The Gift of Skee(ve)

by anna on May 6, 2009

[singlepic id=558 w=600 h=600 float=center]
photo by Mr. Right-Click

Last Sunday, we took Mini to the Santa Monica Pier to walk around, play arcade games, and stick his feet in the sand. He has been to the beach before, but not recently, so hey! new toy! When we first put him down on the warm sand in his bare feet, though, he freaked out because WTF IS THIS STUFF, Ma?! He calmed down as we took him closer to the shore, where the sand was cooler and more packed down. He stuck his feet in the water and shortly thereafter ran back to tell me all about it.

It was all very cute, as you might imagine.

There are times when I’m proud that Mini takes after me, and there are times when it’s quite funny. Watching Mini deal with sand, dirt, or uncleanliness of any kind are some of the funny times, because even though he’s a toddler, the kid has some serious objections to being dirty. I can only hope that, as he ages, he continues to enjoy putting things away and pretending to sweep the kitchen floor alongside me.

Then there are times when Mini’s adoption of my behaviors can be a little painful. This always occurs in situations where I see him do something that reflects tendencies of mine that have caused me pain in the past. Naturally, there is a lot of projection going on here. Still, if I could keep him from making the same mistakes I’ve made, I would do anything. One of the things I think I see in Mini is my own unfortunate natural tendency to people-please. I don’t always people-please, mind you–I’m totally comfortable with displeasing people I love. Because those people already know me, accept me, love me. It’s the ones I don’t know that I hate to disappoint, for reasons I have yet to figure out. And so, in the end, I go around people-pleasing strangers, insignificant acquaintances, possibly dangerous.

When we walked up on the pier, Mini saw some of those kiddie rides they have outside places like Toys ‘R’ Us and grocery stores. We went over to an arcade so he could get into this giant germ petri dish in the shape of a race car (“car-car! car-car!”), and as we walked towards the ride, a guy wearing a yellow shirt and jeans, with hair that looked kind of like a helmet, said, “Oh, I’ve got to get my cell phone.” Mr. Right-Click and I assumed that he was an employee of the arcade or something, and only slightly registered him. Mini climbed into the race car and I waited outside with him while Mr. Right-Click stepped inside to get change for the machine.

With Mr. Right-Click otherwise occupied, the guy approached us, Mini and I, again muttering something about his cell phone. He made his way around the back of the race car machine, where an old skool Motorola Razor was plugged into the wall. I was still kind of confused, and had that vaguely uncomfortable feeling that I get when there is a stranger around who might expect me to interact with them. Mini continued to play with the steering wheel of the race car machine.

“You have to have a driver’s license for that!”
“What?” I said, involuntarily.
“He has to have a driver’s license for that! Can I see your driver’s license?” The guy asked Mini.

The guy was apparently trying to engage in witty repartee with Mini–Mini, who just turned 2 and has about 50 words in his speaking vocabulary at present. And while he was ostensibly just there to unplug his cell phone from the wall, this guy stuck his hand out towards Mini, as if to take an imaginary toddler driver’s license for kiddie rides out of his hand. And Mini, because he is my son, looked confused, but started to stick out his hand toward the man anyway, having picked up on the hint that he was expected to reciprocate this action. Without thinking, I put my hand in between Mini’s hand and the man’s, my arm propelled into action by the suggestion that Mini might unwittingly be made a party to touching this skeevy guy. Because being a mother makes you OK with being rude when the situation calls for it.

Nobody said anything. The guy took his cell phone and cell phone charger and walked back a few paces. The cell phone that he was charging outside of an arcade on the Santa Monica Pier. Because that is totally normal behavior.

Just then, Mr. Right-Click came out of the arcade with quarters, and he and Mini busied themselves with putting quarters in the machine. The Skeevy guy, still lurking, then said, “He doesn’t look like he’s your kid,” to Mr. Right-Click. I got that uncomfortable and annoyed feeling again. Mr. Right-Click said, “Well, he is,” kind of dismissively, but not really sure what the guy is talking about. I didn’t take my eyes off Mini, afraid? or embarrassed? to acknowledge the guy’s presence. The ride ended, and we moved to another machine. When I looked around to see if the guy was still there, he was nowhere to be found.

It might be that the guy was just weird, or wasn’t good at picking up on established social mores: viz., that a man in his forties, alone, on the pier in Santa Monica, whilst stealing electricity from an kids’ arcade to charge a cell phone, should avoid paying too much attention to toddlers unless he wants people to view him with suspicion. He did have some kind of accent that I could not place . . . perhaps he was foreign and from some land where it’s not suspicious for a middle-aged man to take an interest in young children. Or charge their cell phone outside of arcades, using electricity that they don’t pay for. I mean, what do I know?

When I read Gavin DeBecker’s The Gift of Fear, I learned that it’s OK to make snap judgments about people if my safety is at stake. These judgments are based on little or nothing tangible, just a feeling you get that something is wrong, but that we’ve been socialized to ignore, or rationalize away, for the sake of not being rude or believing the worst of people. I’ve struggled to implement it for my personal safety, but what happens when Mini is around is totally different. With Mini, I am all about being rude, getting in the way, embracing my tendency to always believe the worst in people. It can be exhausting, actually, to always be on alert like this. I suspect this is why I’m always needing a nap after our weekend excursions to crowded public places with Mini.

When Mini was three days old, I had to take him to get a blood test, which meant braving a waiting room full of sick people with a baby’s brand new immune system. And in case you don’t know, people are always wanting to touch newborn babies. So of course, when we were there, a kid reached out–innocently enough–to touch Mini, and I blocked him that day in much the same way as I did the pier cell phone guy this past weekend. It was an instinctive action, and even as I did it I felt compelled to apologize for it, like I was disappointing everyone by not allowing my child to be touched. I felt like I was being a bad sport.

But not so much of a a bad sport that I would let the kid touch him.

When I told Mr. Right-Click what had happened when he was inside the arcade, we both decided that something wasn’t right with the guy on the pier. I developed a theory that perhaps he was trying to make us fight or something, by insinuating that Mini wasn’t Mr. Right-Click’s child. Maybe he was trying to create a distraction so he could grab Mini. Maybe if I hadn’t been so vigilant, Mini would have been snatched. I was able to really work myself into a paranoid frenzy over this, in fact. I almost ruined the entire day for myself out of fear and paranoia about what might have happened.

Then Mini played Skee Ball for the first time, and though we showed him how to roll the ball up the ramp, he determined that there was a better way. That way was to walk up the ramp himself and put the ball in the hoop directly. And we were at one of those times again, where I’m proud of the ways that Mini takes after me. It was simple: Mini saw inefficiency in the method we tried to get him to use to play Skee Ball, and decided to invent his own method. Not yet a slave to the rules and regulations the rest of us have had to learn to live with, Mini played the game the way he thought it was best played. And that is something he gets from me, too: a stubborn refusal to give up his own way of doing things, when they are clearly superior to the methods taken by other people. Sure, it’s gotten me into trouble before, but it’s also shaped who I am and what I do today.

Someday I will have to give Mini the gift of skeeve and explain why you don’t ever talk to somebody who approaches you on the Santa Monica Pier with a story about a cell phone. Someday, he will have to learn to embrace his own fear in order to stay safe. But for now, he’s still mostly fearless, and as such he enjoys a skeeve free lifestyle, which is a beautiful thing. And I’m content to watch his back for a while longer.

{ 15 comments }

Elizabeth May 6, 2009 at 8:25 am

I’m a firm believer in instinct. If it doesn’t feel right, probably it isn’t right. I try to be nice to most strangers I come in contact with (I work in community education, so I see a LOT of people) but sometimes you just get the creeps. You’ll never be sorry for protecting him and trusting your instincts. At least, my instincts say so. :)

Elizabeth´s last blog post..Overheard last night in the kitchen…

Laurie May 6, 2009 at 9:28 am

The gift of skeeve can not be over-rated. I lived the classic cliche of attempting to enter my car while a skeevey bearded man busied himself with something in the back of a white van (naturally) parked next to me. I berated myself for the nervous instinct I felt, and suppressed it. Before I got the key in the lock, the guy had one hand clamped across my mouth and the other arm restraining me. I was fortunate to fight my way out of that scene thanks to a bystander who appeared, but did I ever learn my lesson about trusting my instincts with skeevey types! Had he not been up-to-no-good, and had I trusted my instinct and scooted in via the passenger side, I would have worried about offending him. And gawd forbid I offend a skeevey stranger who doesn’t have the good sense to step aside for a young woman trying to enter her car.

blissfully caffeinated May 6, 2009 at 9:33 am

You were absolutely right to protect Mini the way you did. Mothers (and Fathers and humans in general) have warning instincts for a reason, as proven by the comment above. Also, I never let anyone touch my newborn babies that have not washed their hands first. And I especially would not let a young child / germ carrier touch my 3 day old baby. And I never let my own children touch other people’s babies. Personal boundries. I love them.

blissfully caffeinated´s last blog post..Eye Can’t Take It Any Longer

anna May 6, 2009 at 11:11 am

@Elizabeth, yeah, better safe than sorry, I know. It’s hard to always be on alert, though.

@Laurie, GAH! OMG. I’m so glad you fought your way out. That is a cautionary tale–and that is always what the second feeling is, huh? First, skeeved out, next, embarrassed/feel bad for being skeeved out, and not wanting to offend. I guess all the normal people have to learn not to offer things to women/children or approach women/children, or risk being rebuffed.

@blissfully caffeinated, I do think that it’s an instinct sense that we don’t fully understand involved here. Another good book on this, of course, is Blink. Gavin DeBecker is fascinating, too, when he talks about how his childhood (living in a chaotic, alcoholic home) led him to be an expert in safety.

The Lawyer Mom May 6, 2009 at 11:37 am

I’m with the others: go with your gut. Always.

I think the skeevy guy is mentally ill and probably homeless. If he’s not homeless and can charge his phone at home, he’s definitely mentally ill

The Lawyer Mom´s last blog post..Eunichasia

bessie.viola May 6, 2009 at 12:56 pm

Beautifully written. There is definitely much to be said for the validity of the mama-bear instinct – it’s there for a reason, you know? I’ve acted on mine a few times, and I’ve never been wrong or sorry.

Glad you were able to have fun anyway! That sort of thing is hard to shake.

bessie.viola´s last blog post..chatterbox

foradifferentkindofgirl (fadkog) May 6, 2009 at 1:46 pm

Thank you for reminding me that I want to read that book!

Years and years ago, while vacationing in San Diego, my husband and I were enjoying a casual walk by the ocean when a marginally unkept man who had just passed us turned back toward us and starting going on about life and miracles and happines, etc. I was very visably pregnant with my first child at the time, and maybe I was caught up in the whole “Oh, life is a gift!” thing, but I let that man grab hold of my hands and pray for me, and he went on and on with the prayer. And the touching. Lots of touching. But wow, I didn’t even think about it until years later that I should have been really uncomfortable with that because it was a bit of an invasion, and could have been a means of detracting my husband and I to rob us blind. I’d never, ever let someone like that man was, or others I didn’t know, get uncomfortably close to or touch my kids. Ever.

And yet…oh, yeah…I let the wee little Scottish man who comes to the bookstore put his hands on either side of my face and ask me for hugs on an almost weekly basis. So much still to learn…

foradifferentkindofgirl (fadkog)´s last blog post..kick off my sunday shoes

Juliet Grossman May 6, 2009 at 2:18 pm

You never, ever (EVER!) need a justification to go with your gut. Everyone in the world should have permission to get out of situations that just *feel wrong* even if for no identifiable, tangible reason. Women especially tend to not honor this. We don’t want to hurt people’s feelings (even weirdo strangers.) I think this is a GREAT lesson to teach our kids. Trust your gut. It’s like ESP only with a G. GSP? GPS? Whatever it is, trust it.

Juliet Grossman´s last blog post..Slankets & Reachin’ Sticks

Amber Warren May 6, 2009 at 4:19 pm

That’s funny (well not funny in a laugh and pee your pants kind of way, but in an odd, coincidental way), I just got off the phone with my husband’s bf and we were talking about the issue of “are you being rude when you feel distrustful towards a stranger, or is it instinct” before I read your post. I really think my tendency to be rude to strangers who give me the tightening-of-the-stomach-eek feeling is a Godsend. I think it’s something good mothers get. Maybe good people. Although my husband is far too inclined to give everybody the benefit of the doubt…. I remember my mother always reaching over and locking our doors in the car whenever she saw a weirdo on the corner. I always scoffed, thinking she was judgmental. Maybe she was just using her mommy-super powers. I think we have to shield our kids until they can use their powers to shield themselves.

Amber Warren´s last blog post..Working From Home: How to Make it Work

Becca May 6, 2009 at 4:25 pm

My mother assumes that I got the eek-stranger,danger feeling because I work in a prison but that is not it. I always had that feeling. I do not like strangers who come up especially in busy public places who want to touch or talk to my children.

Since I’ve worked in the prison that sense has been heightened to the point where it now protects me and not just my children. When I first started working there I would just ignore that creepy feeling that I got occasionally, but when I moved to being a caseworker inside the fence and started reading their files I was so thankful for the instant adrenaline boost that protects my children and me.

I am glad both you and Mr. Right-Click are so attentive and I am glad that Mini is safe. Those times are just too scary for words sometimes.

Becca´s last blog post..Does the President want to Repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, or is he just blowing smoke?

Heather May 6, 2009 at 5:34 pm

No, always go with your instinct. There are quite a few customers that come into the place I work at that I get creepy vibes from. In those cases I do my job politely and never engage in conversation unless it’s pertaining to the job. I’m all for being rude when someone creeps you out, I think it makes them aware that you are on to them and you are not an easy target.

Denise May 6, 2009 at 7:17 pm

Mama Bear Anna rocks!

jenni May 7, 2009 at 6:35 am

First – I love Mini’s shoes. Is he okay with the back strap? I’m wanting to get something similar for Oscar this summer, but you know how toddlers can be weird about shoes sometimes, and I’m wondering if the heel strap would drive him crazy.

Second – Good call on the skeeve. I’m the same way. I will be rude if I think someone is getting too close/personal w/my kids. And he was absolutely trying to starts something between you and Mr. Right Click, but how fucking weird is that? Insinuatin Mini’s not his kid? What? Even more confirmation of his weirdness. This story kind of freaks me out.

jenni´s last blog post..RTT: What do you Mean it’s Wednesday?

anna May 7, 2009 at 8:07 am

@TheLawyerMom, there are a lot of homeless people in Santa Monica (the weather, I guess, plus liberal policies for dealing with them), but this guy was more well-kept than you usually see for a homeless person. His clothes were clean and he seemed recently showered, etc. But obviously, something was wrong.

@bessie, thanks! Glad to know I’m not alone.

@fadkog, being pregnant is the worst. Everyone feels entitled to touch you. I think you can imagine how well I dealt with that. But yeah, felt guilty the whole time about not wanting people to touch my belly.

@Juliet, I agree. The other thing that DeBecker says kids should learn is their name and phone number, etc., and to find a woman to approach in the event that they get lost in a crowd. The theory is that a woman is statistically less likely to be someone who will victimize the kid, and way more likely to take an interest in making sure the kid finds his parents. He has some other guidelines on this that I’ll review once Mini’s old enough to be able to understand this kind of thing.

@Amber, that’s exactly it–it seems judgmental until you are the one in charge of a kid’s safety, and then it makes sense. I think that men might be slightly less apt to act this way just because they can feel safer walking around, on average, than a woman. They haven’t had to learn avoiding walking by themselves at night, etc., to the same degree as women have. Mr. Right-Click was once held at gunpoint by muggers, so his perspective is probably even more paranoid than mine, if you can believe it!

@Becca, I think it would be very hard for me to work in a prison. I suppose you get used to it, but it must be strange. Then again, you probably have your feelers out more than the average person, just from the daily reminder that yeah, there are bad people in the world.

@Heather, the worst is when you have to deal with creepy people at work. So you’re obligated to deal with them, whereas in real life you can at least try to avoid them.

@jenni, he loves those shoes. He wants to wear them all the time. The only thing he doesn’t like is that sand/dirt can get into them, and he’s kind of weird about that. And yeah, it was weird that he would say something like that, both because people say Mini does look like Mr. Right-Click all the time, and also because WTF?

Drama Queen Jenner May 21, 2009 at 1:44 pm

I did the block the other day. In reverse, I guess. We were introduced to some people at the ball park. One of my younger daughters was trying to say hi to a nine-month-old. As she turned away, he reached out for her, which his mom mentioned. But I wouldn’t let her touch him – I told her “We don’t touch babies on the hands or face.” Which is my hard-and-fast rule. But I’m hoping I didn’t come across as rude to her.

Drama Queen Jenner´s last blog post..Wendsday, Wonderful Wednesday

Comments on this entry are closed.