have the right to privacy too. Just because they flash smiles at all and sundry, it doesn’t mean that they are fair game or free entertainment. Why should people expect my baby to jump into the arms of a stranger or for that matter reply to questions they aren’t really interested in answering?

Once while travelling in the lift, a fellow passenger asked my grandson his name. When he stared sullenly at her, she aggressively asked “Don’t you have a name? You don’t have a tongue? You can’t talk or what?” With each of her taunts I could see my grandson becoming ‘smaller’ and wanted to hug him and tell him it was OK to ignore the rude and now slowly bordering on abusive woman. Luckily, the situation was averted before I could tell her to stop bothering him with inane questions and taunts, as the lift stopped at her floor and she got off. I can assure you, the next time someone acts like that, I just won’t hesitate to speak my mind and tell her to lay off a child who is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.

In fact, caregivers apart from parents or grandparents are often in a bind when the ‘memsahibs’ or ‘sahebs’ insist on taking over the child from them. Ayahs and nannies are obviously hesitant and even scared to refuse to part with the child as they don’t know the extent to which they can exercise parental authority and refuse the stranger the right to play with the child. It could very well be that the stranger who is approaching the baby is actually the mother’s best friend and the newly appointed nanny or visiting granny is quite unaware of the fact. Naturally, the best friend would be offended at being refused the customary cuddle or interaction, but frankly I would advise all caregivers to just say NO. It is far better to annoy the strange sahib or memsahib than allow your little charge to be someone else’s momentary toy.

In fact I distinctly remember walking down the road once with my grandson and a complete stranger who was walking in the other direction, just bent down and touched the little one’s cheek. I was horrified and actually yelled at him and told him he was rude. He was naturally taken aback at this outburst and actually gave me a look as though asking “What is it to you if I just touch your child?” I honestly wanted to tell him it was very much my business and I considered his act quite frankly as offensive as eve teasing.

So I would advise all parents – do tell the care givers of your child NOT to allow anyone to approach your child. It is all right to offend them and respect your child’s right to privacy.

As a mother of two thirty-year old daughters and a grandmother of two, Sunita Rajwade has been there and done that. A hands on mom, she has seen two girls grow successfully through babyhood, toddler hood, adolescence and adulthood; solving their maths problems and contributing to their angst of growing up with a mom “who doesn’t understand”. But now as a grandmother, she’s being appreciated for her “wisdom” and “understanding” and would like to share her experiences of this wonderful journey from motherhood to grand-motherhood.