“Bonjour, Bébé!” A stranger was reaching out stroking Lavin’s arm. She looked at us and started saying something else in French. We were shopping and Lavin was attached to me, facing out, in a baby carrier.
“Bonjour! English?,” we said wishing we’d brushed up on our French. We were on vacation, the island was a Dutch and French territory so we expected a language barrier. The woman quickly turned to find her friend, then motioned for us to wait there.
The two women come back chattering excitedly. The woman told a story to her friend, who said, “She see you on beach… were you at beach? Umm, Happy Bay?”
I said, “Oui, yes, we were there!”
The woman exclaimed again to her friend, who translated, “She saw baby there, she thinks he is sweet! Fun to see a baby.”
Then the woman bent over, took Lavin’s little face in her hands, and lovingly spoke to him in French. This went on for a few minutes. We only understood a few words, mostly “oui” and “bébé.” She smiled and said something to us in French before happily walking away.
At first the stranger’s touching our baby made me uncomfortable but the more I thought about it the more I appreciated it. More strangers touched our baby that week than they had his whole life. On this trip here was a sense of love and care for our baby, an admiration from complete strangers. They weren’t worrying about germs, the exact words to say or if we were anxious about other people getting too close. They were simply excited to see a fresh-faced baby, grateful to interact with him with a genuine interest in seeing his face light up with a smile. This experience, and so many others, is why I want to keep traveling with Lavin.
In America, there are so many hidden rules behind babies. We worry about germs, how close people are to us, and stranger danger. There is an underlying sense of fear around outsiders taking an interest in our children. In St. Maarten it was different. People noticed our baby and weren’t nervous to approach us. They wanted to talk with him and see his smile. They wanted us to know it was exciting for them to see a baby on the beach, in the shop and at the market. They weren’t worried about the last time they washed their hands or even that we didn’t understand their language. They only wanted to share their love and interest.
I want our baby to experience more of this kind of world. The world where people notice and say hello. This is why travel is so dear to me and why we make a huge effort to get out of our comfort zone. Immersing in other cultures and having Lavin experience the languages of the world is important to me. Our interaction with the woman at the store confirmed for me that the language we can all understand is love. I have taken her lead and am overcoming my self absorption to go out of my way to say hi and smile at those around me. Whether it’s smiling and saying, “you’re a good mom” when I saw a mom stand firm with a crying toddler, I made eye contact with the barista and said hello before rattling off my order, and I was the last to stop waving at the 3-year-old neighbor. I have surprised myself with the joy these little connections can bring.