I missed the memo about talking to strangers.
My son is a natural-born party crasher. He’ll toddle up to just about anyone and introduce himself and immediately begin mooching toys and food. I’m simultaneously proud and alarmed at this behavior. And I cringe with recognition, because I think he gets this from me.
It’s really lovely to see how my son has no fear of rejection. To him, the world is full of friends and the default is set to share. It simply doesn’t occur to him to be inhibited or shy, even around people he doesn’t know. When it comes to outings, we’re still in the don’t-take-your-eyes-off-of-him-not-even-for-a-second phase of his childhood, so I’m always supervising these exchanges with strangers, and so far nothing bad has ever happened. But I know he needs to start appreciating “stranger danger” and it breaks my heart that I’ll have to break his heart in this way.
To all the people in the world who prey upon kids…you suck. You give me nightmares and it makes me furious that I have to explain to my kid that people like you exist. I know there aren’t very many of you out there, but there are just enough to make the world really scary. Just stop, already.
So yeah, as a parent, one of my responsibilities is to teach my son to appreciate the gift of fear, to understand that there are real dangers in the world, and that some of these dangers come in the form of other people who mean to do him harm. It’s my desperate hope that my kid, and every kid, can learn this lesson, grow safely into adulthood, and then forget it just enough when they’re older and a bit more resourceful.
For defenseless little kids, “don’t talk to strangers” is perfectly sound advice. Avoiding strangers is their best chance for avoiding contact with someone who might want to hurt them. But what about us grown-ups? We’ve got our cell phones and pepper spray, and those killer self-defense moves we learned from watching “Kill Bill“. We’ve got years of life experience and have clocked a gazillion hours of people watching which informs our discrimination between axe murderers and non-axe murders. This doesn’t inoculate adults against predatory behavior by other adults, but we’ve got more of a fighting chance.
As a grown up, I’m all for talking to strangers. I’m that lady who’s always chatting up the cashiers at grocery stores and striking up conversations with airplane seatmates. As I go through the endless series of transactions that seem to form my life, I do feel a need to connect, to make an impression, to interact. Sometimes it’s just small talk, but once in a while, there’s a spark of friendship, or even just a little moment of genuine communication. I think it’s nice and I’d like to think it’s a mutual day-brightener, but I sadly estimate that I annoy a minimum of 37% of the people I talk to. I can definitely take a hint, though, so if you crack open your Kindle or plug in your ear buds, I’ll shut up, I promise.
So as it pertains to my little party crasher, for now I suppose it’s one of those “do as I say not as I do” situations. But when he’s older, I hope he’ll talk to strangers, too. Memo received.