What if? Indeed.
I was at the park last night and there was a couple there with kids the same ages as ours. As we pushed our kids on the swing, the mom and I chatted. I raved about how much I love, love the park. It is just perfect for us! With it being just a mere half a mile away, Arun can easily ride his bike there and back while we walk along with Anjali. In general, it is a beautiful, calm space with tons of shady trees nestled deep into a neighborhood without major crossroads buzzing with traffic.
While the mom agreed the park is wonderful, she lamented that the swings are so far away from the playground area (seriously, not more than 40 feet, folks!) and that when pushing her child on the swings, she has to turn her back to the area, thus leaving her older children vulnerable.
I tried to make light of the situation, mentioned Free Range Kids and urged her to read it. I also pointed out that statistically, a stranger is not going to whisk in steal her kid. Her response?
"Have you been to the KBI website? There are tons of pedophiles in this area! It's scary! I watch CNN and Nancy Grace all the time to keep up on that stuff."
I chose not to argue because I did not feel like facing it and potentially subjecting myself to the Lazy, Uncaring Mom role to which I have been assigned WAY too often. And yes, I knew damned well what she was getting at regarding the KBI (Kansas Bureau of Investigation) site, but could not argue because I did not have the facts. This morning, I dutifully went to the site and verified there are less than 100 sex offenders in my city which includes TWO zip codes area (Per this site, a sex offender is a generic term for all persons convicted of crimes involving sex, including rape, molestation, sexual harassment and pornography production or distribution. )
Yes, there are still 100 sex offenders around here, but I am going to get Glass Half Full all over your ass and say that there are only 100. And furthermore, this included ALL sex offenders. Which probably means that when 18 year old Jimmy Joe slept with his 16 year girlfriend and her father found out? Jimmy Joe got himself a listing on the website. And if Roger Sterling lived in Olathe and someone finally reported his sex harassing ass? Roger gets himself a listing on the website. And yes, rape and molestations are included in that list, but in short, all the folks on the list are not pedophiles lurking playgrounds prepared with lost puppies and candy so they can prey on your precious progeny.
Listen. I know things happen and I am not trying to push some Kumbaya Agenda onto y'all. Good grief, I had a Creepy Uncle and a Creepy Neighbor, too. Fortunately, my mom had talked to me about what to do and I did tell my parents what was going on before anything progressed into Scary Serious. In fact, I was so young during the Creepy Neighbor Incidence that I do not even remember it. But I did know enough to tell my parents. And when I was a sophomore in high school, my best friend and I were subject to the stereo-typical Gross Guy "asking for directions". No, we did not get in his truck. And yes, we reported his ass to my friend's parents, who called the police, who miraculously! managed to find the guy and arrest him. And then, we got to sit in court and watch him get sentenced.
Folks, these incidences did not scar me for life - in fact, while writing that last paragraph, I only just remembered the whole Gross Guy "Asking for Directions" Incident and realized it was relevant, so it should be included. Why did these incidences not scar me? Because I had been prepared to report them. My mother had created an environment where it was made clear that she wanted me to tell her when these things happened.
So, yes, I am teaching my kids to talk to strangers. But only if they are comfortable doing so. However! I am teaching them to never, ever actually go with a stranger. I do not want to teach them that all strangers are dangerous and I want them to learn how to trust their instincts. For reals, folks - Creepy Uncle? Gave us the willies from early on. As children, we knew something was not right. And lucky for me, my mom created an environment in which I felt comfortable telling her when things were not right.
Where the hell am I going with this??
I did finish reading Lenore Skenazy's Free Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry (Skenazy is the Official World's Worst Mom who let her 9 year old ride the NYC subway by himself and then began the Free Range Kids blog. A blog that should be required parent blogger reading, in my opinion.) This book was a breeze to read. It was reassuring, informative and Skenazy has a way with words that hit home. And now? I am cheering my decision for not allowing my children to sit in a Shopping Cart Condom, And, I can now eat raw cookie dough and raw snow with an easy heart. Thanks, Lenore!
To boot, she has a great sense of humor:
The biggest fear on Halloween, of course, is that somehow, your nice, quiet neighbors - the ones you never got to know but somehow managed to live next to in peace and harmony the other 364 days of the year - have been waiting, like kids for Christmas, for this one day to murder local children. Murdering them on another day wouldn't be satisfying, I guess, which is why they've shown such remarkable restraint. But a child homicide on Halloween -- it just feels right.
For the record, there is no recorded evidence that a child has ever died via a contaminated Halloween treat.
However, I think the most important message of all from the book is this:
"Don't talk to strangers" is one of the most useless pieces of advice ever foisted on us to foist on our children. And I'm not the only one who thinks so.
"Our message is exactly the one you're trying to convey. We have been trying to debunk the myth of stranger danger, " say Ernie Allen.
What's stunning about this statement is that Allen is the head of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The organization John Walsh helped found after his son was killed...... The organization that put the missing kids' pictures on the milk cartons and didn't tell us that most of them were runaways or abducted by family members.......
"Our message to parents is you don't have to live in fear, you don't have to feel you have to lock your children in a room," says Allen. What you have to do, he says, is to talk to them about how to to handle themselves confidently, among people they know and people they don't.
I guess we all could do with a little bit less Nancy Grace and a little bit more Fancy Nancy, eh?
So, here you go, folks. I bought this book with some of my birthday money and as a goodwill gesture, I am giving it away. Why? Because this is a cause that I truly believe in - turning off the drama-ridden media, letting go of the hysteria and mommy guilt. Allowing our children to explore their worlds. Furthermore, I am forfeiting my chance to get my copy signed by Skenazy herself - she is going to be at BlogHer this year and I will be doing my best to not stalk her. And now? And when I do get my chance to get all freaky fangirl on her, I will not even have a copy of the book to wave in her face.
But. If I can get one more mother to re-think letting her child play outside alone, then it will be worth it.
Also? I am weary of being treated like a half-assed, lazy mom who does not care about her children's safety. I will not judge you for putting your child on a leash, if you will back off on my decision to let my 3.5 year old run around in a playground that is a mere 40 feet away from me.
If you are a US resident and would like to be entered to get this book, please indicate in the comments before Midnight, CDT on Sunday, May 10th - yep. Mother's Day.
Do you have a Free Range story to tell?
Here's mine - when I was less than 4 years old, I was allowed to play in our front yard unattended. However, I was not allowed to cross the street. A very strict rule that I followed - in fact, my next door playmate of the same age did cross the forbidden street and I immediately ran inside to tell on her.
A born rat, I was.