A safe place.

I haven’t been watching much TV news in the last few years, but I couldn’t help but see the video of that poor little girl in Florida being led away by Mr. Creepy. I wondered why she went so willingly, then reminded myself this is no mystery. We raise children, and especially girls, to be obedient to adults. Ninety-nine percent of the time, this is good. Sometimes, it isn’t.

Today, riding home on the bus, a staggering drunk boarded at a park-and-ride lot. Everyone else got off, making us the only two riders. He weaved back to his seat, sat and said “Shit! I need a transfer.” He got back up and weaved back to the driver, shoving a palm in her face. I noticed his coat was split all the way up the back seam, exposing the lining. Also, he was so redolent of his intoxicant of choice I felt it at the back of my throat. He weaved back, only this time he plopped down next to me. “Lady,” he started to say, warming up for a panhandle.

“NO!” I barked, with about 2,000 percent more vehemence than I felt. “You are NOT sitting here.” The driver actually took her foot off the accelerator; was she going to have a Situation? I waved her an all-clear in the mirror and she drove on. The drunk, looking stunned, went back to his original seat and put his head in his hands.

This is the second time this has happened to me in recent years. The last time, a drunk on a bicycle acted squirrelly on a bike path, then raced ahead about 100 yards and stopped, seemingly to wait for me. As we came abreast, I pointed a finger at him and snarled, “If you TOUCH me, I will HURT you.” He, too, looked as if I’d lashed him with a whip. When we passed again, he actually left the path and rode his bike up against a line of trees, averting his eyes as though I was the alpha bitch and he, just a cowering cur.

Where did this Inner Xena come from? When I was 23, a man sat down next to me on a bus and practically jerked himself off, and I sat there like a lox. When I was a teen-ager, creepy guys shouted things from cars all the time, and I put my head down and walked on by.

A lot is different now. The bloom is long-gone from my rose; this just doesn’t happen very often. And I know that while assertiveness is the recommended response to unwelcome attention, I don’t know that finger-waving, driver-startling assertiveness is the right idea — I worry that someday this anger is going to be met by more of it. Either that, or I’ll start resembling the crazy old ladies with the bulging tote bags whose eye everyone else avoids on these very same buses.

But mostly I wonder: How can I teach Kate to take care of herself like this? How can I teach her to recognize dangerous aggression, separate it from garden-variety assertiveness and react instinctively to it, without turning her into a fear-ridden little mouse who walks everywhere with her keys sticking out from her clenched fist? I want to let her walk home alone from a friend’s house at 11 without fearing she can be abducted by a stranger who simply takes her by the arm and walks off with her.

Gavin de Becker wrote an excellent book on this very subject, which I read back when Kate was a wriggling infant. Now that she’s out in the world, I think I need to read it again.

Posted at 3:44 pm in Uncategorized |

6 responses to “A safe place.”

  1. MIndy said on February 11, 2004 at 8:04 am

    My husband was in the driveway washing the car one Saturday afternnon years ago when he was approached by three terrified ten-year-old girls on bicycles. They were on their way to the corner store to buy slurpees and bubblegum but were harrassed by two teenage boys in a Jeep. The boys were on their third pass when the girls decided to find immediate help.

    The bikes were hidden by the garage and the girls shooed in our house for milk and cookies and a phone call was made to parents. The Jeep passed nearby very slowly but unfortunately wasn’t close enough to read the plates. Fifteen minutes later two ashen-faced parents arrived with a pickup to collect the girls and bikes. They were grateful for the help and so relieved the girls recognized harrassment and knew to do something about it. The mother was particularly happy that her advice had been heeded.

    As we stood around tsk-tsking about kids unable to safely ride to the store on a bright Saturday afternoon, the thought that wasn’t voiced was: What if they guy in the driveway washing his car turned out to be worse than the teenagers in the Jeep?

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  2. Michael G said on February 11, 2004 at 8:46 am

    “What if” is a mug’s game. Start playing it and you’ll second guess yourself right into the fetal position.

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  3. Nance said on February 11, 2004 at 9:01 am

    That’s true, Michael. One of the things I liked about DeBecker’s book was how NON-alarmist it was, without downplaying the real dangers to children. It pointed out, quite reasonably, that most people in the world won’t hurt your child, and your kid needs to understand that, if they’re going to have confidence and the wherewithal to ask for help when they need it.

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  4. alex said on February 11, 2004 at 11:23 am

    Bringing your kids up to have self-esteem is probably more important than teaching them about the dangers of strangers. I suspect the predators go for the ones who appear vulnerable.

    A case in point: many years ago, when I first got my driver’s license, I schlepped a large group of kids from my neighborhood down to the Three Rivers Festival one night. One in the group was a pretty but shy 14-year-old girl. An adult male told her she was gorgeous and sexy and began kissing her and she took off with him, ignoring our entreaties. We were scared shitless because, of course, half of our group had snuck out of a slumber party to go down there and I’d picked them up.

    We almost gave up on finding her when she showed up hours later bawling. Whether things went beyond kissing I was never told, but I have my suspicions.

    We couldn’t protect her from herself�or anyone else.

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  5. alex said on February 11, 2004 at 11:50 am

    I should add that we were all so afraid of being in trouble with our parents that notifying an adult was the last thing any of us wanted to do.

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  6. Vince said on February 11, 2004 at 1:28 pm

    Remember too, that the vast majority of cases of abuse of children come from PEOPLE THEY KNOW, most often, family members.

    “Stranger danger,” while real, is really quite rare.

    Plus, 98% of the faces of missing kids on milk cartons are involved in custody disputes, not stranger abductions.

    Teaching kids how to respond appropriately, even to people they thought they could trust makes this even more difficult.

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