piece by Christine Burke on ScaryMommy is about how we interpret the world. Or at least that’s how I interpret it. It begins:
We did everything “right,” and yet, it still happened.
We moved to a neighborhood with thoughtful neighbors and wide, safe streets.
We enrolled our kids in a school district known not only for its exemplary teachers but also for its low violence and drug statistics.
Our kids know how to dial 9-1-1 and they know how to call a neighbor for help if we aren’t home.
Stranger Danger. Scream, kick, and yell for help if someone grabs you. If you’re lost, find a mom — she’ll help you. All of these tenets were drilled into our kids’ heads from an early age.
Like I said, we did everything right. We did what the experts said to do to keep our kids safe, but all of that couldn’t protect our daughter from being approached by a potential predator while she was on a walk with our dog in our seemingly safe, tree-lined neighborhood. And, while we came to learn that stranger abductions make up a small percentage of child abductions, the threat does exist and what happened to us was a wake-up call for our family.
(Does it sound like this family needed more “waking up?”)
On a recent summer morning, I was, as usual, distracted by the details of our summer chaos. In between juggling work assignments, I was in the midst of orchestrating camp drop-offs, playdates, and my need to squeeze in a much-needed exercise class. My 11-year-old daughter had slept in, immune to my scheduling chaos, and was annoyed that I wanted her to bring a book and accompany me to the gym.
“Can’t I just stay here?” she asked. “The dog needs a walk anyway. Pleeeease?” Because I was harried and behind schedule, her request seemed like the path of least resistance, so I relented. We reviewed where I’d be and how to reach my cell phone. As I hurriedly pulled away from our driveway with our son in the front seat, I caught an image of her skipping down the road, our dog trotting next to her in the summer sun.
I’ll only be gone an hour. She’ll be fine. My neighbors are home.
But she wasn’t fine.
While she was on her walk, a simple half-mile loop at the end of our street that we’ve walked hundreds of times, a strange man slowly drove by and came to a stop. He rolled down his window and started asking her questions. He asked about our dog (“What’s her name?” “What kind of dog is she?” “How old is she?”) and probed for personal details about our daughter (“What’s your name?” “How old are you?”).
My daughter, afraid of appearing rude, answered his questions even though warning bells were going off in her head. He continued to talk to her, almost as if he was trying to stall her, and she grew uncomfortable and scared. She didn’t know this man, had never seen him in our neighborhood, and had the good sense not to get near his car. Thankfully, she decided to run home, and he decided to drive away. Somehow, by the grace of God, she made it home safely.
No thanks to me, of course.
What interests me is the idea that her daughter “wasn’t fine.”
She encountered a stranger, they spoke, she decided she didn’t want to stick around, so she didn’t.
A child could encounter ME and I’d be a “potential predator.” We’re all potential everything — saints, circus clowns, excellent melon-choosers. (Actually, that’s me.) Our society seems to be giving “potential” a lot more weight than it’s worth.
The piece continues with the mom reporting the “incident” to the police and listing the “valuable lessons” she learned, a few of which I actually do find valuable:
*If a stranger approaches by car, stay out of arm’s reach.
*Being rude could save their lives.
The other lessons strike me as unnecessary and even crippling, including, “No matter how safe you think you are, you should never, ever let your guard down. EVER.”
It’s good to be aware of your surroundings. But re-writing everyday life as the climactic scene of an action movie seems exhausting and alarming. So does self-flagellation for letting an 11-year-old walk the dog. For me a lesson from this “incident” would be that my daughter feels she’s ready for some independence, and she has proven herself worthy of it. – L