Cheek pinchers and why they are bad news

cheek pinchingIt’s a problem when you have a good-looking child. It’s a bigger problem when you have a good-looking child who has curly hair and cheeks. It’s an even bigger problem when people feel a good looking child with curly hair and cheeks has no business being a boy.

Two weeks ago, Re and I were invited to a home birthday party of a friend. Yes, he was my friend, but I like his kids and the whole family package, plus Re liked them too, and I wanted him to be a part of the plan.

As we waited for the lift in his building, we saw another family waiting: a man with two little girls and a lady who appeared to be his partner. Before I knew it, the man crept up and cupped Re’s cheeks from behind, pinching them. I was aghast. Re was startled and jumped, as any child accosted by a stranger is wont to do. He shrugged him off, rubbed his cheeks and quickly held me really tight. His cheeks have long since shrunk from the time I wrote this post, but turns out, the cheek pinchers are still at it.

Seeing him recoil, the perpetrator chuckled. I told him that Re was trained in self-defence. It was a veiled threat, because I was itching to slap him, but didn’t want to make a scene in front of Re. His wife smiled stoically and asked me if the child’s name was Re. She went on to add that she followed my columns and blogs. I saw a cake in her hand and it took me all of 10 seconds to realize we were going to the same party. This was a bad start, I thought, shuddering at the thought of spending the the rest of the evening in present company.

Once in the lift, the cheek-pincher continued to make eye contact with Re as he tried hard to look away. He was now aiming for Re’s curls, wondering aloud if he was a boy or a girl. I motioned him away sternly. His wife said boy. But he looks like a girl, said he. I stared. The ninth floor took forever to arrive. This was getting worse.

At the party, I mentioned the incident to the hostess. She was shocked too, but we went on with the motions of the party. Re’s mood had transformed seeing his friends, but mine hadn’t; I was just playing along.The rest of the evening was redeemed by a lot of dancing, and me keeping the cheek-pincher at bay by being my rudest best. I noticed that cheek pincher also proceeded to grab another (older) child and make him sit on his lap. The child’s parents didn’t bat an eyelid. May be it was just me.

As parents, we are always in the “slim-pickings” zone when it comes to making new friends post baby. We can choose our friends, but we can’t choose their spouse, the children, the rest of it.The problem with “package deal socializing” is that someone is always a bad egg. And they are already part of your circle by the time you realise it.

May be I should be protecting my friends and not be writing about this, but I really wanted to put this out there, so that said cheek pincher and the thousands of cheek-pinchers lurking around get the message.

Soon after the aforementioned incident, Re got grabbed and fondled by a grandmother of a bus-buddy while we were waiting for the school bus one morning. I was still reeling from cheek-pincher, so I lost it and gave her an earful. She was shocked; may be this was a first. She accused me of misunderstanding her pyaar. I told her there are many ways to show pyaar and intimidating a child by grabbing him is not one of them. Bus buddy’s family has now shunned us, although she had become a frequent play-date at our place. Her mother too has stopped smiling at me. Perhaps she is just being a dutiful daughter-in-law. Re is intrigued that his buddy doesn’t sit next to him on the bus anymore and is less chirpy around him.

But if you are a cheek pincher, or a child grabber, I want to know: why do you do this? Is it all children or ones with particularly juicy looking cheeks? Or curly hair? Would you be offended if the child in question shrieked and ran off? Or is that part of the fun? One person on twitter told me he does it because he had it done to him as a child. Another said but of course the kids enjoy it. I can’t imagine a more bleak world if all adults start thinking like this.

I have played aunt to several babies of friends, and I have never pinched a baby’s cheeks or picked up a baby without being asked to, and trust me, there were some really cute ones. I have never seen my parents do it either. And I have never ever touched a child I don’t know.

I am okay with being friendless for the rest of my life, but I have a problem with adults who can’t keep their hands off kids. People explain to me all the time that they are doing it out of love, that they meant no harm, that they love my kid so much, it was the only way they could react upon seeing him in person, but I don’t buy it.

Research reveals that nearly early two-thirds of humans will pinch, squeeze, grab, sometimes even bite cute little children. Most of these reactions are deemed playful and appear to be reactions to cuteness. They are definitely more common in India. On the surface, they look very much like aggression, and if I am  unable to see the difference as an adult, how can one expect a child to?

There is a term for it. Cute aggression – that strange compulsion to nibble a baby, stroke its face, or pinch its cheeks – is officially a thing. The same team of researchers who established the term have now expanded on it in a new paper in Psychological Science, explaining why humans feel such paradoxical, violent urges towards things they enjoy.

They theorise the feeling is similar to nervous laughter or tears of joy, an attempt to regulate emotion by going in the opposite direction and thus bringing ourselves back down to a normal state. “So, people who show dimorphous expressions in response to cute stimuli, like babies, tend to show them in response to other positive situations and emotions, such as crying during happy moments in movies,” the researchers wrote.

May be in the hierarchy of wrong things done to a child, cheek pinching features fairly low, but it’s the starting point for raising the bar. I don’t know when adults will truly learn to appreciate the personal space of a child. I am saying this here loud and clear so I don’t have to pinch your cheeks back in public: If you love my kid, keep your hands off him. Chances are, you have a shot at being loved back.

I think all children who have had their cheeks pinched should be allowed one good, hard kick at the pincher. Re is learning taekwondo and coming for you soon. And I will be cheering from the wings.

(A version of this post appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 12th October, 2015)

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10 thoughts on “Cheek pinchers and why they are bad news

  1. Next time, just try, ‘Please usko lagta hai, usko laga toh mujhe gussa aayega’ honestly, cheek pinching is a minor issue to me. There are way too many men who will dive between the legs of a 2-year old, hold the penis between their stupid fingers and ask, ‘What is this?’ If the child says, ‘susu’, it’s mirthful, very mirthful.

  2. What do you do if it is close family? I have an uncle who is very touchy-feely with kids (grabs them, smooshes them, throws them up in the air, generally ends the session with kid wailing, mother flustered and angry and uncle smugly smiling). I don’t have kids yet, but very hesitant meeting this uncle when I do have kids.

    • I don’t think family is out of bounds. You must tell this uncle if the parents haven’t yet. The more you let go, the more he will raise the bar, the more miserable the child will be. And no one deserves this!

  3. So true! It’s so frustrating when people, including old grannies, just assume it’s OK to touch infants and toddlers, even when they are shirking away from them. By the time I say something to stop, the deed is done, and my infant cries every single time.. Which the person finds cute too! I once literally held a man’s hand when he tried touching my baby’s cheeks moments after I asked him not to repeat! He still smiled at me, I just wanted to smack him so hard! It’s very common here to touch baby’s lips with their hand, in Chennai, and I wonder if people have forgotten the basics… And yes, they do think I am the snobbish north Indian for not putting up with this crap!

  4. Okay guess my comment got lost so writing again! I absolutely agree with you, there is not a single park outing not marred by such an incident when I go out with my girls,4 and 9 mths. Absolute strangers think it’s OK to touch a child’s cheeks, lips (this one just boils me from inside, but it’s surprisingly very common here in Chennai), and hug and pick them up, all this without even bothering to ask the mother or father. I always object but either I am too slow or they are too fast, that the deed is almost always done! Yes, many people in the society look at me now as the snobbish north Indian mother, but from my end, I still feel they get away easy (you see, I am always smiling when requesting them to stop). I literally held one man’s hand when he tried to touch my baby’s lips moments after I told him not to repeat, and all he did was chuckle. This was at the bus stop in full view of other parents. I end up picking up my baby from the pram whenever I am close to others or simply stop and stand like a ninja in front when people approach! Yes, I worry since there just aren’t enough people opposing it and that makes the perps feel they are quite in the green. All it needs is looking in the child’s eyes and they’ll know how much she abhors it! BTW, my little one always crys, to the person’s amusement and to my chagrin.

  5. My neighbors are like that.. Picking n grabbing the kid, throwing him in the air, shouting n making him cry.. N then laughing.. Adults as well as kids in that house do these things.. I don’t allow any such thing.. I say politely that he is scared pl don’t do this to adults, but sometimes I have to be rude.. I have always seen them doing these things with other kids.. They think I am over protective n not letting kid mingle with people.. My kid is very happy with people, not touching him n playing with a distance.. But people just don’t understand..

  6. Bang on! I have the same problem with my 16 month-old daughter. I don’t mind strangers talking to her and saying hello. But please don’t touch my baby – whether she likes it or not. And pinching cheeks? Really? It actually hurts!
    I think the reason people do this nonsense is that they think children are toys that they can pick up and examine and play with. Umm, no, they are people, too, and we need to treat them with respect. That is how they will learn to respect other individuals.
    As for friends and family, they say they are coddling children out of love, but it’s the love for coddling, not the love for children. At a party I actually asked a friend’s wife who was forcibly trying to hold my child if she could delay eating food to hold my child, so that I could eat peacefully. She said she’d be right back and I never saw here again that day. Hahaha!

  7. Living in India, we as the parents now pinch the cheeks of the pinchers. Doesn’t stop it, but does wonders in a society which revolves around not losing face. The more well mannered adults around us can only giggle, which adds insult to injury.

  8. Hello!
    In where I live, it’s very very normal for people to pinch baby’s cheeks, whether he/she is a relative or even a stranger. Almost all people I know (my mom, my aunts, my friends, and myself) will try to at least touch-if not pinch- their fluffy hand or cheek, even at a random baby we met in front of grocery store. And all those mothers will be very happy that we think their babies are cute. The moms will even try to grab their baby’s hand and make a waving motion with it towards us.

    I was actually very surprised reading your post that there’s actually people who hate that. No offense really, I’m just literally surprised in a good way (oh now I know). But really, every moms have different opinions and preferences, so I think it’s totally your right if you don’t like it! ☺️ Just wanna let u know that a LOT of other moms in other regions do not find cheekpinchers annoying. 😁

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