I like to think of myself as an open, honest, approachable sort of person. I’m not off-put by the eccentric, the socially inept, or the unbearably awkward.
Have a weird hobby? Cool. Tell me about it. Collect salt-and-pepper shakers? Show me your favourites. You’re oddly obsessed with space? I bet you could teach me a lot, and also, take me stargazing, will you?
That person who shares too much with someone they just met; that person who gets really excited about an idea; that struggling artist still looking for her big break: I have long thought of these people as my people. I’m all for letting your freak flag fly.
Until I’m not.
Yes, apparently even little ol’ me – lover of diversity and the neurologically atypical, whose heart feels too strongly at times, whose well of compassion runs too deep – has a threshold. And during the holidays I found it.
Or, rather, Creepy Dude did.
Over Christmas, my husband, daughter, and I were in the Lower Mainland visiting family. I was heading out to visit my sister on Christmas morning, and as I was buckling my nine-month-old daughter into her car seat, a jug of half-filled wiper fluid fell to the ground. Nothing spilled, and I would pick it up in a moment.
Then, out of the blue, a grubby looking man, about mid-40s, dressed all in black, appeared behind me. There was nobody else on the street; we were alone.
“I’ll get that for you,” he said, leaning down to fetch the jug at my feet. He bent down, reached past my leg, and placed the washer fluid on the floor of my back seat.
I was a bit perturbed by his close proximity, but I told myself he meant well. “Thank you,” I said, “and Merry Christmas.”
As I tightened the straps of my daughter’s seat, I was keenly aware he had not yet left. Only seconds had passed, but it felt too long.
“Can I hold her?” he asked.
Who asks to hold a stranger’s infant who is clearly being buckled into her car seat? I responded as politely as I could, short and simple, and to the point. “We’re heading out now and we’re in a hurry, so no.”
Although my back was to him, I sensed his arm reaching around me. I saw his dirty fingers about to graze my daughter’s cheek. I pushed his arm away and turned in a flash. “Don’t touch my daughter.”
I wasn’t quite yelling, but a line had been crossed and I made that clear.
Creepy Dude threw his arms into the air. “Woah, woah, woah,” were the words that came out of his mouth.
Why was he still there? “You need to leave.”
At this point, daggers were flying from my eyes. The primary feeling wasn’t fear, it was rage. Now I yelled. “Leave! Now!” I said. He stayed, staring incredulously. “GO!”
Slowly, like a dog, he slinked away.
I climbed into the front seat, locked the doors, took a deep breath, and exhaled.
Did I overreact? I’m caught in a mental flurry of What Ifs. What if he was a pedophile? What if he was trying to steal my daughter?
What if he was just a dude out for a walk, trying to help? Some poor guy who doesn’t understand personal space and social cues?
Was I … mean? In my life I haven’t been the best at establishing and enforcing boundaries. I like to think that people are generally good. That belief has led me to ignore red flags more times than I care to admit.
But when it comes to my daughter I will not. As a mom, I am my daughter’s voice. I am her role model, her protector.
A few moments of reflection later and I realized I didn’t care if I was mean. It’s one thing to admire the eccentric, and to be open to different ways of seeing the world. I realize not everyone has the same talents and opportunities in life, and that, for some, simply existing is a challenge (through no fault of their own).
But it’s another thing to let someone make you feel uncomfortable; to permit a stranger to reach out and touch your child after you have clearly indicated the gesture is not welcome.
Maybe Creepy Dude was harmless. But maybe he wasn’t. And I’d rather make him uncomfortable than risk, well, anything.
So, although I hated this moment – hated that he reached to touch her, hated the confrontation, hated that it happened on Christmas morning – I am glad, in some ways, for this experience.
I’m glad that I found my threshold. Glad that my words were succinct, affirmative, demanding. Glad that they poured out of me like the glassy volcanic rage they encapsulated.
So, there you have it. I found my Mama Bear voice. It’s the first time I’ve had to use it, but I know it won’t be the last.
Bronwyn Moser is a teacher and former journalist, and lives in North Pine.