getting carried away

Last Saturday, we went to a music festival, and met up with a couple friends. It was a great festival, and I really enjoyed the time with my friends, wandering around taking pictures, listening to music, and just generally being at a festive event.

There was one brief event, though, that leaves me feeling unsettled, even a week later.

We were sitting around in a little park where one of the festival’s many stages was set up. The last set for that location had finished, and lots of people were just sitting around enjoying the late afternoon sun. Our group had more-or-less camped out at the foot of a statue, the large stone base of which provided some much appreciated shade and a cool place to lean against.

After having been strapped in to a carseat and then a stroller all day, Theo was happy to be crawling around the grass in the park. He’d take off in one direction or another, and one of our group would follow along for a bit, then scoop him up and bring him back to our base. Theo got a lot of friendly smiles, and we’d get the occasional casual question about Theo’s age and whatnot. So I didn’t think much of it when a smiling man walked towards Theo as he was gleefully crawling away from me. I scooped Theo up, held him up high, smooched him on the cheek, and smiled at the stranger who was admiring my baby. The man stepped closer and asked about Theo’s age, and we started the usual chitchat. Then he reached for Theo and lifted him out of my arms, exclaiming over how friendly he was. I was completely taken aback by this. Then he started joking that he would take Theo home. Even though he was joking, I wanted to scream “give me back my baby!” I reached for Theo, and the man, still seeming to joke, made as if to walk away with him. I kept my hands on Theo and said, “I need to take him back. I was just going to change his diaper.” The man got a sort of blank, sort of startled, look on his face. “Really?” he said. He loosened his grip, and allowed me to reclaim my baby. I walked quickly back to our little group, and the man walked off another direction, disappearing fairly quickly into the thinning crowds.

I found myself quite shaken. It all happened so fast that John and my friends, who were sitting with Phoebe, didn’t even see the exchange. While the man seemed to be joking, it wasn’t clear to me how far he might have carried his “joke.” Would he have really walked away with Theo? Clearly, there must have been something somewhat off with this man’s mind, as most people know that it’s not okay to pick up a stranger’s baby without permission. He didn’t seem drunk, though he may have been. He may have been mentally ill. Neither of these possibilities is particularly reassuring to me.

In retrospect, I’m really glad I mentioned the diaper. I think it cut short the exchange, which already had gone on too long for my comfort. Perhaps it reminded the man that babies are not just smiley, cherubic playthings, but that they involve work and messiness.

I’m not one to spend a lot of time worrying about protecting my children from predators. I tend to focus on worrying about keeping them safe from cars and household accidents, worrying about how much they eat and sleep. But this incident, minor as it was, reminds me that there are people out there who will take advantage of that moment when you let your attention drift.

18 thoughts on “getting carried away

  1. That would have upset me too, alejna. How could anybody even joke about taking away someone’s baby? That whole exchange sounded really creepy to me.

    When I think about how neurotically overprotective I am of my cats I think it’s probably a good thing I never had children.

  2. That would have freaked me out too. It sounds just not quite right. You should never even touch a stranger’s baby in my opinion.

  3. Oh wow, I would be freaked by that too. Who jokes about taking someone else’s baby home with them?You’re probably not far off with your mental illness guess, but still. How unsettling.

  4. Oh, and a very good, straightforward (and not overly alarmist) book about keeping kids safe from predators is “Protecting the Gift,” by Gavin DeBecker. In it, he talks about trusting your instincts, because instincts are there to protect you. If you feel something is off, trust that feeling and get away ASAP.

  5. I think moms always know when something is off, whether it’s the health of their child or something like this. I’ve made it a point to always follow my instincts even if everyone else thinks you’re crazy, or overreacting because moms always know.

  6. Creepy, definitely.

    There are a lot of people out there, though, who think that kind of thing is humorous. People always think it’s funny to take stuff away from my kids and pretend not to give it back to get a rise out of them.

    We went into the store where we buy our aquarium stuff once with Lorenzo, and the guy acted SO weird. He kept commenting that he didn’t know we even had kids and about how “good looking” he was. I didn’t go back for a long time, and I don’t like to go without my husband.

  7. That is a very unsettling experience, indeed. I’m glad to hear that Theo is safe and sound. This hit really close to home for me, though, because I just had a really scary episode with the J-dog this weekend at the mall.

  8. Holy crap, Sister. My heart is pounding just from READING about it. Seriously. I’d have freaked f*cking out and started screaming bloody murder.

    I can’t believe how well you did under pressure. I am totally, COMPLETELY impressed.

  9. oh my thats freaking scary!! yikes. I’m not sure I would have allowed someone to pull my kid out of my arms. If someone tried, i’d probably confront them with a, um “what are you doing?” sort of gesture…then proceed to walk back to my friends.

    yowzers!! glad your boy’s safe.

    and i’d still be shookin up, if i were you.

  10. oh my thats freaking scary!! yikes. I’m not sure I would have allowed someone to pull my kid out of my arms. If someone tried, i’d probably confront them with a, um “what are you doing?” sort of gesture…then proceed to walk back to my friends.

    yowzers!! glad your boy’s safe.

    and i’d still be shookin up, if i were you. no doubt :/

  11. Eeks, that does sound scary and beyond the comfort zone of stranger interaction. I just saw a segment on Stranger Danger on some Penn and Teller Showtime show (signed up for the ebill option and got 3 free months of juicy HBO and Showtime, huzzah!) (sorry, didn’t mean to plug any of those entities here). While I try not to be obsessive about stranger danger, a creepy stranger scooping up my baby would set off my warning bells. I think you handled it well.

  12. Too creepy. And the fact that he just disappeared after you took him back the way you did? Scary… and a reminder of how quickly people can disappear in a crowd.

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