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Monday, September 10, 2007

Stranger Danger

I have often told people that Olivia doesn't know a stranger. This has become my standard response when Olivia says "Hi! My name's Olivia!" to absolutely everyone. And since she practically came out of the womb talking, that's a lot of people we've come across out there who have cause to know her name.

She used to startle people with her articulation. You know, the people who can't resist talking and cooing at babies they meet on the street. Only this baby would talk back. She was such a little squirt, too, it would catch people off guard.

Now that Olivia is getting older and approaching a more independent stage, her friendliness is starting to concern me, just a little. I mean, I am a stay-at-home mom and everything -- whatever that means -- so I pretty much have her either in my sights or entrusted with someone I have handpicked. But it's not so much that she'll talk to anyone within her sights that worries me, but that she'll go with them, too.

One incident with her stands out clearly in my mind: We were at the Strip in Las Vegas, where we lived at the time. (We lived in Las Vegas, that is, but not on the Strip.) We were waiting to meet up with some family that was visiting and were hanging out outside P.F. Chang's in front of the Aladdin Resort. We had a few minutes to kill, and since Olivia had been sitting in the stroller already for a couple of hours I decided to let her out to walk around. She was right at a year-old -- that classic wind-up doll stage: you set her down and off she goes, randomly changing direction or turning abruptly on her heels, never completely stopping or pausing to consider what or who may be in her path.

I followed closely behind her with the stroller in tow, heading off any potential collisions. She was getting some attention, of course -- not many people resist a little pixie doll who waves and says "Hi!" (she hadn't quite gotten the "My name is Olivia!" part down yet).

Now this was Las Vegas at high noon, nothing but tourists in sight. And one of these sweet grandma-types walks by and says, "Hello, sweatheart!" and, quite instinctively, reaches down her hand. And Olivia takes it and starts to walk off with her.

Well, this woman was quite taken aback and quickly looked around for who she really belonged to. Of course, I was right there watching the whole thing and claimed her right away, much to Olivia's chagrin. And I thought, sheesh: it's a good thing this woman really is someone's grandma from Minnesota.

It seems to have something to do with moving back to America, because I really wasn't so worried about this friendliness of Olivia's in Italy. She readily said "Ciao!" to everyone who gave her any mind -- which, in Italy, is everyone: they looove children. But I didn't have any paranoia about her being scooped away in the nanosecond it takes me to blink, or the 10 seconds it takes me to run after her little brother. Italians love kids, but they aren't having any of their own -- why would they want mine? (Don't answer that.)

And this is so 180 degrees from how her big brother was. Never, ever in a million years would I have had to worry about him running off with the first person to offer him a hand: he was too busy hanging onto my pantlegs. No matter where I took Conner in this preschool age, it took him 45 minutes to leave my side. Seriously. I timed it. Olivia doesn't even glance back when I take her somewhere --other than one time, toward the beginning of her going to the Asilo (Italian preschool) she hung around me when several of the other kids were having a freaking-out episode during the drop-off. She hugged me for a whole five minutes. I loved it. It never happened again.

So I have gradually been introducing the idea of strangers into Olivia's world. Remember, this is a foreign concept to her. A couple of weeks ago I came across this book, "The Berenstain Bears Learn About Strangers", and I thought, perfect! One of the pages reads: "Brother Bear was cautious and careful and a little wary of strangers. Sister, on the other hand, wasn't the least bit wary. She was friendly to a fault. Just about everybody that came her way got a big hello." Sound familiar?

We read it through one night, talked about it a bit, nothing big. A few days later we were going somewhere and Olivia was straining against her seatbelt while we were stopped at a light, trying to holler out her open window to the cars next to us. "Hello! Hi! What's your name?"
"Olivia, not everyone wants to talk to you."
"But I want to talk to them! They're my friends!" She really said this.
"Remember that book we read about strangers?" Pause.
"I wish we'd never read that book!" Humph!
But she stopped trying to holler out. Or did the light just turn green?

Whatever the reason, it was a start. I don't think it will take much on my part, just a few nudges to get her realizing there's a lot of people out there, and not all of them are good friendship material. Kids hear so much more than we tend to give them credit for -- usually evidenced when you hear your words come out of their mouths directed at someone else. For better or worse.

And here I was just going to write about getting the kids fingerprint and photo IDs at the Beavercreek Popcorn Festival. Guess I got sidetracked.

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