Wednesday, April 6, 2011
April 6, 2011 ~ Day 118
Protecting My Gifts
It happened so quickly that I didn't have time to think, only react.
My children and I had just arrived at IKEA, the 'slightly preferable to college dorm room furniture' store. We planned to look for a new desk for me, a new art table for them.
"I need to use the potty!" announced the three year old.
"Me too!" his brother chimed in.
"Perfect," I replied. "We're right here." The door to the family bathroom was about two feet away.
I went to lift my 22 month old daughter out of the shopping cart seat where she was firmly belted in.
"Nooooo!" she wriggled and squirmed.
"Honey," I sighed. "We need to go into the potty right now."
At that moment, a fifty-something? Caucasian woman with dyed black hair and the distant potential to be grandmotherly swooped up to us. She stood about half a foot from my daughter.
"Do you want me to watch her for you while you go into the bathroom?" she asked, gesturing to the door where my sons waited ~ one of them hopping on one foot.
I scanned her face incredulously. Seriously? You think I'm going to let a perfect stranger watch my small child while I go into a closed bathroom? You must be high, lady!
"No." I answered firmly. "No thank you."
"Are you sure?" she pressed me, moving closer. "I'm happy to do it."
Looking her straight in the eye I said very loudly and firmly, "I'm absolutely sure." I grabbed my children and the diaper bag and thrust the three of them into the family bathroom in front of me. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the woman head off toward the parking lot, just as the door closed. I locked it.
"Did you SEE that?" I asked my sons. "Did you SEE that stranger ask if she could watch your little sister for us while we went into the bathroom?"
My eldest son nodded.
"What do you think?" I asked him. "Should mommy have let her do that?"
"No..." he decided. "No, because she was a stranger. She could have kidnapped my sister."
Kneeling down to look all three of them in the eye I gently but firmly said, "We don't ever go anywhere with strangers, and we don't ever let a stranger take care of our babies - no matter how nice the person seems to be."
Exhaling, I went to help my younger son use the potty.
The shopping trip wasn't particularly productive but I found myself reflecting at length on that brief moment in our morning. Did I overreact to the woman? Was I rude to her? How could she really think that I would let a total stranger watch my kid?
I really don't care if I overreacted to her though, because in my reality the only thing that matters is that all three of my children made it home safely to our house with me and they are now quietly napping while I type.
All I can think of is this: It is really THAT easy. Really that simple for someone to steal a child, to take a beloved baby. It's a split-second decision made on gut instinct alone, without time to reflect at all.
What if I had been a new mother, a first-time mother? What if I was functioning on no sleep and overwhelmed with the shock of incessant screaming from the small fragile being I had believed would coo and giggle all of the time? What if I had been desperate just to use the bathroom in peace for one second. Would I have said yes to that woman? Would I have looked at her wrinkles and believed that age made her trustworthy? Would I have given her my child to "watch" for a few minutes?
Knowing myself, I don't think any of those scenarios would have played out. In every scenario, no matter how strange, I think I am too paranoid and too hyper-vigilant ever to agree to that.
Still, this experience gave me so much compassion for the countless mothers around the world who have lost their children in a similar way - who let their guard down for just one second and found themselves bereft of the most special treasure in their lives.
I remember reading a story in one of Gavin De Becker's books about the topic - either The Gift of Fear or Protecting The Gift - where a mother described letting her son go into a nearby shop with an unknown man who claimed to be a young father, just so she could finish her mall shopping in peace; tragically, she never saw her son alive again. This kind of thing happens all too often, and it just breaks my heart.
My husband used to scoff at these things, having no awareness of the incredible vulnerability that young children and women frequently face. I can think of several knock down, drag out fights we had when dating over him not wanting to walk me to my car downtown or to help me find a parking space blocks from his loft apartment. He believed that a strong woman should be independent and unafraid to face the world head-on, even after midnight on dark urban streets. When he had sons, he laughed at the idea that anything could ever happen to one of them and chided me for worrying too much.
Our daughter came into the world right around the time that two local high school girls vanished (and later turned up raped and murdered). I noticed that he took these cases a lot more seriously than he ever had done before, following the headlines and shaking his head in disgust. "Monster," he muttered to himself when they found the young man who had carried out the crimes. Fathering a delicate little girl had brought out his more cautious, nurturing, protective side. My husband is not a violent man by nature but I think he would be capable of anything, were someone to truly threaten his little girl.
My main takeaway from this morning's experience is not some kind of self-congratulatory "Check out what a great guardian I am"... if anything, the experience made me understand more personally just how easy it is to wind up in a flustered, vulnerable situation; also how easy it would be to thoughtlessly accept that kind of 'helpful' offer ~ especially if you lived in a small town; especially if the person offering was young and friendly looking or a neighbor; especially if you were exhausted or dealing (as I was) with multiple children at once.
I hope that woman I rebuffed today DID have good intentions and that she was indeed just a kind person offering to help out. Perhaps she hails from a simpler time when mothers really could ask strangers to mind their babies for a moment... (Was there ever such a time?)
This isn't that day and age though, and I'm not that kind of mom.