I don’t like talking to strangers.
I can do it if I absolutely have to – if I’m lost and need directions, or if I need help getting the buggy through a narrow doorway – but in general, I go out of my way not to. I avoid eye contact with sales people in shops, dreading the cheery, “Is there anything I can help you with?” question. At my first job out of university, I ate lunch in my car so I wouldn’t have to chat with my colleagues in the break room. I’m THAT awkward.
The Popple, on the other hand, loves strangers. She often walks up to them and touches them, and you can’t avoid having a conversation with someone who your baby has just grabbed.
“We don’t go around touching people,” I say to her, laughing awkwardly. People always say it’s fine. Of course they do. What else can they say? She’s a super-cute baby, after all.
The Popple just stands there, her hand on the stranger’s leg, staring up at them with her big brown eyes. I urge her to move along but she’s transfixed, so I have to keep talking to the stranger. I babble on about how she’s really interested in people (obviously), while the stranger makes polite comments about her adorableness. I start to get very red and sweaty. The Popple is oblivious. She might try to steal something of theirs – a water bottle maybe, or something sticking out of their handbag. I apologise profusely. The stranger is nice about it. I pick up the Popple and try to distract her with something that’s not a person.
It’s not as uncomfortable when she does this to children, because they don’t have any social filter either. The Popple is really curious about older kids, and often walks up to groups of them playing at the library or playground. I never know what to say to them either, but kids really know how to get a conversation going.
“I can jump,” a little boy said to us when the Popple approached him in a cafe last week.
“Can you?” I said.
He jumped for me. “She can’t because she’s a baby,” he said, pointing to the Popple.
“No, she can’t,” I said.
“I have a fire truck at home,” he said.
“You do?” I said.
He pointed to a dog laying on the floor at the table nearby. “That’s my dog. She doesn’t bite.”
The Popple reached up and poked him in the chest. He patted her head. They stood there together, being weird in that way that only kids can be.