Sunday, 28 September 2008

Touch and go

Someone asked, the other day, how I was coping being the only man at all the parent-toddler sessions I attend. I told her, honestly, I'd hardly noticed; Charlie is too busy for my eyes to wander, and when you're sniffing at his backside to discover if he needs a change of nappy or wiping sick up off the carpet or yourself, you can hardly stand on ceremony. But there is one thing that I've been uncomfortable with: touching other people's children. You can hardly avoid it; they bump into each other (and need separating), race towards impending danger (and need saving) and whichever parent is the nearest is expected to step in. And that's the problem. At school we had entire policies on when and how it was appropriate to touch a pupil (and descriptions of the least litigious ways to do it). But working at a secondary school meant there were seldom any occasions when I had to put it into practise. Now though, suddenly, it's happening almost every day. The occasions when it's necessary to pick up someone else's baby or else grab hold of them to stop them crashing to the floor occur so frequently that I've stopped counting. There is no way of avoiding it (which is exactly as it should be, considering the circumstances). But as anyone who's ever worked with children knows, this has become an area of professional paranoia in recent years. The days of a friendly arm around the shoulder or - worse still - physically intervening in a fight (especially one between two girls!) are long gone. (And given the nasty bite I received on the one occasion I had cause to do the latter, that's no bad thing!) But I've noticed this hesitancy among fathers in the park, too; we won't be the first to go the aid of a child who's fallen down and scraped its knee; we'll wait and look around (for witnesses?) before we'll lift a child into a swing. And ultimately, that's something to be more uncomfortable about than touching other children.
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