What is it about my children that makes strangers want to give them things? I could say it’s because they are so adorable people can’t help themselves (snort!), but thinking about the times it’s happened I start to see a pattern: they are always with my husband. Is this because people take pity on a man when he is caring for his children without his wife to support him? I heard author Michael Chabon on NPR the other day talking about how low the bar is set for fathers. (He just published Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father and Son.) He tells the story about being in the grocery store holding his 10-month old in one hand and placing the items on the check-out counter with the other, when the woman behind him in line gushes: “You are such a wonderful father.” Chabon said, “I certainly wasn’t doing a good job, and yet there I was being given this gift of praise and so much credit. It’s just because of the mere fact that I’m just there, holding on to my kid. … That’s all it takes to qualify sometimes.”
The first time Kaiden received a gift from a stranger was in Aspen when he was almost a year old. I was in a cafe getting some food while Siig sat outside with him. When I came out, Kaiden was holding a stuffed zebra in his hand, like the one from the movie “Madagascar.” Siig said some lady walked by and thought Kaiden was so cute she went into a toy store and bought it for him.
I didn’t really think much of it, thinking it was a one time occurence, until this summer when, once again, I was in a burrito place getting food while Siig and the kids waited outside. (There is most definitely a pattern here.) All of a sudden Kaiden and Kaya come bursting through the door, waving a dollar bill in their hands. Some old man had walked by, spotted the kids, and thought they deserved a buck of their own. I was just glad he didn’t ask if they wanted to step into his van for a piece of candy.
OK, I thought, something is definitely going on here. This never happens when the kids are alone with me.
Then, a few weeks later, Siig took Kaya into a music store to look for a CD while I waited in the car. He didn’t find what he was looking for, but out she walked with a free pink visor and pinwheel that the music store owner gave her. Score.
But I couldn’t help but wonder – are these people giving the kids gifts out of pity for the dad, who they assume is helpless when it comes to taking care of children because that is a “woman’s domain?” Or are my children so obnoxious that strangers try to shut them up with presents (I have been guilty of that myself)? Or are they just so damn cute people can’t help themselves?
But what I really want to know is this – what do I have to do to start getting people to give me free stuff?