Yesterday was our friend’s birthday so my wife, my 4 month old and I were in evidence at an enormo-bar chain place to celebrate at lunchtime. When my food arrived I went with The Child to an empty chair at the edge of our group to eat one-handed in peace and try and keep him entertained for a while.
All was calm, all was well. I was happy mangling chicken pie with a fork, he was happy watching me. Being a bit of a twat and, in fairness, acting one-handed I squirted a very small splash of tomato ketchup onto my trousers, and another onto the trousers of The Child. Now, I am a man of infinite resource, so in literally a second the spot of ketchup on my trousers (Ketchup Stain 1) was transferred, via my finger, to my mouth. Cue a momentary pause as I gazed at the small splash on his trousers (Ketchup Stain 2). A thought process was at play: should I consume that splash too using the finger technique, or sacrifice my only paper napkin to wipe it? This pause was at most a few seconds long.
Other important points to note:
1. During the pause I looked directly at Ketchup Stain 2.
2. This pause immediately followed the transference via finger of Ketchup Stain 1 to my mouth.
At this point, all considerations of choice were removed from me as a woman in the group next to us, a total stranger I had never seen, leant in (I hesitate to say “bustled” but she was, she was definitely bustling) grabbed my napkin from the table and said “I’m sorry, can I just?…. He’s got ketchup there” wiped it up and deposited my napkin on my plate. And like that, with no more words, she was straight back to her conversation.
A little stunned, I had managed to say “Yes, I know” and then as her onlooking friend smiled at me, mustered a slightly shocked but still polite “A mother’s instinct, hey?” But I didn’t openly challenge this behaviour.
Should I have done? I wished I had. I couldn’t help feeling that if it were the other way around and I’d leant in to clean up her child it wouldn’t have gone unremarked.
I mean, this was not a dangerously large amount of ketchup so there was no immediate drowning risk. Nor was it of a quantity significant enough to burn straight through his clothes to his skin, as we all know ketchup is wont to do. Moreover, just to reiterate, I had so far had mere seconds to react and I had seen the ketchup!
Am I overreacting? Was this instant intervention the justifiable action of a caring, attentive stranger to help a child-laden man? Or a presumptuous, patronising and intrusive bit of pushy-mumming?
Don’t tell me it’s actually something inbetween the two. Whose side are you on?