I never used that phrase growing up; maybe it wasn't around. Regardless, a couple of recent incidences at the grocery store set off my parental alarm, and the umbrella of safety I have felt keeping us safe from one of life's scariest storms turned itself inside out for a second, leaving my thoughts unshielded. But they weren't vulnerable. All of a sudden I felt on guard and ready to be proactive.
At two different grocery stores, the same older gentleman approached our buggy (apparently it's a South LA thing to call a grocery cart a "buggy") trying to high five The Sheriff and tell him what a good boy he is. The first time it happened, I thought, well this is sweet, and why shouldn't a high five from my happy boy make this man's day a bit brighter?
I found it strange, though, that I hadn't made eye contact with him or said hello. He just made himself at home in our bubble!
I came home and told J about it and blew it off.
Then it happened again, same man, different store. This episode was the one that turned my umbrella inside out. I saw in my head how some kind person could invite himself or herself into my child's life with the intention not so sincere.
The Sheriff wasn't into handing out a high five either time. In fact, the second time he was walking and not in the buggy and hid himself between my legs. I laughed slightly with a "he's shy" and we went along our way.
As soon as the man, kind-hearted and genuine I'm sure, turned the corner, I knelt down on W's level, told him to look at me, and let him know that it's ok if he didn't want to give the gentleman a high five. I didn't get into "he's a stranger" or any of that. He wasn't ready for that conversation at that moment. I simply wanted to validate his feelings that he didn't feel comfortable and that was ok. His parents aren't going to be the ones to force him to high five strangers, not when there are so many weirdos out there.
I don't think this particular man was one of the bad guys, but I appreciate these two experiences as lessons for me that indeed, we live in a dangerous society, and in the very near future we'll need to have important conversations about "stranger danger."
Moms out there who've done it, what age did you start talking about strangers without freaking out your children? Do you have any suggested resources for approaching this topic?