The Tale of Stranger Danger While Shopping with Children (Complete with Morals!)

I have two little kids, and they’re objectively cute. I married up, and it worked out for all of us. They’re also really good kids, not the kind who start screaming and running around whenever we get inside of a grocery store or restaurant. Not that they came that way…we just parent them and let them know that that shit isn’t ever tolerated.

What is also not tolerated is a lot of stranger attention. As I’ve said, my kids are cute…beautiful, really (yes, I’m biased). And it’s actually mostly nice that they get complimented nearly everywhere. I’ve taken them out to dinner with just me when they were both under five, and they sat nicely and ate. We got complimented for that by at least three different tables. And if it’s not their good behavior they’re getting compliments about, it’s the fact that they are a blonde and a redhead. The redhead thing is of a particular sorcery to strangers, as it seems most people have no idea how red hair happens. They’ll look at my salt-and-pepper mop of hair and beard and say, “Mom’s gotta be a redhead.” And then they’ll giggle like I’m in a relationship with a mermaid or something. No, mom’s a German/Swede. She’s blonde. And it takes recessive genes from both parents to make a redhead.

And, NO YOU CAN’T TOUCH HIS HAIR.

People try to touch my kids’ hair waaay too often. Especially the redhead because he grows pure magic from his scalp, I guess. Some days I’ll decide not to put my daughter’s blonde hair up in cute twisty buns because I don’t want to deal with some old lady in the grocery store reaching out her nasty yellow-nailed fingers toward my daughter’s head while marveling at how well her mother must’ve done her hair.

People can be really damned creepy about children in public. It’s like cute kids are a community object, not individuals. We have a cashier at Target for whom I’ve constructed and rehearsed a “no, you can’t hug my kids” speech for the next time she tries that shit. I’ve turned to grab a box of cereal off the shelf and turned back to find some old man blowing raspberries at my kids within spitting range (this is why it’s good to have a pack of Wet Ones wipes in one of your dadderiffic cargo pant pockets at all times). And the list goes on and on, from head patting through cheek stroking. Some strangers even blow kisses, which makes me nauseated every time. I’m not saying my kids need to be in little bubbles or anything, but the usual social exchanges for adults shouldn’t automatically get tossed out the window with kids. If it’s creepy to do to an adult in public, then it’s quadruply creepy when you do it to kids. (Picture being in the cereal aisle and some old man blows you a kiss. Yeah…gross.)

I’m actually quite fine with most interactions. My kids are rather social and they like talking to people out in public. I am happy to be there and help facilitate conversations with strangers. Hell, I think we all need to talk more, but hands off. If anything, I just don’t know how well people wash their hands. I work in an ER. I see a lot of sick kids. My kids don’t get sick that often, so I’m going to keep smacking nasty stranger hands away from their heads, because it seems to be paying off as a strategy.

Now, it’s time for some tangental information that will soon be apropos. My son had mild lactose intolerance for a while, and he outgrew it. But for several months in a row, any cheese or dairy would result in a REAAAALLY full and heavy diaper. His older sister was well aware of this, and has always been protective of his needs. She’s a great sister.

I know. That was random. But you’ll see why I told you this in a moment.

Several months ago, I took my two kids with me to shop at Aldi. It was nice because the store converted to double-seat carts, which the kids usually like because they love each other, and I like because it helps me stave off the creepers. On this particular trip, we had a good, uneventful time.

Or so I thought.

We checked out, tossed all our loose groceries in the cart (because I always forget to bring bags), and got to our car.

Now here’s the PSA for parents: ALWAYS put your kids in the car first. Never slip the groceries in and then get your kids in the car as an afterthought. Get those babies buckled in and then load the car. I’ve always done this, and on this particular day it paid off.

I secured both kids in their seats, piled the groceries into the trunk, returned the cart, and was halfway to my car when some dude comes charging out of the doors of Aldi and starts shouting at me from across the parking lot.

“HEY! BEAUTIFUL KIDS YOU’VE GOT THERE!”

I turned and analyzed the threat. The dude looked to be in his fifties or so and had no cart with him. He was cupping his hands to shout at me over the parking lot noise, about fifty feet away. He’s complimenting my children’s beauty about five minutes after I got them in the car. This means he had been watching us, and I had no idea. He waved quickly at me before cupping his hands back around his mouth to shout again. I double-timed it to my car and flung open my door. I decided I will run over this dude if I need to.

Papa Bear mode engaged.

As I’m putting a leg in my car he shouts, “YOUR KIDS ARE JUST BEAUTIFUL! GIVE THEM LOTS OF JESUS!”

“What’s he saying, daddy?” asks my daughter as I sit.

“GIVE THEM LOTS OF JESUS!!!” we hear again just as I get my door closed.

I start the car and pull out of my spot. The man is still standing there. He’s waving and smiling like a manic crazy person.

“What did he say, Daddy?” my daughter asks again.

I take a moment to come up with something to ease my tension and try not to look as amped up and flustered as I am in front of my kids.

“He said that I should give you guys lots of cheeses.”

It was one of my better saves. I chuckled to myself, even. We were driving away from the religious solicitor. I felt better.

My daughter was concerned, though.

“But…Andy can’t have cheeses.”

What a good sister. Even with all the creepers and religious nuts out there, I know these two will always have each other’s back. And their parents will always be looking out for them.

Morals of the story:

  1. Always buckle your kids in first after shopping. I know I had already gotten everything in the car when this man approached, but better safe than sorry. If your kids are buckled in the car, you can close the doors and lock them if someone comes by trying to hug them, pet them, or give them some Jesus.
  2. It’s okay to tell people not to touch your kids. People are dirty until proven clean. Plus, you’re showing your kids that it’s okay to tell people not to touch them. That’s a good thing.
  3. Never let a stranger offer your brother cheeses when you know it would give him the screaming shits.

So glad he grew out of that…

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