Many years ago, I was with my cool aunt (everyone has one) in Seoul. We were riding the subway and she spied a cute, chubby baby so she did what came naturally – she leaned right over and rubbed that baby’s cheeks.

I was horrified. I am Canadian. We don’t touch strangers (needless to say, my entire experience in Asia was an experiment in recalibrating my relationship with personal space).

Another time on the bus, I saw a very cool example of what I’ll call the Korean Grandma Connection. There was a grandma sitting down by the rear doors when another grandma climbed aboard with a little baby and a bag. Without exchanging a word, the embarking grandma, who needed to arrange herself and her bag, plunked the baby into the seated grandma’s lap, who welcomed the baby with outstretched arms. Once the grandma was ready to take the baby back, she did, and the other grandma just went back to sitting in her seat as if nothing had happened. It was incredible.

That’s how another culture does it but that could never happen in Toronto.

How close do you let people get to your baby?

When Tokki was still a newborn, I wanted everyone to basically go through a hot car wash before coming within breathing distance. Visitors to the house were always asked to wash their hands before cuddling the mini muffin man.

But out on the mean streets of our neighbourhood, where Portuguese grandmas seem to rule every corner? There they are, these doting older ladies, cooing and cajoling and generally loving my then-tiny stroller monkey. What was I to do? Carry hand sanitizer and pump it willy-nilly? Plenty of people will touch your baby’s hands and face, everywhere you go. Manners mean I just go along with it.

But recently, I had to rethink my attitude toward physical closeness when a sticky situation came up at daycare.

My husband, Isaac, was dropping Tokki off at daycare. Tokki began to cry. A daycare staffer swooped in to comfort him and gave him a kiss. Isaac watched, horrified, because he thought he saw a cold sore on the woman’s lip.

Isaac filled me in briefly during the work day and I promised I would discuss it with the daycare supervisor that afternoon at the daycare. But I couldn’t. I love the daycare staff and I felt really weird saying, “Um, does your staff member have a cold sore? Does she know how contagious it can be to give my baby a kiss?” So I just didn’t say anything.

When we re-grouped at home that evening, Isaac asked what I’d said.


“What?!” And then we both started to escalate each other’s paranoia.

“Are cold sores contagious?”

“Google it!”

“Why are the staff even kissing the children, anyway?” That last one was Isaac speaking. I didn’t know how to answer.

Is there anything wrong with kissing my baby? Well, now that a cold sore was thrown into the mix, yes, I suppose. It’s not to stigmatize the virus. I don’t want anyone with a cold or a flu to kiss my baby and take down our whole family for a sick week, either.

In the end, we talked with the daycare supervisor (it turns out it wasn’t a cold sore but a cut from getting bumped on the lip by a child at work).

What mattered more was our discussion about kissing at daycare, where they pride themselves on having a “family-like” homey environment. Talking about it made me realize that I appreciate that very much, which is where Isaac and I may differ on kisses.

When my little Tokki cries, I want to someone to hug, and sure, kiss him, until he feels better. I appreciate that the staff at daycare treat my baby with such affection.

The daycare kissing situation was defused but now that flu season is upon us, how close is too close for your kids?

I can’t control what other people will do, grandmas or daycare workers or otherwise, but I make sure that I am conscious of my own germy hands. I ask parents before I cuddle little babies. The bigger babes, toddlers like my own, are outside licking the pavement anyway, so I consider them fair game for a high five.

See all of Hannah Sung's posts here.

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