Parenting is all about walking the fine line. There’s the line between concern and worry when they are sick, the fine line between happy and cranky, the fine line between cranky and tantrum. But today, I came face to face with a new moral line that kept shifting and changing forms like the shadows.
Peanut and I were at the library returning a few books and perusing the aisles for a couple of wanted titles. We were in the adult section and peanut was thrilled as always just to read the letters off the covers and use the step stools as his own personal drum set. A disheveled man, dressed strangely for 90 degree weather and carting behind him a weird metal suitcase came walking through the main hall of the library. He looked down the aisles and stopped dead when he saw me and peanut.
He said hi to peanut, so I asked peanut to say hi back. After all, you should answer when someone greets you, right? Peanut obliged and said hi.
Then this strange man plopped down in a seat at the end of the row and watched us for awhile. I started to get nervous. This guy was riveted, watching my son. My precious baby boy. I was getting a weird vibe…but why? Was this guy really threatening or was he just a strangely dressed homeless guy that was making me nervous because he was “different?”
Peanut started to act strangely, too. He started to get clingy and asked to be carried – an unusual occurrence in a place he felt comfortable. I took him by the hand and started guiding him out of the stacks and was contemplating if I needed to duck into the children’s section for awhile so this guy wouldn’t follow us out when he started talking.
He kept saying that this was “the most beautiful boy he’d ever seen. Such a beautiful boy. Just look at him. Wow…”
Okay. Now I think my kid is pretty cute, but this was TOO much. Even grandmotherly types at the grocery store don’t fawn that much over him. Fight or flight started to pulse through my veins. But a nagging voice that sounded a lot like that fine line was taunting me, making me question if I was overreacting. This guy had not actually threatened us. He hadn’t made a move. Just sat, watched and talked. Would we be rude to ignore him? I told peanut to say thank you and we kept trucking. Luckily, peanut actually did let go of my hand and ran behind a tall display in the children’s area and I kept him there until I saw the guy leave.
As peanut gets older and starts asking questions, what will I ever teach him about strangers? I want him to be a trusting person. I don’t want him to be scared or afraid of people. But how do you teach the difference between it being okay to talk to the grocery clerk, but not okay to talk to a strange man who comes up to you at the library? How will I ever teach my child to walk that line when I am not so sure I’m walking on the right side of it?
This parenting gig doesn’t get any easier the older they get, does it?