I read an alarming Facebook post by someone in our neighborhood right before I picked up my kids from school today. She reported that her eleven-year-old daughter was out walking their dog when she was grabbed at by a man who wanted to get her into his car. She outran him, found her sister, and the two of them locked themselves in their house. She's safe, the police were notified, and everyone is on the alert.
I hate this kind of story. I hate when a small number of people commit evil random acts and it forces the rest of us to modify our innocent behavior. It's one of those instances of life not being fair. It's been nice to entrust the girls with walking our dog in the morning or after school, and Quinn just last week was given permission to start walking Chipper around the block alone. He's been so proud to be doing a truly "big kid" chore by himself. Now I have to rethink all of that and figure out if it's worth the risk.
When I collected the kids after school I told them the story and we reviewed what to do if they are ever in such a situation. They were shocked and saddened that a kid who lives only blocks away had been frightened like that. I reminded them of our family code word in case a stranger ever insists he or she was sent by us to take them somewhere. (Although for the life of me I can't think of a plausible scenario where I would send a stranger to pick up my kids, but I suppose it makes sense to be prepared.) We talked about never going quietly to a second location, and how screaming, flailing, kicking, and biting are all in play if they are in danger, their normal default to politeness out the window. I told them that it's rare for strangers to try to hurt people, but they needed to be aware.
We had errands to run before going home, so we stopped at the bakery for a snack to tide everyone over until dinner. Canfora Bakery is a European style bakery on the other side of the park from our house. We've been walking there since Aden was a baby in a stroller. The bakery ladies have watched my kids grow up from their vantage point of handing them cookies over the counter. We love it there.
There was one other customer in the store paying for things at the register, and he smiled as he watched my kids trying to decide what treats to get. Aden wanted whichever cheese danish had the most cheese. Quinn got something with chocolate. Mona got a bigger something with chocolate. Just as I was ordering my bear claw, the lady behind the counter told us the man at the register was paying for all of our dounuts. I just looked at him in surprise for a moment and then joked that in that case I wanted many more dounuts. I then asked if he was sure, and he just smiled and said it made him happy to see my kids so happy, that it brought back good memories. How do you fight that? I gave him a brief hug and my kids all smiled and waved and thanked him as we headed out the door. (I told them we would have to do that for someone else one day, and they are excited about the idea.)
Next we headed to the big Ace Hardware on the other side of town. I love Ace. They nearly always have what I need and lots of odd things I never see anywhere else. We used to have one in Bay View, but it couldn't compete once the Home Depot opened and finally shut down a few years ago. I miss it. The big Ace near downtown is huge and dusty and quirky and full of great stuff. I figured it was the right place to find materials for an unusual art project Aden is doing for school.
The greeter at Ace actually knows where to find things in the store, so we enlisted his help locating what we were looking for. They didn't have a couple of the things we needed, but he brainstormed about other places we could try that might be promising. He was so nice, and he liked my kids, and he said there might be candy for them at the counter. When I went to pay for our items he made sure they each got to pick out a lollypop.
That was a lot of sugar, and now I'm trying to figure out how many vegetables I can serve with dinner to help balance that out somewhat, but the sweetest thing about this afternoon wasn't the treats but that we all got our sense of what the world should be like restored a bit. There are strangers to be scared of but there are also strangers who pay for your treats. There is more than one kind of stranger.
I don't want my kids to be scared of strangers. I don't want to be scared of strangers. I know the world can be dangerous and you need to know how to protect yourself. I want us all to be alert and to trust our instincts about when something isn't right, and to be smart about staying safe. But I don't want to live in fear of everybody just because I don't know them. That creates new and potentially even more terrible problems.
So I'm torn about what to do with my kids at the moment. I don't know if they should walk the dog alone now. I don't know when it gets warmer if I should let them play unsupervised up and down the block like we've done before. That's the scariest part of parenting--realizing how much I'm responsible for, and how much I just don't know.