I love our cultural icon of the Mama Bear. She is fierce, strong, unwavering, and willing to do almost anything for her kids. It’s also very Minnesotan. Well, the bear part, anyway. Especially when it’s displayed on a shirt or mug adorned with buffalo plaid.
As a mom, I’ve always viewed myself as more Minnesotan than bear. Maybe it’s because I’ve lived longer with “Minnesota Nice” than with “Mama Bear”. Not that Mama Bear can’t be nice. But the adjectives “fierce” and “unwavering” don’t usually mesh with Minnesota Nice, which is more about setting aside one’s wishes so as to not interfere with another’s.
But there ain’t nothing that gets my Mama Bear going more than when complete strangers lay a hand on my kid.
Strangers and Babies
It starts when they’re babies, right? When people see your baby, they somehow feel compelled to march right up to you and start touching the baby’s face! Or wanting to hold the baby. I’ve even heard of women who, upon arriving to church or a social function, don’t see their baby again until it’s time to leave.
For some moms, it starts happening before the baby even leaves the womb. I’ve heard many moms-to-be report little old ladies coming up to them and patting their belly with their hands! Now that is most definitely NOT Minnesota Nice!
So what is it about these bundles of joy that is so compelling? Well, first of all, they are so sweet. And cuddly. And cute. And they smell so nice! There is also a theory that people are hard-wired to be drawn to babies to ensure that their needs will be cared for, no matter what.
That’s got to be it. Babies have magical powers that are incredibly difficult to resist. Now that I think about it, I might have been placed under a baby’s spell a time or two. Sorry!
So, what’s the problem? Well, people’s hands are pretty germy and babies are easy targets for any cold or flu bug that is going around. Every year, it seems as though we are hearing about another devastating illness striking our littlest ones. In light of this, Mama Bears need to come up with some defensive maneuvers.
What were my best tricks? Well, I have to admit I am a bit of a germaphobe so I definitely put some thought into protecting my newborn babe. First of all, I rarely took her out in public for the first 2 months. I’m not sure if I read that somewhere or it just seemed like a good idea since she was only 5 pounds when she left the hospital. And since she was only 5 pounds, she literally nursed all the time so it was just easier to stay home.
Next, I elected to carry my little daughter in a sling when we did venture out. Pretty hard to get at that baby with your hands when she is snugly tucked in there. When she got big enough, she graduated to a Baby Bjorn, making it easy to duck, tuck and turn to avoid those well-meaning cheek pinchers.
But when all else failed, my husband and I just said, in our best Minnesota Nice, “Please don’t touch her. She’s so young and there are colds going around – we don’t want her to get sick.” Meanwhile, I am silent screaming “Back off, Bucko!” while putting on my nicest Mama Bear face.
Let Her Decide
As my baby has grown through the years, I thought I’d left the days of her personal space being invaded behind. But no. People tend to forget that older children have a much stronger sense of their own physical boundaries. I think this is particularly problematic for those who have known your kid their whole life. Even though my daughter is 8, well-meaning relatives want to grab her, swing her around and tickle her. She doesn’t always want this sort of contact but also doesn’t really know how to express her feelings, especially in front of everyone. We are working on that.
I’ve even had people who know a family member but who are complete strangers to my daughter grab her and pick her up! Not only has this frightened her, the last time it happened the person hurt her back. And don’t get me started on people that grew up with birthday spanks who seem to think EVERYONE needs birthday spanks (um, no, they don’t).
Usually these things happen so fast my husband or I just don’t have time to react. We feel so very badly afterward. Like the time the swim instructor was going around dunking all the little kids, saying it was good for them to experience being under water. Like a couple of dorks, we just stood there and watched our child be traumatized. Neither one of us will ever forgive ourselves for that. Thankfully, at 8, she is enjoying swimming lessons and is able to jump off the boat and diving board. But it took a lot of patient encouragement to get her to this point.
I guess I am resigned to the fact that my “baby” is periodically going to be a target of unwanted physical contact. So, I am going to have to shed this Minnesota Nice and get my Mama Bear on.
Let me make this perfectly clear: Keep your hands OFF MY KID! Please.