Last Saturday, we went to a music festival, and met up with a couple friends. It was a great festival, and I really enjoyed the time with my friends, wandering around taking pictures, listening to music, and just generally being at a festive event.
There was one brief event, though, that leaves me feeling unsettled, even a week later.
We were sitting around in a little park where one of the festival’s many stages was set up. The last set for that location had finished, and lots of people were just sitting around enjoying the late afternoon sun. Our group had more-or-less camped out at the foot of a statue, the large stone base of which provided some much appreciated shade and a cool place to lean against.
After having been strapped in to a carseat and then a stroller all day, Theo was happy to be crawling around the grass in the park. He’d take off in one direction or another, and one of our group would follow along for a bit, then scoop him up and bring him back to our base. Theo got a lot of friendly smiles, and we’d get the occasional casual question about Theo’s age and whatnot. So I didn’t think much of it when a smiling man walked towards Theo as he was gleefully crawling away from me. I scooped Theo up, held him up high, smooched him on the cheek, and smiled at the stranger who was admiring my baby. The man stepped closer and asked about Theo’s age, and we started the usual chitchat. Then he reached for Theo and lifted him out of my arms, exclaiming over how friendly he was. I was completely taken aback by this. Then he started joking that he would take Theo home. Even though he was joking, I wanted to scream “give me back my baby!” I reached for Theo, and the man, still seeming to joke, made as if to walk away with him. I kept my hands on Theo and said, “I need to take him back. I was just going to change his diaper.” The man got a sort of blank, sort of startled, look on his face. “Really?” he said. He loosened his grip, and allowed me to reclaim my baby. I walked quickly back to our little group, and the man walked off another direction, disappearing fairly quickly into the thinning crowds.
I found myself quite shaken. It all happened so fast that John and my friends, who were sitting with Phoebe, didn’t even see the exchange. While the man seemed to be joking, it wasn’t clear to me how far he might have carried his “joke.” Would he have really walked away with Theo? Clearly, there must have been something somewhat off with this man’s mind, as most people know that it’s not okay to pick up a stranger’s baby without permission. He didn’t seem drunk, though he may have been. He may have been mentally ill. Neither of these possibilities is particularly reassuring to me.
In retrospect, I’m really glad I mentioned the diaper. I think it cut short the exchange, which already had gone on too long for my comfort. Perhaps it reminded the man that babies are not just smiley, cherubic playthings, but that they involve work and messiness.
I’m not one to spend a lot of time worrying about protecting my children from predators. I tend to focus on worrying about keeping them safe from cars and household accidents, worrying about how much they eat and sleep. But this incident, minor as it was, reminds me that there are people out there who will take advantage of that moment when you let your attention drift.