Monday, January 23, 2006

Ending the Innocence

Mommy I want to play outside.
The Mouse is sleeping and I have chores to do, so I bundle up The Boy and send him toddling out to dig for dinosaur bones in the side yard.
Mommy can't come out with you right now, but I'll be right here if you need me.
The yard is surrounded by a 4ft picket fence and the kitchen window looks out onto the play area, so I have always felt safe letting him play outside by himself.
He is 3 years old.
Still a baby in some respects but a big boy in so many others. He can be trusted to play safely outside without needing Mommy or Daddy hovering close by.
He knows to not open the gate or go into the front yard without adult supervision.
That's the beauty of having a fenced in yard, I have always thought.
But what if a grown-up were to come to the fence?
What if a stranger were to start talking to him while he was in the "safety zone" of the side yard?
Would he know what to do?
I am downstairs in the office when this thought creeps in.
Here, there are no windows. I cannot see The Boy as he plays, let alone hear anything that might be taking place outside... in that safety zone.
Would he know what to do?
I am paralyzed with fear over the answer to this question.

I go upstairs and check the window. He is digging away. Innocently searching for the fossilized remains of a T-Rex or Velociraptor. These are his favorites.
Once his excavation is complete he comes back inside.
I decide it's time to begin the awful task of teaching him about
Stranger Danger. I dread these talks because they challenge the innocence upon which he views the world. It opens his eyes to the harsh reality that the world is not always a happy joyful place.
Not everyone is nice.
There are people in this world who might want to hurt him, take him from the safety of his parent's embrace.

Despicable people.
It is later in the day when I pose The Question to him.
What would you do if a stranger came to the fence and asked if you wanted to take a walk?
His response is quick and honest.
I'd take a walk.
A wave of panic comes over me.

I feel my pupils dilate, my heart jumps into my throat as I try to inconspicuously catch my breath.
The "what if" scenarios begin ricocheting in my head.
Fuck the what ifs. They haven't happened yet.
Focus. Be a responsible parent and teach your child the right answers to these questions.
Don't blow it.
Don't look back on this moment with regret.
No, baby. You never go for a walk with a stranger. You come and get Mommy or Daddy.
But a stranger would never hurt me Mommy.
His brow is furrowed.
His innocence is being challenged.
He knows it.
I know it.
He doesn't like it.
I don't like it either.


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