OkaybutsoIwas downtown a couple of days ago with Ben, leaving the library after story time. I stopped outside to get him into the Ergo carrier, a maneuver which, when performed solo, can, I admit, look alarming — like, drop-your-baby-on-his-head-on-the-cold-unforgiving-cobblestones alarming. But it looks much more difficult than it is. It's one I've done a thousand times, and one Ben is used to. He can even help by holding his body steady, offering me his foot, or obligingly going all Möbius, just as the situation warrants.
That is all a long way of saying we got this, Ben and I.
So there we were, getting him holstered up on my back. This is a move that entails putting one strap of the carrier over your shoulder, mounting the baby on your hip, threading one of his feet under that shoulder strap, oooooching him under your arm and around to your back, bringing the body of the carrier up under and over the baby's bottom and back, and finally bringing up the other shoulder strap. In the commission of this act, the adult is bending over, dislocating any shoulder that's fool enough to get in the way, getting all yogini with it, and enjoying a rich chuckle at all the well-meaning squares shouting, "Oh, my God, stop! That baby came with a spine!"
This move, spectacular in the absolute sense but not at all noteworthy in the relative sense given the population of our town, was made somewat more finicky that morning by the snow boots Ben was wearing, and I'm sure the way he was mounted — suspended out from my body, a placid human cantilever — looked odd to the uninitiated passerby.
One of these passersby stopped directly behind me. Bent over as I was, I could see his feet. He was right there, y'all, about six inches on the wrong side of the steal-your-wallet radius. Closer. It was really more like get-into-my-panel-van-and-help-me-find-my-puppy territory.
I wasn't exactly worried, because it was broad daylight in front of the children's library and we babywearing breastfeeding cosleeping types have got each other's tattooed yoga'd backs. But it was still too close, especially when I perceived that the owner of the feet was...helping.
Thinking we were having trouble, he was trying to get Ben into the carrier. "I'll just..." he said, and stuffed Ben's booted foot wherever he saw a hole. Naturally, Ben protested; not only was his leg being jammed where it didn't belong, and where it probably hurt to go, it was being jammed there by someone he didn't know who was more than a little too close.
So Ben was freaking out, I was saying, "No, really, thanks, but we got it," and this guy, whose face I still hadn't seen, was continuing to help. I managed, with some difficulty, to stabilize Ben enough in the carrier that I could turn and face my volunteer assistant, who turned out to be an older man, grinning, pleased with himself. Like, Think nothing of it, screaming child and pissed-off lady! All in a day's work!
And I was pissed, so I...thanked him. And waited until he'd walked away, then took poor pretzeled Ben off my back entirely to comfort him. And I shoved the Ergo in my bag, and I let Ben walk instead.
I'm still thinking about it two days later. When a stranger moved in to handle my kid, I didn't tell him to stop. And I don't know if I didn't because I knew he was trying to help and felt I should be grateful, at least, for his impulse, and polite, or if I wussed out, plain and simple. I can't explain it. I also can't quite imagine how I'd have handled it if the feet behind me had belonged to a woman, but then that might have been a different proposition entirely. "A woman," Paul suggested, "would have asked if you needed help. And would probably have known where his feet belonged." A fair probability where we live.
I don't really have a point here except to say that if someone appears to be struggling to force her child into a precarious position, twisting his spinal column into a stout and useful midshipman's hitch, and endangering the integrity of his all-too-fragile skull, and you feel like getting hands-on know-nothing helpy, oh, my God, just don't. Or at the very least, ask first. Because if you just amble up and try to shove a kid's foot where it doesn't belong, a less polite person — or a much better parent — than I might just cram hers where, trust me, you don't want it.