The “Stranger” at the Mall

Hi Readers: Just got this note. Read on!

Dear Free-Range Kids: I swear, I could just cry at the stranger-danger hysteria these days.

I have the good fortune to be self-employed.  As such, I can work whenever and wherever I want, so today I chose to work at the mall.  (I know, right?)  Did a little shopping, had a little lunch, now I’m ensconced in the bookstore cafe, latte in one hand, mouse in the other, waiting for my husband to get off work so we can go home together.

I am not a conventional looking woman, I guess, which makes me a rather attractive target for curious children.  I have long purple hair, wear gothy makeup, and don’t look like your typical mother of teenagers.  Add my little cloud of technology – a huge purple laptop with a matching purple mouse and a cell phone with a purple cover serving as my wireless hotspot…well, kids want to come look and ask questions.

Usually, I’m very happy to entertain them.  They either want to gawp at my hair (“Does your Mommy let you color it like that?”) or pet my computer or ask me what I went shopping for (there’s a big bag from Torrid at my feet.  It’s very pink and very eye-catching.)  Today, though, it’s been nerve wracking!  The kids come over and start to chatter while their parents are distracted, I invite them to sit and I smile and answer their questions, and then their parents come swooping out of nowhere, gasping and huffing and giving me the stink-eye whilst hustling their progeny off quickly in the opposite direction.  One woman even threatened to call Security!

The worst, though, was the gaggle of teenagers.  The teenagers weren’t bad.  Actually, the teenagers were pretty awesome.  There were four of them — three girls and a boy, all looking to be high school students close in age to my own kids.  They bounced about and asked me where I bought my hair dye and what kind of makeup I used, and the boy had a million questions about my computer and what I was doing.  He was delighted to hear that I work for a large search engine company, and proceeded to tell me all about how he wants to work for my client some day.  His sister poked him and told him she had a better chance there than he did, and they good-naturedly argued over who was the bigger nerd.  They were perfectly charming and funny and sweet and I was rather enjoying their company, even if they were sort of interrupting my work. They were not the bad part.

The bad part was their Mother.  She came into the cafe, found them sitting with me, chatting happily, and FLIPPED OUT.  How DARE I speak to her children, what was I doing there?  The boy protested.  “Mom, we were just asking her about her computer and stuff!”  Mom was not satisfied with that and ordered them away.  “You just never know what kind of freaks will try to sneak you out some back door!”

Merry Frellin’ Christmas to you, too, lady.  Sheesh. — M.

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97 Responses to The “Stranger” at the Mall

  1. Anthony Hernandez December 29, 2010 at 10:39 am #

    If this was me, I would have taken down that c***’s information and pressed civil charges for defamation of character.

    I know, I know, lawsuits suck, but I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that sometimes fire must be fought with pyrotechnics.

  2. Maureen December 29, 2010 at 10:42 am #

    Can someone tell me what kind of danger three teens at a crowded mall are in?

  3. ShadowL December 29, 2010 at 10:57 am #

    Please come hang out at MY mall! I have 2 kids, both geeks. One is 6’1″ tall with hair past the shoulder blades and the other is short and round and they both have a fascination with computers, manga and anything “not normal”. Oh and they are both boys.

    I would be thrilled if MY kids felt they could walk up to an adult working on something they are interested in and be able to ask questions and get answers instead of said adult being worried what I would think about them talking to my kids (who are old enough to ride a city bus TO the mall without me).

    Thank you for talking to the kids who ask you questions even if their parents don’t appreciate what a blessing that kind of communication truly is these days. ((((hugs))))

  4. KarenElissa December 29, 2010 at 11:11 am #

    I really don’t get this. I mean with little kids I can at least follow the reasoning. I don’t like it or agree with it, but I can see where parents are coming from.

    But with teenagers?! These kids will be out in the business world and interviewing for jobs and networking and such within a couple of years. Making small talk with a stranger is a HUGE skill they are going to need. How will they develop it if they aren’t allowed to talk to people in a public, non-sketchy place?

    On the up side, I was sitting in a bookstore working on my computer and I watched a MAN pick up a toy for a a baby (about 9 months old) and then sit at a table near the baby and make faces and laugh at the baby talking. No one seemed to mind, no parents freaked out, no police were called, no one was kicked out. It is sad that I thought of this site and all the people, like the poster here, who aren’t “allowed” to interact like this guy did because of the world we live in and all the crazy people overreacting.

  5. Marie December 29, 2010 at 11:18 am #

    Those poor teens. Just how does their mother expect them to deal with the real world once they’re 18?

    Admittedly it seems to me that the teens were coping pretty well just then. Good to see that mom’s paranoia hasn’t ruined them so far.

  6. King Krak, All-Seeing, All-Knowing December 29, 2010 at 11:19 am #

    The husband and kids of this woman are quite lucky. She’s a keeper.

    I doubt there’s anything that can be done about crazy, brain-washed mom’s, like the one who spoils the ending to this story.

  7. Sandra December 29, 2010 at 11:33 am #

    M., I think I want my kids to find you someday at the mall. I would be honored for them to learn from you!

  8. Nanci December 29, 2010 at 11:55 am #

    I’m typically a SAHM but I’ve had a part time holiday job working at a mall card selling a variety of merchandise. It is set up in the food court area and I have lots of time to people watch. It has been educational to say the least. I’ve met all kinds. I am happy to report that I have seen several pre-teen kids happily wondering the mall without a parent in sight and usually they are behaving quite well. I’ve heard a few helicopter parents warn their child when they wander 7 or 8 feet away about the dangers of being stolen. Then there was the most incredibly crazy thing I’ve ever encountered. This is my 3rd Christmas working at the cart and this happened last year. A woman and her teenage daughter were sitting at a table about 10-15 foot from my cart. The mom approached me and asked how long I would be there. I told her until close. She then pointed to the daughter and ask if I would keep an eye on her while she went to into a store. I could not believe it, out of pure shock I said OK. She actually said just make sure no one steals her! The girl was bigger that me (I’m small only 5’1). I have no idea what this lady thought I would do if some guy decided to come along and pick up a teenager and haul her out of the food court! She looked pretty old so I went over and asked her age, she was 15!!! She said her mom didn’t allow her to be in the mall alone. A little while later the mom came back, thanked me for watching her daughter and left. It was shocking and so sad.

  9. Larry Harrison December 29, 2010 at 12:43 pm #

    My grandfather on my mother’s side, who died in 1997 at age 84, would be livid at this development.

    I recall in the 80s his tendencies towards being friendly to other’s children while grocery-shopping, babies especially were a “target” of his. He just had that heart, he found them cute, and couldn’t resist. The parents were happy to oblige.

    Nowadays they’d be telling him “get your own grand-kids to harass, pops!” Well I was one of the 30-odd grandchildren he had, it’s not as if the man had nobody, and heck, given that we converged on his house with all our terror every Sunday, you’d think he’d appreciate quiet during the weekday–yet there he was, being friendly to other’s children whom he didn’t know, just sharing his joy.

    And no one thought him weird for it at all.

    Well, for whatever kids all the time gravitate towards me in public, and I oblige them. Let whoever wants to freak out, it won’t kill my joy, and I’m not going to change. As an example, some 3 months ago, while waiting at a barber shop, I saw a 3-year old there with his mother–I kept making goofy faces, causing him to crack-up laughing so hard the mother stormed out with him in tow, ha ha!

    This one’s for you, pops.


  10. sunkitty December 29, 2010 at 12:54 pm #

    If I was to do to my teens what that mom did mine would disown me, and inform me I needed a life. But then again I tend to let them decide for themselves many things others think I’m crazy for allowing.

  11. Rhea December 29, 2010 at 1:24 pm #

    Wow, this is just so ridiculous! Thank you M for bringing some variety, excitement, wonder and intrigue into childrens lives. Keep up the good work!!!!

  12. JaneW December 29, 2010 at 1:55 pm #

    Speaking of hazards at the mall, what do you guys think of this product? It’s a temporary tattoo, of a parent’s phone number, to be placed on a child in case they get lost. For people too young (or disabled) to remember and communicate a phone number, it actually sounds fairly reasonable. And it’s predicated on the extremely sane assumption that, if your little one wanders off, he’s more likely to be found by a helpful adult than a pedophile!

    Though the magazine article in which I initially heard about the product described it as being good for school trips… I hope they meant nursery school.

    Here’s one of several websites promoting them:

  13. Uly December 29, 2010 at 2:06 pm #

    If you’re bound and determined to keep your kids (teens!) from talking to people, that’s your business I guess – but then it’s YOUR responsibility to keep an eye on them! Not ours to think “Yup, don’t talk to THAT one, his parents are weird!”

  14. velobaby December 29, 2010 at 2:10 pm #

    What were those teens doing with their mom at the mall? I’ve found unconventional people to be phenomenally good with kids! My tiny blond daughter followed a big African American guy with dreads through Borders pestering him with questions about his hair. He was awesome. (I was browsing books in a DIFFERENT section of the store! *gasp*

  15. Nanci December 29, 2010 at 2:13 pm #

    @JaneW I checked out the website and it does look like the tatoos could be good for toddlers and children with developmental delays who would not be capable of communicating with someone. The only problem I see is that parents are going to be sticking them on their 8 year olds, convinced they are not capable of remembering their number in an emergency.

  16. geigeringirl December 29, 2010 at 2:32 pm #

    Maybe I have issues, but I do sometimes struggle with strangers around my kids. When my babe was 2 or 3 months, I was standing in line at a local deli, and when a perfectly nice lady reached out to touch her without asking, I instinctively pulled away. She looked at me like I was nuts, and she seemed a little hurt. : /

    I like to think I’ll be cool with my punkin making friends at the bookstore, but who knows? I’m sorry for your experience. I’ll definitely think if you next time I catch myself being overprotective. :)

  17. Jen Connelly December 29, 2010 at 2:37 pm #

    The only thing I would be worried about in the described situation was if MY kids were bothering the woman or any other people in the store.

  18. Nicola December 29, 2010 at 2:46 pm #

    You know… I went shopping at Whole Foods and my son (9) needed the bathroom. I let him go and told him I’d be by the eggs. Well, it was busy and I didn’t quite make it there.

    Here’s my son, looking lost, freaked out, and worried with absolutely no one bothering to ask him if he was ok. Granted, he was. I hugged him and reassured him that we’d never drive off without him, reminded him he can always go up front and just have them call for us over the intercom, but mainly to just take his deep breath and relax.

    I don’t know… maybe I just live in a part of the country where people are so scared of being yelled at or called a pedo that they won’t bother to help a poor kid who, in his mind, is very lost. : Sad.

  19. Dot Khan December 29, 2010 at 3:13 pm #

    The stares can get to you if one doesn’t blend in with everyone else.
    You would think that the helicopter moms would welcome knowing someone working for a large search engine company. A helicopter mom relative of mine is so paranoid about managing any info on the Internet that a search was done to dig up dirt on me. Usually the only people doing a search for someone already know them such as locating am old high school sweetheart and not some creep. The outdated results were misinterpreted by being taken out of context to fit in with her view that everyone is a danger. She ignored any positive news like a Facebook post stating that I’ve donated a gallon of blood.
    I’ve gotten along well with the unconventional artists and musicians I used to work with no matter how different they dressed, if they painted themselves orange head to toe or repaired 7 foot tall pieces of antique electrical equipment.
    Years ago I was told the way to figure out who is not normal is to look for the people trying the hardest to appear to be so.

  20. Kelly December 29, 2010 at 3:57 pm #

    Mothers are so pressured to be the overprotective gatekeeper and make sure they’re ON it, all the time. It’s so sad because there’s a lot of collateral damage.

    I love it when my kids talk to strangers.

  21. Rebecca December 29, 2010 at 4:55 pm #

    World is turned upside down!

    My minor effort at righting it … was in Starbucks with the kids right before Christmas. As we were leaving, the man in the older couple that had been sitting next to us asked my daughter (11) a question. I was busy clearing trash and bundling so didn’t pay much attention. The two of them talked for a bit, and when we left, my daughter asked me if I was proud of her for not being shy. And I was and told her so!

  22. Paula December 29, 2010 at 5:55 pm #

    A single adult was asked what she was doing in a Cafe drinking a latte (how can anyone drink coffee its so yuk!) how stupid, mind you its why I don’t go near anyone’s little darlings (children do bite after all). I found a news article about a kindergarden teacher who was prosecuted 3 times for raping the same two children in a classroom full of people.
    What absolulty horrified me over the terrible misjustice that took place was the comment made by assistant prosecuter Andrea Dean
    Assistant Prosecutor Andrea Dean actually argued that movies found in Perry’s home, like “Star Wars,” the “Harry Potter” films and “Little House on the Prairie,” constituted “non-erotic pornography.” According to Dean, that would make hundreds of millions of people in possession of “non-erotic pornography.”
    So these adults like me who like Harry Potter and Star Wars (Little house on the prairie was sickly sweet for my liking) are owning non erotic child porn according to this person. So the question is when are the single adults verboten signs going to start being put up.

  23. anonymousmagic December 29, 2010 at 6:09 pm #

    The mother thinks it’s possible that you’d sneak 4 teenagers out the back door without anyone noticing (or without the kids putting up a fight)?

    Some people just don’t see reason.

    Merry Christmas, Lenore.
    To you and all those great kids.

  24. Sean December 29, 2010 at 7:49 pm #

    Purple hair is a sure sign you are a freak and out to get her kids. Too funny….and sad.

    What is classic is that kids can see a person dressed or looking ANY way and not care. It’s just another person to them and someone a little different is just interesting. Hmmmm, we could all learn something from those kids….

  25. oncefallendotcom December 29, 2010 at 9:54 pm #

    It doesn’t surprise me that the parents of teens behave this way. We have a mentality that even older teens are weak, vulnerable, naive, and stupid (unless they commit a crime, then they are serial killers in training).

    An interesting observation– I was watching the Maury Povich show for a good laugh, and they were doing yet another paternity show. There was an 18 year old with a newborn baby and I kid you not, this 18 year old was crying with her momma on stage and saying she’s “just a baby” herself! An 18 year old baby.

    Then again, my ex is 31 and still gets her parents’ permission to date and still lives with them.

  26. Tara December 29, 2010 at 9:55 pm #

    M, I’m sorry that happened to you. Good for you for talking to the kids and showing them that you are indeed a nerd, not a freak. :)

  27. Donna December 29, 2010 at 10:05 pm #

    It sounds like this particular mother was bothered by her kids talking to a stranger but not all parents who watch adults interacting with kids and shoo kids away are worried about the kids being abducted. Some of us are genuinely concerned about our kids bothering you. If she is attracted to you for some reason, my daughter will follow you around and talk nonstop until she’s made to go away. She currently has a love affair going with a worker at Trader Joe’s. I feel that I have to watch her and sometimes interfere so that the stranger can get on with his or her life without having to actually adopt my child.

  28. Andromeda December 29, 2010 at 10:14 pm #

    Gosh, back when we employed a nanny, she looked kinda like that. Guess I didn’t get the memo that purple-haired women shouldn’t be allowed near kids.

  29. MorahLaura December 29, 2010 at 10:23 pm #

    I agree with Donna. I am mainly concerned about my 3 kids bothering others in public. Cos they talk a LOT. :)

  30. Laura December 29, 2010 at 10:33 pm #

    Thanks for being generous with your time. My kids, ages 5- 9, are very curious and have met some very interesting people on their wanderings. Like some of the other Moms have mentioned, I only worry that they are being intrusive.

  31. Mike December 29, 2010 at 10:34 pm #

    Just finished watching a rerun episode of Bewitched where Aunt Clara had the same problem.

    A wise man said, “There are only two crimes in this universe–1) being there and 2) communicating. The worst of these is communicating”.

    Children are always punished by these loonys for committing those “crimes”. Sometimes the best thing to do is turn the tables on the “parent”. In other words, fight fear with fear. “Hi, I’m the author Lenore Skenazy. Yes, the world is such a frightful place, isn’t it?. I’m a mother, too. Aren’t you lucky they came to me instead of some weird-looking suspicious person?”

  32. Jessika December 29, 2010 at 11:02 pm #

    It’s the goth makeup, she concluded M to be a vampire ;). Good on you M. If you stand up for yourself and be who you want to be in terms of what you wear, do your hair whatever, you teach your kids an invaluable lesson of it being ok to be who you want. Too bad this mother couldn’t see it.

  33. jim December 29, 2010 at 11:11 pm #

    Note – If you like purple hair you should shop for dye at chain drugstores in predominately black/Hispanic neighborhoods. A lot of the dyes/tints sold for people with jet-black hair will turn white people’s hair not just purple, but neon purple! (I learned that from a neighbor’s 20-year old Anglo daughter who has the brightest purple Mohawk I have ever seen, and I was hanging out at CBGB’s in the late ’70s.)

  34. Erika Evans December 29, 2010 at 11:25 pm #

    I’m sorry for this sad and hurtful incident, but do remember that sometimes there are just ill-mannered nutbars out there; I’d chalk it up to that. Can’t let incidents like that start to convince us that most strangers are awful ; )

  35. Mamabearping December 29, 2010 at 11:35 pm #

    My kids talk to strangers all the time. I’m thankful when those strangers are willing to talk back, because my kids have never met a stranger they didn’t like. And they think that everyone is there to have a conversation with them. What I’m curious about is these parents. IF they don’t want their kids to talk someone like you (please note the sarcastic tone in my voice because you sound simply awesome), why haven’t they taught their kids to stay away? Or why aren’t they hovering more closely to make sure their kids only talk to approved adults? They must not be very confident that they’ve raised their children well enough.

  36. Jonathan Bartlett December 30, 2010 at 12:09 am #

    She must be pretty buff to be able to whisk away three teenagers at once. Wow! Girl must have some muscle.

  37. janis December 30, 2010 at 12:32 am #

    I was thinking about what it must have been like for the teens after their mom shooed them away from you…I was trying to put myself in their minds and thought that if they took anything away from the experience it would be how awesome it can be to be a grown up…versus the claustrophobic version they are seeing at their home. I truly believe the negative (over) reaction from the mom permanantly sealed in those teens’ minds to shoot for the moon and don’t look back ’cause if you lay low and worry about everything, you will turn out like that mom…angry at the world, disappointed in everyone, afraid, resentful, controlling, paranoid and rude! and not like the self assured, confident, friendly, outgoing, patient, tolerant, computer lady with purple hair. No Contest!!

    Just think about wht happens in the mind when you are told “No! Don’t look at that, that’s bad for you!” . You are inexplicably drawn to figure out what in the heck might be so bad in there…

  38. pentamom December 30, 2010 at 12:45 am #

    And of course, whenever I go out in public to spirit children away from their parents, I make sure to dye my hair purple and dress distinctively while carrying purple electronics, so that I could easily be spotted while trying to make a getaway. It’s the only way to do it!

  39. Rachael December 30, 2010 at 1:05 am #

    My almost-two-year-old son LOVES when strangers notice him. In fact, he gets annoyed when they don’t pay him any attention! 😉 Maybe it makes me a bad mom, but I always assume that people who say hi or smile at little kids do so because they’re nice people and not because they’re pedophiles. In fact, I usually smile back at them and say hi myself! Like many others said, the only reason I’d shoo him away from someone in a situation like this is so that he wasn’t bothering someone who was trying to get work done.

    Kudos to you, M, for being a genuine nice person who talks to kids! Don’t let the crazy helicopter parents ever stop you!

  40. KarenW December 30, 2010 at 1:06 am #

    Just wow. When I was a teenager I would not have been caught dead at the mall WITH MY MOTHER, except maybe in the parking lot as she dropped me off!

  41. Jay December 30, 2010 at 1:23 am #

    My mother actively taught me that the people who DON’T match the stereotype for the neighbourhood would be the people most likely to help you, and definitely are the most interesting to talk to!

    When we were traveling in Europe when I was a baby (1970 +/-) she often had to depend on the kindness of strangers to help us get all our luggage from one train to the next, and it was always the “wierd” (her words, lol) looking people who helped while the “conservative, normal” (her words again) people looked down thier noses and made comments about how stupid she was to travel with a baby at all. :/

    That advice has never served me wrong. Even in sketchy parts of major US cities.

    So I have passed it on to my now 16yo daughter. I’d have been proud to join M and her in any conversation, I certainly wouldn’t have wisked her away!

  42. Claudia Conway December 30, 2010 at 1:26 am #

    Exactly pentamom. I’m always puzzled about why people sometimes feel threatened by unconventional-looking types. I have been one myself, and have lots of friends who are.

    I’ve often pointed out to people, ‘How often do you hear the words “Police are seeking a suspect who is described as having green dreadlocks and a sleeve tattoo of an alien invasion on his left arm”?’

    I mean, conspicuous-looking people would make pretty rubbish criminals!

  43. Mike December 30, 2010 at 1:46 am #

    Claudia, most often you’ll find the guy with green dreadlocks and a sleeve tattoo of an alien invasion helping an old lady across the street.

    Imagine if the police were after a girl with blue hair, wearing a blue jumpsuit… they’d accidently take Cybergirl in for questioning.

  44. coffeegod December 30, 2010 at 2:08 am #

    Jay, you are so right! I’ve always been weird. I finally like the title and wear it proudly. I enjoy helping others when help is needed. Living in New Orleans taught me that you can never judge a person’s mettle by looking at the outside.

    pentamom nailed it. The people who need tending seem to always dress in khaki, wear button up shirts, windbreakers and sensible shoes. I can honestly say I’ve never heard an Amber Alert for a purple haired, purple wearing woman or a guy with green dreadlocks and an alien invasion sleeve tattoo. (Love that description, Claudia!)

  45. The Truth December 30, 2010 at 2:12 am #

    A person who “wants to be ignored” blends in…

  46. Kimberly December 30, 2010 at 2:16 am #

    I teach elementary school. School policy is that the kids all get nametags with the school name and phone number on them for field trips. This is K – 5. Honestly how many kids are going to know their school’s number if they get separated. The office prints them out. When I give them to the kids – I have them add my phone number to the tag. Most of the other teachers do the same thing.

    It has worked out to our advantage. 2x we have returned to school and been met by the principal. Someone at our location liked the way our kids were behaving and actually called to complement the kids.

    1 time there was another group being completely horrid. The 2nd time a guard went off yelling at our kids for making noise walking. Comparing the “noise” of my 30 kids walking to the “noise” of another school’s 5 kids walking. (kids were not talking just walking) A patron was upset with the guard because the patron saw it as racist/classist and wanted to make sure our kids weren’t punished. (the guard said Kids like that (pointed to my largely minority kids) shouldn’t be allowed at the museum) II called the museum and complained they called back and said the guard was written up because there were complaints from me and another patron. Both times the principal gave them an ice cream party.

    I have started to do the same thing. I often take my niece and nephew to museums other attractions during school breaks.

    Often groups barge through and and are so concerned about staying together they push other kids out of the way. (more often the adults cause this not the kids). When a group is nice and lets niece 6 and nephew 3 see the exhibits also, I make note of name of the daycare/number if visible and call to complement them. If they are really rude I will call an complain (like the group that shoved my niece down a flight of marble stairs), but I found calling complements helps my blood pressure.

  47. SKL December 30, 2010 at 3:05 am #

    Aside from the more obvious ridiculous aspects of this mom’s reaction, . . . why do some parents think their kids are that desireable? What would a purple-haired woman (sitting at a computer) want with three teens, that she could accomplish by dragging them out a back door? I mean, whatever it is, I’m sure it happens all the time and I’m just not tuned into the news, right?

    Maybe she thought all that non-conformity must be associated with a cult and she was indoctrinating the kids?

    Why would Mom not just ask the woman and teens (nicely) what they were about if she were that concerned?

    I think that if something like that happened to me, I’d respond in a level voice: “Speaking to children in a public place is not illegal.” And see what she said about it (if anything).

  48. SKL December 30, 2010 at 3:09 am #

    Lately my kids and I go to the McD Play Place on Mondays. The kids have fun on the equipment/computers. There isn’t much for adults to do in there; some play on the computers, but I get enough screen time at work. So rather than sit on my butt and watch it expand, I pick up my coffee and walk around and around the tables, changing up the route from time to time. I always wonder when someone is going to think I’m a weirdo just waiting to grab a vulnerable child. I don’t have purple hair, but that shouldn’t make a difference in my opinion.

  49. Jules December 30, 2010 at 3:31 am #

    @Nanci: I’m surprised that woman let a STRANGER look after her teenage daughter!

    @JaneW: That’s a good idea…that way the kidnappers have a number to call and demand ransom! (j/k btw)

    @jim: I need to keep that in mind. I have very dark brown hair, and I used to dye it two-tone, but it’s been years. I could probably do it myself with the “ethnic” version of red hair dye, instead of getting it stripped and dying over it. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that; I use a lot of ethnic products on my coarse hair, and sometimes go to a Hispanic beauty shop (the coolest place ever: it’s all purple inside and full of figurines).

    Now, if I saw my kids talking to this woman in the bookshop cafe, I’d probably make sure they weren’t bothering her. And once that was confirmed, I’d probably sit down and join in the conversation. She sounds pretty cool. But then, I’m covered in tattoos and have a lip ring, so I guess I’m someone else to stay away from! LOL!

  50. Sherry December 30, 2010 at 3:57 am #

    We lived in North Beach until my son was 10. The nearby park (1-block square) was always filled with students, old people, tourists and perhaps-homeless people. My bright and lovely boy always smiled and said hello to the guys in old clothes, with longish hair and haunted eyes. I kept watch, smiled hello and never saw anything untoward. Empathy is a good thing…

    On the other hand, the first few times he went into a men’s room alone were nerve-wracking for me.

    I’m sad for the mom who freaked out, who perhaps couldn’t see or think beyond M’s hair and uniqueness … and imagine that her kids are learning lessons from her that she does not intend and will live to regret.

  51. Marie December 30, 2010 at 4:38 am #

    Reading all these stories about cool strangers families have met reminds me of our trip last summer to Big Bear Lake. We had the best time talking to a heavily tattooed couple who were walking their very sweet pit bull. The kids had a lot of fun talking to them, and the couple commented that we were the nicest anyone had been to them all day. That just made me sad for them.

    I love how my kids will talk to just about anyone. One’s pretty shy, but he warms up to others pretty quick for the most part. I’d far rather teach them that the world is full of interesting people than that it’s full of scary people.

  52. Kira December 30, 2010 at 5:23 am #

    I was at a certain mega-store a couple of weeks ago. I left my daughter at home with my husband so that I could get some items as we prepared to go visit family for the holidays. As I was walking through the cosmetics aisle, I came across a young girl, probably 6 or 7 years old, who was sitting on the floor, crying.

    I looked around, and saw several adults, ignoring the little girl, and no adult who appeared to be the young girl’s parent. So I asked her if she was okay. She looked up, and with tears streaming down her face, said “I’m not supposed to talk to strangers.” I said “okay,” told her my name, and asked her if she knew where her mother or father was. Again, through a new burst of tears, she confirmed that she had been separated from her mother. So I asked if she would like some help finding her mother, and when she said yes, I walked her to the customer service desk. By the time we arrived, she had grabbed my hand, and was not letting go.

    My first thought was to leave her at customer service and continue my shopping, but the little girl’s grip on my hand made me decide to wait with her until her mother came. And her mother came, all right. When her mother got to customer service and saw me standing there with her daughter, she first yelled at the little girl for “running away” and then she started yelling at me. She told me that she should call the cops, charge me with kidnapping, etc. I was so stunned that I did not know what to do, and so I wished her a “Happy Holidays,” and left to continue my shopping.

    Merry Christmas, indeed. M. — I hope that when my kids are older (my oldest is 1 year old, and I am pregnant with my second… a little young still for exploring the mall and striking up conversations with interesting people) that they will encounter people like you, and that they and the adults that they encounter will be willing to talk to one another, without the fear that someone will accuse the other of kidnapping.

  53. Tara December 30, 2010 at 5:25 am #

    And to comment again, my son, then 4, actually pulled up a chair and had a 10-15 minute conversation with an elderly gentleman (named John) at a table in a cafe where I was sitting with some girlfriends. It made my son’s day AND the older man’s day!

  54. Meggles December 30, 2010 at 6:08 am #

    What is that mother going to do when her teenagers go away to college??? No wonder kids go nuts when they get away from their mommies’ leash and are away from home for the first time. By the time my girls are teenagers, I want them to be people of character, who know how to function by themselves in many different situations. In sounds like, in spite of her best efforts, that woman’s kids are still normal. Hopefully they will be able to remain as such before they escape from her clutches (ie home).

  55. coffeegod December 30, 2010 at 6:11 am #

    My brother spent the entire 2.5 hour trip by train from Rome to Naples drawing pictures with a little Italian man. Neither of them spoke the other’s language but they drew many pictures, one after the other. They labeled them with the English and Italian words. They both roared with laughter when one of them produced a drawing of a toilet.

    That was over 45 years ago. My entire family remembers it like yesterday.

  56. Meggles December 30, 2010 at 6:15 am #

    Just out of curiosity, I’m wondering if this virus of paranoia is more common in certain parts of the country. I live in New England (where there’s plenty of hyper-parenting going on, especially in the wealthy suburbs of Boston), but I haven’t witnessed too many things as described in this note. I have a 5-year-old and a 1-year-old, and I let my older girl go talk to strangers (scary!) if I am within a reasonable distance. She loves it. And so do they (mainly middle-aged or elderly types who are probably thinking of their own kids/grandkids). I don’t think what we’ve been doing is that unusual either. Or maybe I’m just ignorantly blissful. :)

  57. SKL December 30, 2010 at 6:33 am #

    Oh, and I used to take a bus “alone” to the mall, starting when I was 9 or 10. My mom didn’t even know; she’d given me bus fare to the optometrist and back, and I figured the rest out and informed her afterward. She didn’t express any concern so I did this every time I got bus fare for the eye doc. After all, how many things can really happen to a smart, healthy tween / teen in a crowded public place?

  58. TressaRay December 30, 2010 at 7:08 am #

    I always talk to kids if I get the oppurtunity. For the most part, parents are happy about it, or they are politely unhappy about it, but no one has made me feel bad about it. I also encourage my daughter to be friendly with people, although she is usually too shy to do more than just smile.
    Recently, a man behind us in a grocery store asked her a question, and she smiled and hid behind my leg. I smiled at him and asked my kid, “Are you making a friend, or are you too shy?” Then, for no freakin’ reason (I’m still pretty mad about this) the woman that this man was with said in her Judgy McJudgerton voice, “She better not be making friends, he’s a stranger.”

  59. escaped to Mexico aka staceyjw December 30, 2010 at 9:55 am #

    Kira- What an awful experience! That woman sounds like a nut case, yelling like that in public like shes on Jerry Springer, probably thinking she’s justified. jerk!

    I don’t know how it happened, but one day kids started talking to me, asking me questions, asking for help, or just chatting. Ive never been a kid person, but Im friendly, even more so after having a baby and reading this blog. just the other day some kid about 11 asked me to help him find something that ended up being chloraseptic spray. weird!

    As for weird people being friendly, I may not look too weird anymore, but I was always in that category. Last week an elderly lady was in the parking lot looking confused. she saw me and mumbled something, so I talked to her. Turns out, she forgot where her car was and had been wandering this huge lot in the 15 degree weather looking for it. I invited her to get in my truck with me and my son, and drove her around until We found her car. she Was SO VERY thankful, I wonder how long it took her to find help.She was very cold and said her feet hurt, so it might have been awhile. I’ve lost my car, so I get it! But many normal people didn’t bother to talk to her, just me. SAD!!!

    keep up the friendliness, it makes the world netter place.

  60. escaped to Mexico aka staceyjw December 30, 2010 at 9:56 am #

    I was visiting Ohio, out in the middle of nowhere when these things happened. MUCH friendlier than So Cal.

  61. pentamom December 30, 2010 at 11:28 am #

    Kira, that’s just awful. It always distresses me when you do exactly what the person, in reality, would have wanted you to do — except that in their paranoia, they think they wouldn’t have, so they blame you for doing it. But of COURSE that’s what she would have wanted someone to do with her lost child — take her to safety where she could be found. And then when it happens, the ungrateful wretch finds a way to make it into a bad thing. She’s probably consumed with guilt for letting her child get lost and taking it out on you, but it’s still a hateful way to be.

  62. Kimberly December 30, 2010 at 11:29 am #

    One day at the mall a small child was sitting on the floor bawling her eyes out. A older gentleman and I both stopped to help. The child would talk to us but didn’t seem to understand English and we couldn’t understand her language.

    He suggested that he go to the customer service desk, and I stay with the child. He must have run into the panicked parents and grandparents as he went around the corner, because he was back with with them moments later. Everyone of the adults hugged each of us and said thank you. That is the way it is supposed to work.

  63. kcs December 30, 2010 at 2:01 pm #

    re the “tattoos w/a purpose” –save money and just write your phone # on the kids wrist w/a ball point pen if you think that precaution is necessary. I suppose the tattoos might be marginally easier if you were dealing with a large group of kids.

  64. lonedattyof3 December 30, 2010 at 4:50 pm #

    Shall we pick a day and all go to the mall fixed up like Ms. M. and blow the collective chopper out of the air?

  65. Kara December 30, 2010 at 10:48 pm #

    Just yesterday I encouraged my daughter to talk to a couple of men in a restaurant. They were in full camo, had obviously been hunting and just popped in for lunch. (We were in a very rural area.) She really wanted to ask them what they were hunting. She finally got up the nerve to ask. They were so nice and explained how they made a duck blind, and were hunting ducks. They were just a couple of suburban Texan guys. They were just intimidating in camo makeup. I love that she was so brave and curious.

    People are using their fear of “strangers” to really be biased against someone who is different. People complain about bullying, but it starts here with treating someone who looks different as if they were a child predator.

  66. SKL December 30, 2010 at 10:53 pm #

    Wait, with those tattoos, wouldn’t a caregiver have to TOUCH the child in order to put it on? Danger, danger!!

  67. Jay December 30, 2010 at 11:32 pm #

    SKL, you made me splurt coffee all over my keyboard! Nicely done :)

  68. Carrie December 31, 2010 at 12:38 am #

    The only thing I would understand is if a parent was upset that his/her kid’s curiosity (and possibly rude line of questioning) was bothering an adult who was trying to work. But to be annoyed at the adult who was minding her own business but polite/kind enough to entertain the curious kids?! That makes no sense to me. Sadly, there are some judgmental, paranoid, and cruel people out there. I guess they’re teaching their kids to be just like them…

  69. Jamie December 31, 2010 at 3:01 am #

    Children that are outspoken, direct, not afraid of strangers are much less of a target for those few people out there who might wish them harm. A fearful child too afraid to scream, yell or “tell” is so much more likely to be hauled off, or be victimized in other ways than a child who asks questions, makes direct eye contact etc etc.

  70. KCB December 31, 2010 at 3:08 am #

    Yesterday I was walking through the mall, and a woman in front of me was walking with a little girl, probably about 4-5. The mom said, “Hold mama’s hand, okay? It’s very busy.”

    That sounded reasonable to me, but then she continued: “You have to hold mama’s hand because people here could just grab you any time. They could just pick you right up and carry you away. This is DOWNTOWN. It is VERY dangerous. Don’t you talk to anyone, you hear? And don’t let go of mama’s hand.”

    It was definitely a busy mall. But it made me sad to think of how anxious that little girl might feel, thinking that everyone is out to get her. And what will her recourse be if she does get lost? The only thing she’ll know how to do is panic.

  71. drpretzel December 31, 2010 at 4:26 am #

    Phew! I finally made it to the bottom of the comments!

    So, it’s 2:30-ish and I’m hanging out in my living room. At 1pm I sent my kids out the door to go to the park (about 1/2 mile away) with a watch and the instructions “check in around 3.”

    I have no idea who they’ll talk to or what they’ll do while there, but I figure that the odds are good that they’ll be just fine.

    When they come home around 3, I might just send them back. Oh, blessed silence.

  72. Sean December 31, 2010 at 4:42 am #

    I must be a terrible parent. We were in the grocery store and some old man started chatting with our kids (4 & 7) while we were busy checking out. Then he asked us if he could give them some candy. He had little sandwich bags of candy ready to hand out to kids. Not only did we let the kids take it, we even let them eat it after a quick look over to make sure nothing was obviously out of place.

    I tend to hover a bit more crowded places, but as long as I can see or hear what is going on I don’ t generally worry. In a stranger situation I *gasp* talk to the stranger in question as if they are a normal human being. Typically it is just another parent, or grandparent being friendly with a roaming child. It almost seems as if elderly people around here have an unwritten code that they carry toys and candy for the young kids that chat with them.

  73. SKL December 31, 2010 at 5:39 am #

    Some comments here bring up another reason why I let my kids wander a bit in stores. Because they learn (a) how to find me when they can’t see me, and (b) what it feels like to get unintentionally separated / temporarily “lost” (so they are more forward-thinking next time).

    If my kid melts into a helpless, crying mess after getting separated from me, it means I have not done my job (because they are about 4 now, and ought to have more sense than that). So far this has not happened, though my more insecure daughter will start calling my name pretty quickly after losing sight of me & Sis. (The other one only needs me for my driving license and credit card at this point.)

  74. Penni December 31, 2010 at 7:05 am #

    My kids have always initiated conversations with other people. I stand back and let them talk. Sometimes I feel sorry for the adult they are regaling, but most of the time I figure they are a grown up and should have learned the skill to extract themselves from a conversation or field a personal question. And most people find them delightful.
    I feel more sorry for the people cornered by my husband, who also talks to strangers in public and could talk the hind leg off a donkey.
    When I think about it, I tend to chat to people – babies, kids, adults – in all sorts of scenarios. Queues, public transport, the playground…it’s a healthy part of being human surely, to connect with language to the populous we coexist with in our cities and neighbourhoods and on this planet. And it’s a skill you have to learn and practice.

  75. Christina December 31, 2010 at 11:28 am #

    M – I hope all of these comments have made you feel a bit better about your experience. It reads to me like the kids found you totally amazing, which, in the end, is far more important than crazy mom. For what it’s worth, my twin boys’ primary caregiver (apart from me) was a dedicated goth girl. Her parents actually came with her on the initial interview because they wanted me to understand that her looking “different” had no relationship to her ability to care for my children. Normally, that kind of parental meddling would freak me, but in this case I really loved them for it. Even though we are now in different cities, we are friends to the end. And I remain in awe and am deeply jealous of her boot collection 😉

  76. Christina December 31, 2010 at 11:40 am #

    @lonedattyof3 – I LOVE that idea!!!!!!! I suppose it’s too much to hope you’re in the Chicago area? My husband and I would both totally go for something like that. Must start shopping for some Manic Panic…

  77. Katy-Anne December 31, 2010 at 10:28 pm #

    My dad always told us if we got lost or needed help bad, to look for someone who looked different than everyone else because those were usually the people that would help you most.

  78. Scott January 1, 2011 at 2:06 am #

    The good news in this story is I am secretly pleased to see the word “frelling” has made its way into the vernacular.

  79. Michelle the Uber Haus Frau January 1, 2011 at 7:41 am #

    I don’t look that strange, but people still look at me funny when I take my son to the park.(Leather boots, metal shirts…yeah…). The mother of the teens probably didn’t want her kids communication with someone not of her liking. I don’t think she was afraid M was going to kidnap the kids, she just doesn’t want them to get interested in looking goth or wanting to dye their hair purple, lol. I remember when I was 12 my mom and I were walking in the mall and a really gothic looking couple walked passed us. My mom turned to me and said “Don’t even think about it!” Hahaha, didn’t work!

    Yeah, different looking people tend to be pretty nice and helpful than the more normal looking, according to my own experience. I find the more business looking folks are the worst mannered. Once a scraggily looking man who smelled of alcohol held the door for me and my son, and didn’t even ask me for spare change.

  80. Bruno January 2, 2011 at 12:07 am #

    I really don’t want to seem like I am criticizing the US, after all, I live here and like it a lot. But there is this one thing… I am from Argentina, my wife’s American. Every time we go down there, she is soo happy that everybody is so kid-friendly. Adults just naturally stop kids in the streets, talk to them, touch them (in appropriate ways, of course). Total strangers will ask you if they can hold your baby, I mean, isn’t that normal??

  81. Robin January 2, 2011 at 11:35 am #

    Tressa Rae – Try “Well, all our friends start out as strangers.” It has the merit of being true. :)

  82. Party Piper January 2, 2011 at 2:27 pm #

    In my experience, the more purposefully outlandish someone looks, the LESS likely they are going to be a behavior or criminal problem. I mean, think about it. You’ve got purple hair.. not like you’re inconspicuous. My favorite bar in Minneapolis is full of “freaks” like who are servers, and while there I’ve enjoyed some of the most attentive service, and the staff goes above and beyond in cooperating with the local PD.

    Also, speaking of jobs? I think I just heard that 22 y/os who are graduating now have NO IDEA how to look for a job. NONE. Not a unique thought or experience in their head, thanks to mom and dad not letting them explore. I think that maybe the thing the breaks people of helicopter parenting is the fact that you’re gonna have your child living at home, and still getting an allowance well into their 30’s.

  83. blueegg January 3, 2011 at 4:17 am #

    My daughter has a fondness for purple hair so she’d be over in a heartbeat! She’s 4 so I’d be close by, but she’d be allowed to talk to you till I thought she was bugging you! The sad part is the parents either aren’t watching the kids (for the younger ones) and worse for the older ones don’t trust them!!

  84. ebohlman January 3, 2011 at 8:55 am #

    Party Piper: Some years ago I read an amusing account from someone who stopped at a convenience store near a high school. The manager was trying to get a bunch of goth kids to leave the store just because of their looks. While this was going on, a bunch of clean-cut all-American types were happily taking the five-finger discount.

  85. WendyPinNJ January 3, 2011 at 10:30 pm #

    O!M!G! Complete and utter insanity! Some days I feel like I just can’t read this blog because it makes me think the whole world has gone completely off the deep end!

    BTW, purple is my favorite color!

  86. WendyPinNJ January 3, 2011 at 10:37 pm #

    Oh, and P.S.: one would think if you really intended to steal children, you would dress to blend in. Not stand out in such a striking and purple-y kind of way, no?

    Stupid is as stupid does.

  87. Dragonwolf January 4, 2011 at 10:19 pm #

    Christina – Just an FYI, Manic Panic shows up best if you bleach your hair first if you have dark hair. Also, purple will turn your hair white after it fades out (as opposed to the yellowish that bleaching generally turns it).

    The purple-to-white thing isn’t exclusive to Manic Panic, it’s something with purple dyes more or less in general. Found that out when my friend and I crossed paths with a young woman with white hair in NYC a few years back and my friend asked her how she got her hair so white. The woman responded that she used some sort of purple toner (I don’t remember the details anymore). My friend also dyed her hair purple with Manic Panic at least once and had white hair after it faded.

  88. Jacinda January 5, 2011 at 12:12 am #

    This happens to me all the time. People my age (I’m in my 20s) ask me if I find kids annoying. I always tell them no, kids are great, but their parents drive me crazy!

  89. MFA Grad January 5, 2011 at 2:56 am #

    Sigh. Easy money says the mom was more freaked out that her kids were enthusiastically talking to someone who didn’t look “normal” and was just using the “she might kidnap you!” as an excuse to get them away. At least that might be marginally better than thinking that the mom was assuming the worst because Cthulhu forbid, you didn’t look like any other typical suburban dweller in khaki, right? Right? *crickets chirping*

    BTW, purple hair totally rocks. I’m not lucky enough to be able to work from where I choose, but last year I got the ok from my boss to streak my black hair purple (I’m an editor/graphic designer, so maybe they just expect the “creative types” to do this sort of thing??) – I’m starting to go white, actually, so I figured, what the hell, I’ve always wanted to do this! Had my hair bleached at an Aveda school – they did a foil treatment like they would for full highlights, but instead they lightened the hair in bold chunks – and I used N’Rage purple plum. Now it’s black with these awesome purple streaks and a quickly growing “Rogue-like” streak of natural white. Although I never realized how much purple I wore until I started getting bombarded with “Oh hey, your hair matches your scarf/shirt/earrings/coat/purse/etc!” Heh.

    My laptop’s not purple, but I do have a kickass fuzzy Cookie Monster laptop case that looks like he’s swallowed my laptop whole when I open it up. :)

    Here’s to hoping the next time you encounter any curious kids/teens, their parents will be far more gracious and thank you for taking the time to talk to their kids – you are working, after all!

    —-from the other “M with the purple hair”

  90. Jean January 5, 2011 at 9:23 am #

    Great Thank to Information ! Very Usealy.
    Happy new year 2011

  91. Gary January 5, 2011 at 1:14 pm #

    I would not let my kids near you either! I mean PURPLE hair? Everyone KNOWS green hair is the bomb!

  92. BaltoCath January 8, 2011 at 12:29 am #

    Lisa Simpson, get away from that jazz man! … No offense, I just fear the unfamiliar. (Simpsons episode 7G06, “Moaning Lisa”)

  93. Em January 9, 2011 at 12:24 am #

    People never seem to realize that the majority of abductions, abuses etc, are done by those the family knows not strangers. If I recall correctly, only 2% of abuse cases are by strangers! Children should be taught what is appropriate and not, instead of to fear strangers.

  94. JP Merzetti January 31, 2011 at 6:29 am #

    It’s weird. That mom coulda been jealous. She’s a sheltered Mall-ite no doubt. (something in that.)
    And freakish looking folks are the “other” (woo oo ooh).
    It’s not the arrested development of the kids so much…they’re doing what (should) come natural.
    It’s the crossed-eyed inwardness of the parent.

    I met the enemy one Friday at my grocery checkout counter.
    You know that last mad dash to grab that can of tomato paste 15 seconds distant – after you’ve started to unload on the conveyor belt?
    When I returned, two smallish bits of business with astonishing red hair were trying to unload treats they’d clutched through the store onto the belt, mixed in with my stuff.
    I adroitly sorted my stuff separate from theirs, cracking jokes about all that red hair (two girls, about 4 and 2) and was busy talking to the cashier when MUM showed up – barking and growling like I was a wolf after her lambies.
    I told her, lady, dislike my looks all you want, but don’t use your kids as a weapon against me – it’s not good for their health.
    She paused breathless, then hell had no fury….
    The cashier sadly winced as I bagged carrots, listening to this MUM’s pathetic slandering of my character……but I still threw the kids a wink as I walked away.

    The point being, sadly – that some folks, in attempting to protect their children more…may wind up in fact, protecting them less.

  95. Mike January 31, 2011 at 7:40 am #

    JP, in the supermarket you met jost one of the colorful characters we meet everyday. It’s just that you had the opportunity to meet the woman with chronic PMS, the Anger character, the person in need of distemper shots.. Best thing is to realize they’re a nut case and move on.

    I’ve outlined this type of person at so you have an idea of who they really are.

  96. Warren September 10, 2012 at 1:54 pm #

    Late to the party, but WOW!!!!!

    I have my own tireshop, it is at our home. I have everything from 5 yr olds to college age kids dropping by to check out the cars, what I am doing, the three dogs and so on.

    The only comments I ever get, are in passing. They are along the lines….”if they are in the way or bothering you, just send them on their way.”


  1. The “Stranger” at the Mall « FreeRangeKids | Svenska Skadedjur - December 29, 2010

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