Eric and I were in a hotel lobby. We had a date to climb the stairs to the second floor together so he could see me watching him jump down them again one by one, but before we could do that I had some business to take care of with the people behind the lobby counter. While he waited for me, Eric engaged the attentions of a suit-clad business-type man who was sitting on a bench reading a newspaper.
I was turning back to collect my son when I heard the telltale sound: skin meeting skin. Eric was touching people again. I know a high-five when I hear one.
Eric is a toucher. If he likes you (and he likes 99.7% of you) he will not hesitate to come up to within inches of your face and rest his hand on your leg. He adores hugs and initiates them often, patting you understandingly on the back or arm. Eric sees the oneness in everyone and just assumes there is no separation between you and him, so for him it’s just natural to poke your eyes, explore your ears, or sit on your lap.
“Eric,” I say. “Some people don’t like touching. Ask before you touch.” Eric looked at me as if actually considering the merits of this new concept that we’ve discussed only 2947 times before.
“That’s okay,” said the man. “High-five.”
My laser beam eyes shot spears of light into High Five Man, impaling him to the wall. Dude. You do not know who you are dealing with. You do NOT get between a mama and her kid during an Important Teaching Moment. DO NOT TELL MY KID IT’S OKAY. STFU.
Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking. Pipe down, mom, it’s just a high five. The guy said it was okay.
Sorry, but no. Eric is six. The touching thing is cute now. He looks at you with innocent blue eyes, tips his head over to the side and grins. Who can resist that? It won’t be cute when he’s twelve or twenty-one or forty, a little boy in a man suit. Best case scenario if his touching remains unchecked into adulthood: people will ignore him, hoping he’ll go away. Worst case, they’ll be frightened. Angry. They’ll wield torches and pitchforks.
I went bowling with friends up in Ontario two years ago. It was mid-afternoon on a weekday and we had the place to ourselves except for one other bowler. Down Syndrome Bowler was a little guy in his 20s, clearly accustomed to bowling alone. He looked over at me and shouted from four lanes over. “I got a strike!”
Seeing Eric’s future holding a bowling ball, I smiled and nodded at him. A strike. That’s not easy for anybody. The manager looked at me from behind the shoe counter. “Is this guy bothering you? If he’s bothering you, lemme know.” He turned to Down Syndrome Bowler and his voice changed. Meaner. I winced. “Hey Mike! I TOLD you to stop bothering the people! One more warning and you can’t come in here.”
Down Syndrome Bowling Guy turned away, quietly finished his game — alone — and left.
Words cannot express how much I do not want this for my son.
It’s either Eric learns to deal with people in an accepted way now, when he’s still cute and rejection is nearly impossible, or he’s going to suffer later. Which would you choose?
So, people, I’m sorry. It doesn’t really take a village to raise a kid, not in this case. In this case, Mama rules and that is that. Don’t tell me, “It’s okay,” when I’m trying to teach my kid something.
I know that when people see my son they respond two ways, often at the same time without even knowing it:
1. Disgust. He’s … different. Go away, Different Kid. I can’t look at you.
2. Awww, he’s cute! I want to hug him and take him home. Look, he talks!
I know this and I’m okay with it. We’re all human here. But most people feel guilty about the disgust part, and move right into the Aww, he’s cute. They feel they shouldn’t have conflicting feelings about a little boy with blond hair and blue eyes.
So they overcompensate. My kid touches them inappropriately and they say, “He’s okay.” It comes from guilt. But hey, take your guilt and keep it. I don’t need it and my kid doesn’t need it. And when I tell him that he shouldn’t touch you, keep your pie-hole shut. I’ve got Eric’s future interests at heart. When you look at him you see a cute kid, but I see the man he’ll be one day. And I want that man to be happy.