Do not engage. I repeat: do not engage.

Two nights ago, one our family walk, we let Mr2yo out of his stroller. He shot off down the sidewalk as he always does and straight towards a small, dark colored object in the middle which he then bent down to touch, ignoring our cries and protestations.

And, that small brown object was dog poop because of course it was dog poop. And of course we were already blocks from home and of course we had no wipes or hand sanitizer or even an errant napkin in the stroller. Because I am the mother, I took the hem of my tunic and wiped his hand as best I could and then placed him back in the stroller, where, because he is 2 and because he was upset because we had just been yelling “no” at him and because he was being put back into his stroller he, of course, put his fingers in his mouth to comfort himself because of course and because he is 2.

So at this point, I take off back towards home just me and the stroller full of crying, distressed, poop covered finger sucking 2 year old and send Eric and the girls and the dog (our dog, not the dog who had pooped on the sidewalk) to finish the walk. And I’m sort of half fast walking, half trying to not make Mr2yo more distressed and alarmed while simultaneously trying to plot the fastest physically distanced course home through streets of our neighborhood that have one and sometimes no sidewalks and little to no pedestrian-friendly infrastructure like stop signs and crosswalks.

And in front of me, there’s a woman with a dog on one of those retractable leashes. And the woman is talking and I guess she’s talking to me? And she saying something about how her dog, who is sort of coming towards us and sort of looking at us, loves children. But my child is crying and I’m fast walking and I have no idea why this woman is talking to me but she and her dog are in the middle of the only, narrow sidewalk, so I turn off from the sidewalk and into the street. And the woman says, “oh no.” And when I look at her in response to her seeming tone of distress, she says, “We can be nice to each other, you know” and her hand gestures back and forth between the two of us in what I can only guess is some sort of universal sign for “we’re all in this together” which is also supposed to indicate that we are six feet from each other.

“My son just touched dog poop in the middle of the sidewalk and I’m trying to get him home,” I tell her, only I think there were probably a lot more “ums” and “errs” and pauses and hesitations and flustrations.

“Well, I didn’t do anything to you,” she responds, which, of course, convinces me that she was almost certainly the dog owner who did not clean up after her dog a few blocks back.

I arrive home after what feels like 17 days of toddler finger-sucking, wash all four hands, strip and change two bodies and the two of us are back outside on the front step when the rest of the family arrives back from the walk.

I tell them what happened on the way home. The children are rapt. And Eric is appalled, “That’s so passive aggressive,” he says. Ms10yo and Ms7yo want me to tell the story again but it is time to get dinner started and there’s already been more than enough excitement. But I understand why they want to hear it again. I know it’s because it’s a classic tale of their mother-hero thwarting the villain small dog lady on her way to save their little brother from poop bacteria. It gets them every time.

Late on, after I’ve had a little time to calm down a bit, I do what I often do in these situations, “God,” I ask the creator, “why do you make people like that.”

And this time, unlike many others, came a clear answer, “You do not need to engage with them.” Which, of course, is absolutely true and right and good. I know that this woman’s implication that I wasn’t being “nice” triggered me in some way to respond. As if someone thinking I’m not “nice” might somehow matter in some way. Which it doesn’t. And the whole interaction ended up leaving me more upset and irritated because she clearly didn’t not view me as a nice person and she never was going to view me as a nice person and what did it matter anyway as long as I could wash my kids’ hands?

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