The Danger of Strangers
“NO! Put him DOWN!” I yelled at the kind Asian woman. Clearly she didn’t understand my plight nor the hard lessons it takes to raise a young African American boy.
It had been a long week. In between work, my side job, school and ministry, the week had just blown past me. With eight or nine loads of clothing piled up in the corner of my room there was no way I was going to spend my entire Saturday doing one load at a time, so I decided to take a trip to the local laundromat. Not only had I been preoccupied with my own work this week I kind of felt guilty for not spending any one on one time with my three-year-old so I figured this would also be a great time for he and I to share. After all I would be at the laundromat no less than three hours and I could knock out two birds with one stone. Spend quality time with my son, engaging him with counting quarters for the machines and teaching him to sort colors. It would be educational plus more practice for dexterity and discipline for him. At age three he had been having a hard time with obeying adults, just wanting a sense of freedom I suppose. His early development teacher assured me that this was natural at this age, as he truly believes he should “run it”. But nevertheless, he would get out of the house for a few hours and I would feel a sense of pride about myself having completed at least one of my tasks for the day with this laundry.
As I loaded each of the eight front face washers, I saw the kid doing his usual game of realigning every roller basket in the place. “Not too far Kenzo, stay where Mommy can see you.” I would remind him every two seconds and do that he felt my eye-watching presence. Every now and again the mystery of seeing a new person and a new face would draw his attention away from his game and away from my surveillance. His latest distraction came to our right, which was an older man, grumpily tending to his soiled items. “Mommy what’s his name? We can’t say hi to him?” Kenzo asked. No, son I do not know his name and NO you can’t say hi. Leave him alone.”
As I gave my directive, my son would simply look and observe the new person for a moment, then continue on with his play. That was only until the next unfamiliar being came around. “Mommy, what’s HER name.” He would ask, expecting me to know all things. Son, remember what I told you about speaking to strangers? Stranger danger, remember? He nodded remembering our previous conversation, that not everyone you meet or see is safe. I thought back to this necessary conversation that we as parents are to have with our children and I wondered to myself, “exactly when is a good time for a toddler to “speak” to a stranger and how do I explain the difference?
are those times when we run into people whom I do know, who may be seeing my son for the first time, and when they speak to him, he rudely turns away. Can I be mad? Surely not. After all, I did tell him never to talk to strangers and to him, they are strangers. Sometimes I believe he’s taking the concept too far, a smart butt.
Nevertheless, here we are at this public place with new people, new faces and he feels FREE. I noticed early on that my kid was a people watcher. He loved to stare and observe their actions, their moves, the varying of heights, shapes and colors of people. Their mannerisms and how they spoke or interacted.
I knew he would be one I would have to watch, to ensure he didn’t go home with a random stranger, allured by the fact that they had children. Anytime there were kids around, an adult was safe in his eyes.
But today we were doing good. After his first two “asks” about the older man, he continued playing his games, running about the not so crowded space. “Stop running son, walk!” I yelled after him. This is not the place to run.” Being about three feet away from him, I started walking in his direction and as as the words “stop running” left my mouth, I saw my son slip mid-stride and hurl to the floor. Startled by the fall, his eyes shot up to me in a frightened glare. I looked down at him and before I could direct the moment, a set of sympathetic arms reached down to gently scoop him up.
“NO! Put him DOWN!” I yelled at the kind Asian woman who was reaching down to rescue my son. The strong tone in my voice must have startled her as she jumped back at the bark of my demand. Clearly she didn’t understand my plight nor the hard lessons it takes to raise a young African American boy. “Get up!” I said to him sternly. “Now walk,
Like I ordered him.”
I did not offer him a hand or assistance up, I merely kept my gaze on him then turned my back to continue in the direction I wanted him to follow.
As I walked away, I thought about the kind Asian woman. What she probably felt was instinctive compassion, harmlessly wanting to help a child who had fallen and potentially bruised herself. What I felt was the same, compassion but more passionately than that I felt the need to use this as a lesson for a young boy who needed to experience falling and not relying on anyone to help him up or to kiss his bruises. He needs to learn early that Mommy won’t always help and that he should not expect strangers to help. It may hurt, and yes he may cry, but if he falls down, He should dust myself off and simply, get up.
In the moment I wanted to offer a smile and thank you to the kind Asian woman for her kindness and explain what had just happened, but there was no time in that moment. I had no time to lose the sternness needed for the principle to be taught effectively. To some it may have appeared as though I was a mean Momma. But in reality, it is because I care and and recognize that it is now that foundations are set for principles and actions to be shaped. That split second incident also made me think more on the kind Asian woman and how some strangers are actually “good” sometimes.They can be kind and only want to help. But for now, it’s too confusing to explain that to my three year. I’ll ensure he has the concepts of 1) Fall and Get back up and 2) Don’t talk to strangers down pact before we add the situational layers next. I will revisit the “When Strangers Are Good” conversation at a later time.
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