She’d been looking in my direction for quite a period of time.
I’d just smiled back and did my best to ignore her. I’ve found that when I’m out with Sam I get a lot of benign grinning from the elderly. It’s fair enough I suppose – although the feeling that you are being watched (and I was) can be more than a little unsettling.
After what seemed like an age of scrutiny, I broke the ice with the lady. She was, like me, in the play area supervising a child – in this case her granddaughter.
“They’re having fun,” I said, trying to sound as non-committal as possible.
Good. That cleared the air and would – hopefully – stop her staring in my direction.
“How old is he?” she said, looking at Sam.
It’s a perfectly normal run-of-the-mill question. The type of thing we all ask in order to have generic conversations.
Yet before I’d time to answer the lady continued.
“10? 11 months?”
Why ask a question if you’re not going to wait for an answer? She was out, quite considerably so.
“No, he’s 15 months,” I replied.
“Oh?” gasped the old lady. “Oh? REALLY?”
“Ain’t he small?” she said, in a register that reminded me of Kenneth Williams. “Tiny, in fact!”
“He’s about average sized,” I replied.
“They tell you that did they?” she continued, the horror still controlling her voice.
I wasn’t sure who “they” was supposed to be. My assertion was not the opinion of some quackish doctor – wishing to pull the wool over my eyes. Rather it was the textbook, generally acknowledged, standard.
“Ohhh…” she continued, looking my large frame up and down, “very small.”
The lady then got the attention of a young mum at the other side of the area, busy on her smartphone.
“Oi!” she called.
The mum looked up blinking, as if from sleep.
“15 months,” said the pensioner, pointing at Sam. “Ain’t he tiny?”
By now I’d just about lost any temper, I had. I’ve learned from experience that a man of my stature loudly berating a pensioner in a play park doesn’t go down well. So I packed up my things.
For me, such interactions are a useful reminder. Not about Sam’s size. I have no doubt he will grow in the desired way, and frankly if he does end up smaller than most – which with my genes I sincerely doubt – that’ll be fine.
What it reminded me of was the fact that we don’t all see the world in the same way. The size of another person’s child is something that I would avoid mentioning. I know it’s a potential minefield – likely to get the parents worked up into a lather of doubt and anxiety.
It’s a no-go area.
Yet there are other people who would never even give such precautions a second thought. People who don’t look before they take the proverbial ‘leap’. These folks don’t filter what they say before it leaves their mouths. They have never had to in the past and don’t see any good reason for changing now.
It’s these people, and their blissful ignorance, that contemporary parents must learn to navigate around. Like hidden rocks among the flotsam and jetsam of parenting – they must be spotted and avoided if possible. If not, we learn to bounce off them undamaged as if the encounter had never happened.
It’s all we can do.
One day, however, I may not be so pragmatic. Perhaps such thoughtless lines of questioning will be returned in kind:
“How are the liver spots going? I see your moustache is coming through well – I’m sure all the ladies will want one like yours.”
But for now I’ll be good.
The Out of Depth Dad.