Secrets and Pedophiles

I got you with that title, didn’t I? It’s bold, but this post isn’t about making a statement; it’s more about asking questions.

Last Friday, I found myself in a situation that got me thinking, and wondering what other people would think  or do if they had been in similar circumstances. Here is what happened.

I took my daughters to a local playground that is situated right across from a lake. The view is beautiful and it always feels peaceful to me there, so I take my girls whenever I can.

My daughters were the only children on the playground, although there were several other adults sitting at the picnic tables between the playground and the water. One of those people was an older man with long, sort of shaggy white hair and a baseball hat shading his face. He sat with his back to the lake, facing the playground and he was watching my kids the whole time we were there.

At least, that’s what it seemed like to me. It felt odd that he was looking in the direction of the playground and the street behind it instead of at the much more attractive view of the water. And whenever I looked in his direction, his head seemed to be turned toward my children. I was picking up child molester vibes and my mommy genes kicked in. I instinctively began hovering around my girls far more than I usually do. I showed obvious and exaggerated affection. I found myself thinking — this guy is going to know that these girls are loved, and watched, and protected and there is no way any creepy old men are going to lure them away from this mama bear.

It was a hot afternoon and I already felt uncomfortable with the situation so we didn’t stay at the playground for long. We headed out to Trader Joe’s to pick up some summer essentials, like ice cream and tortilla chips, and as they usually do, the girls were attracting attention from other shoppers. (They can be very cute together when they aren’t being rotten to each other.) As lined up to check out, my younger daughter was playing peek-a-boo with an older couple behind us, and then they were both smiling and blushing for the teenage boy working at the register.

As the young gentleman was ringing up my groceries, I overheard him say to my three-year-old, “Don’t tell your mother. It will be our secret.” I saw him smile and I smiled and laughed back, assuming that I had just missed what he had said before that. But then, maybe because I already had a case of the creeps, I thought to myself — that is exactly the kind of thing pedophiles say to the children they are abusing. Don’t tell. It’s our special secret. So I stopped smiling.

Some of you reading this might be thinking, holy cow, is this woman off her meds? These are perfectly normal social interactions. The guy at the park probably wasn’t even looking at your kids. Or maybe he was someone’s grandfather, missing his own grandkids and feeling closer to them by watching other small children play. Who knows? The poor kid at the check out was just trying to make a joke. There’s nothing to be seen here; nothing at all to worry about.

I was thinking the same things as I was reflecting on the events of the day and my own internal reaction to them. But I still couldn’t silence that nagging voice in the back of my mind, the one that seems always to be echoing the words, “constant vigilance!” Vigilance of my surroundings, yes, but also vigilance over myself as I react to the things that I see as representing potential danger for my children.

I want to instill a healthy sense of security in my children, but I also need them to know that the world isn’t always a safe place. So basically, I guess what I am saying is that I want them to not be afraid, but also to be afraid. Shouldn’t be too hard, right? And I know that my own reactions to life are the model they are following.

Since I actually am on much-needed (and moderately effective) anti-anxiety medication, trusting myself and the way I perceive the world as it affects my children is difficult.  I don’t want to overreact, because I don’t want my children to become fearful, but I also don’t want to laugh off circumstances that could lead them into real danger. The question of how to strike that balance between healthy confidence and healthy wariness is a challenging one for me.

So if you are another parent reading this post, I must as you this:  How have you have been able to nurture both of these qualities in your children? Have you faced circumstances similar to mine — where you perceived danger in a situation that could have been (and probably was) perfectly innocent? And how did you react if you did? And for those of you with older children — have you managed to teach them how to discern a safe situation from an unsafe situation? How? What do you suggest parents of young children do to help them navigate a world that can be both so wonderful and so terribly frightening?





5 thoughts on “Secrets and Pedophiles

  1. Great questions and I don’t have a ton of answers BUT, the other day I was in Wal-Mart with my 3 boys and my sister in law. She had one of my twins in her cart, I had the other in my cart and was wearing my 8 month old. I get almost non stop comments and people talking to me about my kids or talking to my boys because they’re cute and they’re identical twins, and I’m one woman with 3 young kids so we’re always a spectacle…so I’m used to that and it doesn’t usually bother me. But this day we were in an aisle and my sister in law stepped away from my son and the cart for a second, both of us within arm distance of him still, and all of a sudden this kinda creepy looking guy appears and was talking to my son. …… AND THEN HE RUBBED HIS HAIR AND FACE!!!!!!!!!! Now, I’ve had a few people try to kind of touch my kids head or something as they talked but it’s usually a grandma or someone who I get no gut reactions to. This one made my heart jump out of my chest and instantly my mommy claws were out!!!!! He could’ve been harmless but I had a physical reaction to it. My point is, I think our gut tells us good from bad intentions and we sense the difference. I say trust your mommy gut. If something feels off, even if it’s not, better safe than sorry. Its always ok to protect your children from situations and people you have a bad feeling about. My boys are all young so I have to figure out how to navigate these waters as they get older too but it’s an important issue and great questions you posed.

  2. I follow my gut and do what I need to in order to keep k safe… But, I don’t necessarily let her know that I think something is off or dangerous. At this age, I’m just building a sense in her that she is safe and secure. I don’t know what I’ll do as she gets older and I have to teach her to discern safe and unsafe situations.

  3. I totally get where you’re coming from with this. The dude at the park sounds particularly creepy. It’s hard to suppress the paranoia sometimes, and sometimes it’s completely warranted. And it’s difficult to know what’s what. I don’t recall having a similar experience with my kids (yet), but Eric has said that he’s been on the receiving end of some suspicious looks from moms at the playground when he’s taken Harpur out solo. I guess there’s another side to the coin, and that is suspecting ALL men of having creepy intentions, not just the legit creepy ones. But, again, it’s hard to know sometimes. Do you default to mistrust and suspicion or to faith in humanity? I guess the ideal lies somewhere in between – trust your gut, but don’t let fear take over. So much easier said than done, right?

  4. Pingback: A Milestone Moment | And Another Thing, Hon

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