Thursday, June 9, 2016

Snapping Turtles And Predators

This morning as I went for a run something about the humidity in the air or the water along my route or the way the birds were singing reminded me of childhood times spending summer breaks at my grandparent's house which sat at the end of a canal off the Missouri River. I would spend whole days rowing my grandma's rowboat back and forth, jumping out of the boat when I got too hot, seeing how far down I could swim, never quite touching the bottom. My hair would bleach bright blond and my skin would turn golden brown in the sun. I would come into the house only to eat and then I would be back out again in the water. Whenever my grandpa caught sight of me he would warn me of all the dangers in the water.

'Watch out for snapping turtles! They're so big they can bite your big toe off!'

'Don't get too close to the river! The current will sweep you right out and we'll never see you again!'

'There are some big fish in there. Some of 'em have teeth and they'll think your fingers are worms!'

I would look appropriately serious at his warnings and then go jump back in the water.

One day my mom called me in. She and my grandma were headed to town for some grocery shopping and she wanted me to come with them. I dutifully put on some clothes over my swimsuit and followed them to the car. We collected the things they thought we'd need for a good dinner and, while they waited in the checkout line, I wandered around the front of the store, looking at the gumball machines, coin operated horse ride, bulletin board right next to the large front doors.

All of a sudden I was aware that a man was whispering in my ear. I whipped my head around, eyes huge, body tense. I knew I was in danger. It took a minute for my brain to realize what was happening. The man was dirty, greasy, disheveled. He reminded me of the homeless men our church would sometimes serve in downtown Denver. He was gone before it registered what he had said to me and what had happened.

'If you ever need a friend, call me,' the man said. I looked in my hand where a tiny scrap of paper sat with something scrawled on it. He had shoved it in my hand before he took off.

I was terrified. I made a bee-line to my mom. I let the paper fall to the floor as I ran. I spent the drive back to the house lying on the backseat, fearful that the man was following us and would find out where I was. I stayed awake late into the night, hearing every sound, positive that it was the man coming in through one of the open windows. But, and this is the saddest thing to me now as a mom myself, it never once crossed my mind that I should tell my mom what just happened. I don't even know why. Why wouldn't I have let her know? Why wouldn't I have asked to call the police? Why wouldn't I have shown someone that piece of paper?!

Because I was a little girl who had never had any conversations about what to do in that situation. My parents, my grandparents weren't bad. They just hoped that we lived in a world where I would need to know about snapping turtles but not about predators. They wanted to believe that their children and grandchildren would not be the ones targeted, would not cross paths with dangerous people who wanted to harm them.

There is something innate in children that causes them to clamp up when they should talk and the key to unlock that is adults who communicate in a way that doesn't cause more anxiety but informs. But we have to believe that our children will most likely meet people who are out to cause them harm, people they know, people they don't know. My story happened 30 years ago. I need to see that the world is not a safer place than it was then. It is horrible that these conversations are needed but they are.

I thought of the video of the mom in Florida whose daughter was grabbed and dragged toward the door by a would-be abductor. Thank God that woman was aware enough to jump into the fray immediately and save her daughter! If the man in my story had decided to be so bold, I would have been long gone before anyone realized what had happened. I was right next to the door. My mom was far away.

Give your children love today. And talk to them. Talk to them about what to do when they feel afraid. And be a safe place for them to run to when they are afraid. Teach them that when they feel nervous or scared of an adult it is okay and to respect those feelings. Most of all, don't be afraid to talk about every little thing they want to talk about.

We're going to get through this parenting thing and our kids are going to grow up to be amazing adults.

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