OFF TOPIC: TALKING TO STRANGERS

This is an off-topic post from Marathon b4 Mastectomy, but important!

Facebook has me creeped out these days. Each time I log on (which is fairly frequent), I have a new Amber alert or a shared plea-for-help status update from a parent, or a news bulletin from a local police department about missing — or attempted abduction — of children. These are happening in quiet suburbs as well as in my own city.

 

At breakfast, on the first day of school, over bagels and eggs, I had The Talk with my kids. We talked about strangers, ways in which bad people lure children into cars, and the tricks people play in order to take children. I have, in the past, couched these statements (falsely) as “but that won’t happen to you.” I’m pretty sure the people on Facebook believed that this would never happen to them, either.

 

This time, I wasn’t as safe sounding. This time, I was clear what likely happens when a bad adult takes a child. I talked about touching. I talked about hurting. I talked about never seeing your family ever again.

 

Also, let me make this clear. I don’t usually call anyone a “bad person.” I believe that there are people who do bad things. But, I let this one go — I think anyone who aims to hurt, steal, or kill a child, especially, is bad. They are likely, possibly, also ill, hurt, and trying to fulfill some void, and I am compassionate to that. I believe that hurt people hurt people.

 

I also talked about how to avoid these things. Screaming and making a scene in the middle of the street — yelling active phrases like, “I DO NOT KNOW THIS PERSON. THIS ADULT IS TRYING TO HURT ME!” My oldest said, “Won’t that be rude? Won’t that hurt the adult’s feelings?”

 

We reviewed all the tricks people might play to get you to go with them:

  • Oh, my kids go to your school, too!
  • It’s raining, let me drive you to school.
  • Hey, you missed the bus. Do you want me to drive you to the school?
  • Your mom/dad said you can come with me.
  • Your (family member) is hurt. Come with me and I’ll take you to them!

We reviewed all the things people will try to do (extra) to get you to go with them:

  • have kid-friendly things (candy, bikes, puppy)
  • create an emergency
  • be really, really, really nice
  • try to convince you that they aren’t bad, strange, or weird

There are obviously so many more tricks that bad people play.

 

And, then it happened.

 

On the second day of school, it was slightly raining out, and I had just put my kids on the school bus. I ran home because I forgot something, and I noticed my daughter’s homework folder on the table. “Urgh! Now I’m really going to be late for work! Gotta go drop this off at her school.”

 

I jumped into my car, moved aside the carton of juice boxes onto the car seat, and placed the homework folder with kitties and rainbows on the seat. As I pulled up to the top of the street, I saw two school aged boys and their mother standing out in the drizzling rain.  Normally, I do just keep driving. But, today, I was feeling extra go-out-of-my-way-ish.

 

I pulled my van over and rolled down the windows! I asked them if they were waiting for the bus, told them the bus already arrived, and offered to drive the boys to school.

 

“It’s okay! It’s okay! My kids go to your school, too. Look inside, I have a car seat, my daughter’s homework and everything. I’m heading to the school right now to drop off this homework. Come on in!”

 

Oh god. I’m that creep.

 

OhGod. NoNoNoWaitDon’tGetIntoMyCar. NeverNeverNeverEver. No.No.No.

 

I kept repeating that out loud. I slowly got out of my car, walked around to the mother and boys, and said, “I’m so, so, so, so sorry. Ma’am. I’m so sorry. I just became the person I tell my kids never to talk to. I’m so sorry. Please please please tell your boys never to trust someone like me who tries to get them into the car.”

 

I was seriously making a terrible impression on this family.

 

The truth was, I just wanted to help. I just wanted to help them get to school on the 2nd day of classes. I just wanted to use my privilege — the privilege of having a car, of not having a boss who would dock my pay, and of having car seats and safety — to get this family where they needed to go.

 

“Can you give me a second, please?” the mom said to me.

 

She turned to her boys. Then turned to me.

 

“There is no way for me to get my boys to school. Would you mind if I come with you to the school if you drop them off?”

 

“Yes ma’am. Yes. Absolutely. And, please let someone know that you are in my car. My name is Liza. I work at _____. I live at ______. Please keep your phone on your lap, and if you want, we can keep your window rolled open. I’ll keep my hands on the wheel the entire time.”

 

Now, yes, I’m sure in many ways, I had gone overboard. But, the truth is, what if I WASN’T a good samaritan? What if I was harmful? What if I was bad? This would have been a terrible situation.

 

The entire car ride, in between some very light conversation, the mother and I emphasized how the boys should never, ever get into a car — even if someone says all of the things that I said. Even if I have a car seat. Even if I have a folder of homework. Even if I say I’m heading to that school, too.

 

When I came home that night, I brought my kids to the same spot where I pulled over. I told them what I had done. I told them that it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between strangers who want to help and strangers who want to hurt. I told them that they will NEVER get in trouble for going back home if they miss the bus. I’d rather they miss the bus than miss out on being with the family.

 

Was it too much information? I stand by my belief that it wasn’t. It’s important to let our children know, explicitly, that they will never get in trouble for being safe. For making decisions that put SAFETY first. It’s important to be very clear about safety, even when someone appears trusting.

 

I saw the mom again at the bus stop the next day — in time for the bus. And, again, we said to the boys and to my own kids that what we did yesterday was because the adults we TRUSTED made the decision for us. Their mom made the adult decision to get in the car. That, as children, they should not make that decision.

 

And, that good adults will never make them choose.

 

Peace, love, and prayers for the families who are not with their children,

Liza

 

 

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