Stranger Danger (Kinda!)

13 Mar

The kids had been playing outside for about 20 minutes when the 6 year old burst in to tell me the 8 year old was showing a strange man how to get to Walmart.

Did you stop breathing after reading that sentence? Is your heart galloping, your leaden stomach threatening to drop out of your body and make a cartoonish, jaggedy hole in the floor? Oh my god, me, too!!!

But let’s back up. My little family happens to live in the very same neighborhood where I grew up, (I know, gross! I mean, cool!), just a few streets over from the house where my parents still live. I rode my purple Schwinn with the sparkly banana seat past the house where I now live grown-up style! And therefore, although times, and standards for child safety, have changed, I have ideas about what kids should be allowed to do in my neighborhood that were formed in the early 1980’s. In a nutshell: Pretty much whatever, without an adult being too conspicuously in the mix, as long as basic rules of safety are observed.

Up until now I’ve been on the conservative side about unsupervised play because I didn’t want the neighbors to judge me for having a free-range preschooler. But elementary school is now in effect so all bets are off. Let the wild rumpus move outside!

Kids outside/me inside is potentially the best thing ever, for lots of reasons. For example, kids have the “impervious to cold” superpower that allows them to play jacket-free and happy in 50 degree weather while I shiver on the front stoop in a sweater and coat. And they work through disagreements better when I don’t stick my nose into their business. And they constantly want to roam outside of eye and earshot even when I do park it outside. AND that thing on NPR about kids not being free to wander outside when it’s actually probably still fine for them to do that, even in these dark times! Probably! NPR mostly said so! At least until your 8 year old suddenly decides to show a stranger where Walmart is! (For the record, many, many miles from our house.)

My 6 year old is a cute little dude, but linear storytelling is not among his gifts. So although I immediately and totally panicked when he dropped his bomb, I also tried to gently probe for more details.

Me: “DID SHE GET IN A CAR WITH SOMEONE YOU DON’T KNOW?!”

(I didn’t succeed.)

Him (starting to cry): “What? I don’t? She just? Mommy?”

Me: “WHERE IS SHE RIGHT NOW?!”

Him: “She! She went! She!” (Points that-a-way.)

I pelted out of the front door screaming her name at the top of my lungs. Cool head in a crisis, that’s me! Can’t understand why no one ever encouraged me to look into being a first responder! Thankfully for my adrenal system, my daughter answered back right away, albeit from some distance. Summoned quite, er, emphatically, she rushed back and I was able to get the full 8 year old version of the story.

She WAS approached by a group of strangers and asked for directions!

To the nearby shopping center you can reach by cutting through our neighborhood on foot, so there was no car involved, but still. Also another neighborhood kid and his babysitter were outside at the time, and the babysitter inserted herself into the conversation, but still.

My sweet daughter politely offered to walk with the strangers and show them the cut-through to the shopping center!

The babysitter and other kid went with her, and she sent her brother to let me know what was going on, but still.

Needless to say we all went inside for A Talk. Do other parents find it incredibly hard to strike the right tone in this kind of Talk? The world is a scary and dangerous place and adults might want to harm you and you should always exercise extreme caution and good lord I may never allow you to play outside again! But also, the world is not THAT scary and and most people do NOT want to harm you and don’t be afraid! And you need to learn how to conduct yourself with good sense and trust yourself to make good decisions! But you should always check with me because you’re just a kid and you might NOT be making good decisions! And don’t bother me with every little thing, work things out on your own! But know what things to bother me about and a strange adult talking to you is DEFINITELY ONE OF THEM. The Talk went well, yep.

A little coda to this story is that the other day the kids went swimming with a neighbor friend and her parents, (yes, I let other adults take my kids swimming, even though my 8 year old once knocked a TOOTH out at a pool playdate I didn’t attend. I am an equal opportunity fate-tempter, apparently.) While they were gone I ran over to my parents’ house to help my mom with something, and it took a little longer than planned. I hadn’t brought my phone with me, or left a note, and the phone at my mom’s house was off the hook, and my husband was on a run without his phone. So my children came home to an empty house with the cars in the driveway and the front door unlocked. And apparently, they did just the right thing. My daughter took the home phone over to the list of contact numbers I’ve taped to the fridge for babysitters, and worked her way through each one. When she got no answer at any of them, (poor her), she calmly walked her brother back over to our friend’s house and told the parents what had happened. I found the kids there eating snacks when I ran home about 5 minutes later.

It was a perfect test situation for, “I don’t know where my parents are and I need some help,” and she did everything right. Neither she nor I would’ve known how she’d react in this situation if I hadn’t inadvertently given her the opportunity to demonstrate. So it’s clear that learning opportunities are going to keep popping up unexpectedly, and it’s important that I make my peace with that. They are both necessary and helpful. And here’s fervently hoping that my children always learn their lessons in such easily-remedied fashion.

8 Responses to “Stranger Danger (Kinda!)”

  1. Carrie @ The Dog Ate the Umbilical Cord March 14, 2013 at 4:07 am #

    I am sooo not looking forward to the “the world is scary, but not THAT scary” talk. Oy. So glad it was a false-ish alarm.

    • amomynous2 March 14, 2013 at 11:44 am #

      Ha, thanks! And thanks for reading!

  2. D March 14, 2013 at 7:53 pm #

    Yesterday, I was walking around, contemplating whether or not it is okay to send my 8 year old to sleepover camp and how I would have that ‘stranger’ conversation with her. I want her to be scared into awareness, but not scared into the corner to never come out. I still am not sure how to do that. Love your writing Miller!

    • amomynous2 March 14, 2013 at 8:01 pm #

      Love YOU, D!!! I pulled the plug on sleepaway camp for this summer. It’s not that SHE isn’t ready, it’s that I’M not. XOX

  3. Naptimewriting March 15, 2013 at 6:40 am #

    Panicking panicking panicking panicking.

    1. Must put list of phone numbers on fridge.
    2. Must move to smaller town.
    3. Must stop having the Talk every darned day every time my kid looks wistfully out the window.
    4. Must bar all windows.
    5. Must remove windows and replace with wood.
    6. No, metal.
    7. Holy hell, I can’t get out of this place!

    • amomynous2 March 16, 2013 at 5:24 pm #

      Bahaha! Hey, I have a great suggestion of a smaller town you could move to… XOX

      • Naptimewriting March 17, 2013 at 5:06 am #

        Believe me, the times we think of moving, I make a mental list of the smart, funny, snarky, sassy moms I want to hang out with, and their towns rank top of the list.

        You’re in the running, Amomynous, USA.

      • amomynous2 March 18, 2013 at 4:02 am #

        I freakin’ approve this message!

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