Interrogation in the Supermarket

Years ago, back when I lived a carefree, non-parent life, I used to go about my days relatively unmolested. I could walk down the street and nobody would pay me any attention. I could spend as long as I liked (preferably not too long!) in the supermarket and nobody would speak to me. I quite liked it.

As soon as OB came into my life, all that changed. Having a gorgeous, wide-eyed, cheeky-looking toddler in the trolley seat apparently attracts all kinds of attention. There were comments about his cuteness - I appreciated all of those! - and questions. Lots and lots of questions. What's his name? How old is he? And, as he got older, does he go to nursery? To school? (He's very tall!) To be fair, these were far more innocuous than the questions I got asked at the Sure Start Centre tots group, which often centred around unpleasant-sounding birthing experiences. 

All of that was fine, though. OB was (and is) fabulous and I never minded answering questions about him or accepting compliments on his behalf.

Since I've had other children alongside OB though, I've noticed a major shift. I don't get asked questions any more. Suddenly, I'm invisible, and all the questions about the babies and toddlers are directed at OB.

Is this your sister?
What's her name?
Is she good?
Does she cry at night?
Does she share your toys?

And so on and so on. Poor OB. It's torture for him. Firstly, the answers to some of those questions are not always so straightforward. Is this your sister? Or brother? Until a few months ago, none of the children that have accompanied us to the supermarket have been OB's sisters or brothers. I used to step in to save his awkwardness but, to be honest, I would struggle to answer the question too. Do I lie? Or do I tell the truth and say "No" - an answer that really feels as though it requires further clarification that I'm not sure I want to give to the stranger in the supermarket.

Secondly, OB is shy around strangers. Actually, he's shy around people he knows. When we go to his best friend's house it takes him a while to work himself up to taking off his coat. He has a hard time answering people's questions. It puts him under pressure. If a stranger even asks him what his name is, he practically turns himself inside out. A supermarket interrogation is the last thing he needs.

And for some reason, so many of these curious strangers seem to take his non-response as a personal challenge. They keep going, determined to drag some answers out of him. I assume they're trying to show him they're friendly and establish some sort of connection but the longer it goes on, the more gnarled up OB gets. If he does answer, it's barely audible, which the interrogator takes as a signal to get him to repeat his answer over and over again, resulting in five more whispers and then one strangled shout. Cue the interrogator backing off in alarm.

So do I intervene and answer for him, thus giving everyone the impression that I'm an overbearing mother and that's why he's so shy? Or do I explain that he's shy and risk shaming him? Or do I just stand there and let it happen, hoping he'll 'toughen up'? (Hint: it won't be the last option!)

I've started ordering online!


  1. Yes! My son is only 2 1/2 but already this drives me crazy. People meeting us for the first time ask him his name - I answer. They turn back to him and ask how old he is - I answer. And so it goes on. He's preverbal for goodness sake! Yet I feel judged for 'answering for him', like he is being rude by not talking to them.

    1. Oh I do know what you mean! And so often people say things to pre-verbal children that are really meant for you, the parent, to hear!

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    3. Oo, a long reply came out of me....

      Firstly, I do this. *feels guilty* 'You're so beautiful, but I bet you're a pickle in the night time, aren't you, yes?' Sorry about that.

      In other news, in the supermarket, if the parent kept replying like that, eventually my attention would turn to them, and I'd stop addressing the child. I hope. I would never feel like the parent is being rude. I'd assume little Jonny is having a bad day/being shy/is on the autistic spectrum...I probably wouldn't think of the child being preverbal as the reason they aren't replying (although of course I will now), but I wouldn't ever assume the parent or the child is doing anything that I should take offence at. I hope that helps.

      If I was meeting you for the first time and we are likely to meet again, e.g. we're at a playgroup, then literally the words 'He's preverbal.' would make me go, 'Oh ok.' And then I'd carry on talking to him, with age appropriate language, but not expecting a reply, and using more gesture/pointing/showing. Like, 'This is a nice t-shirt, do you like Paw Patrol? Shall we play with these cars?' Etc. Important question: Is that the right thing to do? Or should I behave/communicate differently with a child who is preverbal?

      Many thanks, and sorry again about the irritating thing in the supermarket, it's just your babies are so darned cute.


    4. Ah Judy, thanks for your comment :D And it does help to know that there are people out there who are as thoughtful about approaching children as you are :) When I mentioned people who say things to pre-verbal children that are really meant for their parents I was thinking of a particular instance when Birdy was in hospital and one of the nurses addressed herself to Birdy the whole time - as in: "Oh, your nappy looks very full. I bet you'd like a nice clean nappy wouldn't you?" I was standing right there! Eventually I said, "She's not going to reply, you know." I don't think it was particularly appreciated!

  2. judging from previous posts ob seems to have some anxiety around strangers and strange situation which may not be age appropriate. If he were my child I would consider having him evaluated either by a psychologist or developmental pediatrician. I don't know what he experienced prior to coming to you but those things can have lasting effects. It could also be something like lack of confidence. Either way avoiding these situations all together could do more harm than good. Good luck.

    1. Thank you. We are accessing some appropriate help for him via post-adoption support. The wheels turn slowly but they are moving forward a little!


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