Today I have a confession. There is a reaction I’ve been having towards specific people that I viewed as just “normal.” Nothing took place to initiate this response, it was just simply automatic to me and I was sure that it was a common response by all parents. It rarely happened, probably because it’s “not supposed to,” and so most of the days our family went about our lives without having to experience THAT. What is it? It’s the emotional, and somewhat physical, response that my body experiences when a man whom I do not really know, perhaps even a complete stranger, wants to hold my baby. Red flags go off in my head. My eyes begin to dart all around. My mind races wondering, “Why is he approaching us? What does he want? What is his reason for touching my child?” Now, these thoughts do sometimes strike me when it is a female interacting with my son, but I openly admit that I experience the discomfort way more when it is a man. And in my mind, this was justified. The stories flooding the media, circling social groups and blackening the pages of the newspaper seem to almost always lead towards a man abducting, hurting, or even killing, a child. So, putting all of those pieces together, I thought my response in these situations was fully justified. I was being aware and alert to keep my child safe.
And then slowly, things changed.
Given some unique circumstances in our family dynamics, we are privileged to interact with cultures from all around the world. As I engaged with these families after having my firstborn, I began to take note of patterns throughout the diverse cultures. Throughout several months, these are the behaviors I witnessed that healed my knee-jerk reactions:
– A Rwandan man in his 20s, built like a football player, picked up my son and began to make popping noises with his cheeks as Little One squealed with delight. He then invited me to sit and relax as he proceeded to speak with Little One in Kinyarwandan.
– A Syrian man in his 30s, greeted us as the door and quickly reached out to hold my child. He sat down with him and began speaking to him in Arabic has they both let out contagious laughs.
– An Iraqi male in his late 20s, came up and shook Little One’s hand and then encouraged me to let him hold my child. I obliged and he delightfully spoke in Arabic as the man showed his younger children my son.
– A teenaged boy from Central Africa greeted me at my car door, proceeded to take my baby carrier out of my hands so that I could walk without the extra weight. He then sat down with my child and spoke with him in French as Little One’s eyes lit up with joy.
– A Nepalese man in his 30s approached us in a hallway. He shook my child’s hand and made silly faces at him as he asked numerous questions about Little One and his wellbeing.
And then there were even more eye-opening aspects. You see, these examples were not the exception, they were the norm. Every week men were coming up to Little One, interacting with him, exposing their soft and gentle nature as I was invited to take a moment to relax from motherhood. What a special blessing that appeared in such a life changing package! In addition to these men taking the initiative to engage with my child, the experience allows Little One to discover new languages and cultures.
I have learned that it was my culture that developed this heightened sensitivity towards men who interact with my son. I do believe we should be cautious to a certain extent because there are people in the world with sick and twisted behaviors, but at the same time, I am learning that sometimes you have to be observant and allow others to share a piece of their culture with you. I have been amazed with the types of relationships that have been shaped through our family’s time with other cultures. So many times I have walked up to a family, and it was the father or children who rushed to hold my child. Previously, I assumed it would be the mothers who would respond in that manner. I am learning that it is okay to let other children, who might not even be double my baby’s size, to hold him and carry him as they show him love that only they can. These experiences with other cultures are teaching me that we, as people, are always changing and evolving. It’s taught me that men can be giggly and silly just like a four-year-old. It’s taught me that my son’s character is being developed by these special encounters with men who have seen so much pain in life, and yet still possess a warm heart and a loving smile. It’s taught me just exactly what HE is doing… he is sharing a piece of his world with my son, and for that, they will both be better people.
Ahmeli… that we always leave a door open in our hearts that allows for change to take place in how we view others.
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