Since Wallace was an infant, I’ve had to stand my ground when strangers touch him. I tried to be kind, but sometimes they just didn’t get it. It’s as if people feel entitled to touch, comment on, and intrude upon babies just because they can’t talk and are small and cute. I once had a woman working the meet department at the grocery store touch his foot. Another time, a cashier at the store touched his face. I called her out on it and she tried to say she didn’t. Sometimes I just wanted to scream at people but I tried to keep my cool and be respectful even when they weren’t.
When it came to friends and relatives, I always felt obligated to facilitate them being able to hold and interact with Wallace. He was a very attached and high needs baby and toddler. If I let someone else hold him, or they got to him without permission, he had this warning sound, before he would start to cry, that sounded like a laugh. People would think that meant he liked whatever they were doing, but he didnt. I had to jump in and rescue him before it escalated to a full on cry as the calming down process was long and arduous. This meant that pretty much myself and my dad were the only ones to successfully hold him for over a year.
As a young child, people still seem to think they have a right to touch him, but they also think he must interact with them and answer their questions. If he doesn’t jump through their hoops with a smile on his face, they label him “shy” or tired and probably judge me for his lack of socialization with a stranger. Or, better yet, they begin to lecture me or him on stranger danger. Ironic.
Usually, Wallace does not choose to respond to people, even ones he does know, like our chiropractors or his friends’ parents. Sometimes he will resort to gibberish, point at me, or shoot me wide eyed looks begging for help. It takes a long time for adults to gain his trust to the point he will converse with them.
Wallace also thinks it’s stupid when adults always ask him the same questions: what’s your name, how old are you, do you go to school. Really, is that all people can think of?! Isn’t that a bit invasive and one sided for a first conversation? He and I have discussed this phenomenon and that he does not have to reply, can talk to them if he wants, can make up answers, can ask me to speak on his behalf, or can even ask his own questions.
We had an incident yesterday at the bank where a woman sat down right next to him and started asking him invasive questions. When he did not answer, she started tickling him. I intervened and said he didn’t like it and that he was moving away from her. I also tried to get him to come stand by me. She did not get the hint. She did not understand that he has rights to his body just like she does. And I’m trying to deal with this all while interacting with the bank employee to get the paperwork I needed.
When we got in the car, I was pretty agitated. We talked about how he didn’t like what the lady did, how he wanted her to sit farther away, and what his various options were. I explained again he can use his voice to tell someone to stop or leave him alone. I also explained that if a grown up walked up to another grown up and started touching their body, it could be assault and they could call the police. I was able to turn make the conversation a little lighter be explaining that he could ask someone how old they are if they have asked him. It might be funny because grown ups don’t always want to say their age either.
I wish people would take a hint and read body language, listen to kids and treat them with the respect they deserve, and stop touching people without asking.