If you’re a parent of small children living in Madrid you’ll find your child gets a lot of attention, especially from the elder generation. Sometimes it’s as though they’d never seen a baby before. Or they might show an interest and then proceed to proudly tell you all about their own grandchildren. You’ll find your little one gets showered with compliments: “qué guapa!”, “qué ojos más bonitos!” No matter if s/he’s got chocolate or dried snot smudged all over his/her face. True, your child is dressed all in pink with frills and bows and they still think she’s a boy because she hasn’t got her ears pierced, but don’t be offended: the ego-boosting flattery and evident love of children is something we should generally appreciate. All the same, it can occasionally be a bit overwhelming. Once on a beach in Valencia with my mother, a woman completely unknown to us whisked Mónica up and gave her a cuddle. I had to reassure my mother that this wasn’t abnormal and there would be no need to call the police.

On a visit home to England I had Mónica with me in a lift. We were surrounded by older people but Mónica was invisible to them. Not a single blowing of a kiss, not even a smile and certainly no one telling me how beautiful she was. What disappointment. Having said all this, some comments we get in Spain can be pretty irritating, like being constantly told that your baby’s hands are cold, or that s/he should be wearing a hat. When carrying Mónica in a baby-carrier once, a man in the lift in El Corte Inglés kindly informed me that babies needed to be lying down in prams or their back-bones wouldn’t develop properly. Right….so three-quarters of the world’s population are obviously staggering around bent double in pain because they had the misfortune to be born in countries where prams are not used….Another time I was told off (again by a man) in a hospital because Mónica, aged two and a half, had a dummy in her mouth. “Take away her dummy. It’s bad for her teeth!” She had just been a bit traumatised during an appointment and badly needed consolation. I gave him an earful.

I think we need to make a distinction here between the critics and those who are actually just trying to be helpful, no matter how irritating to us their efforts might be. A Spanish friend gave me an explanation once. Older Spanish people grew up either in a village or in a community (at a time when communities existed in all parts of towns and cities). In other words in a ‘pueblo’ of sorts. Children in their ‘pueblo’ were considered children of the pueblo. So all adults shared to some extent in the responsibility of looking after the village’s children, i.e. if a child wasn’t dressed properly or was crying or fussing, any older person nearby (who may well have known the child and the mother) would feel it their duty to help in any way they could by advising the mother as to what to do or soothing the child. Many still have this mentality, even towards children they don’t know. So, now that I understand this, when they tell me my child’s hands are cold, rather than get defensive, I just smile and say I’ve tried putting gloves on her but she pulls them off every time (the truth).  If they tell me off on the other hand, I speak my mind.

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