Monday The Child and a M Street pal decided to have a lemonade stand. They were in need of lemons, so off they went to the co-op, like they've done dozens of times. There's a fairly busy street 2 blocks from our house. They were waiting to cross (there aren't any traffic lights) and a car slowed and waved them through the intersection. They cross and continued on their merry way. The car crossed the intersection then backed up, stopped across the street from them and honked. Two men inside began to gesture to the girls to come over.
Here's the good news: they didn't. They ran into a narrow alley behind a bunch of houses, peeked out and saw that the car was still there so they ran through the back yard of a house that was known to the pal and knocked on the door. The neighbor then went outside with them. The car was gone so the neighbor walked them back to M Street.
Excitement ensued. We called the police, who sent an officer right away. She was awesome. She interviewed the girls and got quite a bit of information. They could describe the men, the size and color of the car and the pal even had a few digits from the license plate. While they were being interviewed the officer, who'd already called in the car, got word that a car matching the desciption had been sighted about 10 blocks away. The officer took the girls off to see if they could make an ID. (As they excitedly climbed into the car I said, "This is the only time I ever want to see you in the back of a cop car, hear?") They returned shortly and indeed, the girls thought that may have been the car. It was empty but the cops ran the plates and it was owned by a holding company, which the officer said raised some red flags.
That was pretty much it. We got a case number and may hear from a detective. The officer gave the girls some sticker badges and told them that she was really proud of them because they had absolutely done everything right and she just wished more kids knew what they knew.
MW, the other mom, and I were proud, too. You don't often get the opportunity to see if anything you're trying to teach your kids is sinking in. And "stranger danger" isn't the sort of thing you can really practise, like a fire drill. You just have to keep telling them and telling them and hope something sticks. In this case it did and our girls are ok because of it.
There is a fear factor, though. The Child has been in need of extra hugs. She wanted me to sleep with her on Monday night and yesterday she didn't want to go to school. So we had to talk, again, about the fact that this is a safe neighborhood (it really is and she knows soooo many of the people who live around here....lots of "safe houses"). I stressed that she can't let a couple of jerks take away her power. She has a right to walk in her own neighborhood without fear.
She is coping in classic Child fashion: she's made a large and elaborate map complete with a key and various colors to denote the action of the incident. She is, on the advice of a teacher, writing a story about it, partly just to get it out and partly because, as she said, "I really think other kids should know what to do in this situation". She has also done some second-guessing of herself: maybe going into the alley wasn't the best thing, maybe they should have tried to run back home.... But there's no sense in that. The alley wasn't maybe a typically good choice but in this case it was perfect because it was narrow and surrounded by houses. Houses full of people because it was a holiday. And you can't second guess yourself anyway. The fact is that they didn't panic and everything worked out.
As a mom I've had two sorts of reactions. The first, of course, ran to getting a gun, hunting these bastards down and, after eviscerating them with a rusty churchkey and putting their heads on pikes, shooting them dead like the pervert dogs that they are. Or something charitable like that. On the other hand, I'm grateful that my baby is safe and really proud of her for taking care of herself. Because fundamentally, that's my job. And now we have a test case that suggests I might be on the right track in that department.
The fact is that all kids, even the ones not
growing up in the Big City, need to learn how to protect themselves. There are people in the world who are not nice. But I also don't want my child to live in fear. The world is like my Uncle D once described Central Park, perfectly safe all the time and perfectly dangerous all the time. It's all a matter of timing. And if you're timing is off, you need to be prepared.
I'll still let The Child walk to the store by herself (although she'll always have the walkie-talkie from now on). I'll still let her roam the 'hood (provided there's a rough itinerary within a prescribed perimeter). Some day I'll let her go out with a boy (depending on the boy) and drive a car and move out and start her own life. I'm starting to think she'll be ready for the responsibility.