Tuesday, 7 February 2012

The comfort of strangers

Like many young children on the cusp of toddlerdom, my daughter likes to interact with strangers on buses and trains. Usually getting a smile from them will suffice. A wave is a bonus. A quick game of peepo makes her day.

To this end she has a number of tricks. She will make eye contact with strangers. If this doesn't work she will laugh at them. If this doesn't work she will wave at them or pull their coat or touch their hand. Or blow a raspberry or warble a song or throw her toy at them. She is very good at getting attention.

The demographic of our daily journeys, often staying local and travelling by bus, means she usually tries this out on other parents or older people. They are often keen to reward her efforts. And of course it is most embarrassing, and enjoyable, when she picks on an attractive young man, though I also took great joy in watching a spotty awkward young teen boy play with her for about ten minutes the other day, clearly giving each other great pleasure and, I hope, confidence. It is slightly awkward when she picks on an aggressive looking wannabe gangster. Yet they all fall for it. From schoolgirl to down-and-out, from office worker to ticket inspector, people always return her efforts with some form of interaction.

Until they didn't. Is thirteen months less cute than twelve months? Last week she twice pulled out all the stops to have this interaction, and twice failed, eventually looking at me in wonder as if to ask why. Better to explain it now I guess, then to have to tell her several years into the future that however much you try the cute boys won't always want to play with you. And at some point of course we will want her to stop being so open and friendly to strangers and to start being on her guard a little.

Yet still, as these folk looked straight ahead, read their books, listened to their iPods, fidgeted and did anything other than look at my wondrous daughter, my heart did break a little.

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