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Avoiding a Nightmare

The boys were crazy today. I mean, beating each other up, hitting with legos, charging around, being nutty. So we went outside.

It was a gorgeous day out. Sunny, warm, delightful. We walked from the boat to the marina office, picked up the mail, and then decided to flop out on the Meadow (me) and run out the crazies (them).

Before long, there was a hide-and-seek game. I could pretty well see them both, and was not really being eagle-eyed about it; I mean, it’s the marina, they’re kids, they should be able to run, right? They dashed over to the firepit, and I was sort of slowly thinking of standing up and heading over there, when Kestrel came toddling back to me.

“I can’t find Rowan” he said dejectedly.

“Fine” I say, and I hollered for Rowan. No answer. I hollered again, a little louder. Again, no answer.

The only place clearly out of my sight was behind the shower house, so I headed there immediately. And saw Rowan standing there talking to a man.

I’d never seen him before. Probably between 45 and 55 years of age, well-kept, thin, tallish, grey hair, good shape. Blue eyes. Standing far too close to my son. He looked up as I rounded the building, and said “You’re doing a great job with this boy.”

Dear readers, I have no idea why, but I hated the man on sight. I snapped at Rowan, “Get back over to the lawn, go sit down by Kaia, and wait for me.” Apparently I had murder in my eyes, and he did precisely as he was told (for the first and last time today).

I looked at the man, who proceeded to babble about having to meet someone at the dock and was this “A” gate or “A” dock and he wasn’t really sure where he was supposed to meet this person, who was showing him a boat, and blah blah blah blah.

Gavin de Becker would have called it “too much detail.” I gave him the “You are a bug and I have a pin” look, and said “The Harbormaster’s office is over there, go check with him if you’re looking for a boat.” The man babbled about making a cellphone call, and retreated. I got back to the boys, and just…sat…down. This all hadn’t really gelled in my head yet; I think I was running on instinct.

A marina neighbor came by to chat, and so I had a great excuse to stay right where I was for about half an hour. And friends, the man didn’t go to either gate. He in fact walked along the parking lot, and then got into a car and drove off.

Rowan and I have had a long talk about strangers, about people who do bad things to kids, about how hard you fight, how loud you scream, and how it is OK to bite and kick and do all the things that you’re not supposed to do to your little brother. We’ve also talked about being out of sight, and about answering when Mama calls you.

If I think about this too much, I’m going to be sick. I try so hard to give my kids some semblance of free-range, and some degree of security and safety in which to explore their world. I deplore “helicopter moms”. And yet… what would have happened if I hadn’t been right there? If I hadn’t gone to precisely where he was immediately upon missing him? What if I’d been distracted and not gotten there fast enough?

They’re bathed and jammied, we’re snuggling in for a movie and an early bedtime. And I am probably going to have my post-stress cry then. My hands are already shaking, full-on fight or flight recovery mode.

Nothing happened, right? My conscious brain knows that. But my jungle brain feels like I just avoided a lifetime nightmare.

23 Responses to “Avoiding a Nightmare”

  • OMG! I second your gut feeling. :-( How horrifying. I’m so glad that you were right there and that nothing happened.

    Many *hugs* to you!

  • Anne:

    Laureen,

    (((Hugs)))

    Trust your instincts…you probably avoided a nightmare. And I’m so glad you did. I’m with you, the helicopter parent annoys me. And yet, it’s crazy how vigilant we have to be. I’m just thrilled that you averted the nightmare. And I know it’ll be hard to let go, for awhile, and not be the helicopter mom. But, being a helicopter parent is not the worst thing in life, and remember, your instincts were there. You listened to them. Keep listening to those instincts. Surely Rowan feels your intensity and concern and will learn from this as well. And the helicopter will leave in time, if you need it for awhile to regain your confidence there’s nothing wrong w/that.

    I’m glad you caught it before it went anywhere. I hope you never see that man again.

    Thinking of you and your family. Not sure what to say, but you showed you’re a great mom and Rowan is a smart boy today (he may have stalled long enough for you to find him…don’t count out his hand in it, or yours either). Love you, thinking of you.

    ~Anne

  • KJ:

    You’re not the helicopter mom. You’re the freaking smart heat-seeking missile mom that knew exactly the right time to hone in. Too much detail, agreed. My mama instincts are flaring from way out HERE!

    Shake and cry if you need to, it’s ok. He’s safe, you’re safe. Spread that guy’s description and make a call to the police, it will be good evidence for them if something else happens and they can link the incidents, it shows a pattern and they’ll deal WAY more seriously with it.

    Gavin de Becker would be proud of you. hugs.

  • Batshit crazy scary. I’m so happy everything’s ok. Y’all need to just sit and BE together and relax/recuperate. Or cry your eyes out. Or both.

    Hugs to all y’all!

  • Zen:

    With this world as it is, ALWAYS trust your feelings!

  • Jessica S.:

    Oh honey, my stomach just rolled over 50 times. I *just* started reading Protecting the Gift on your recommendation, and I am so very grateful to you for that. Here’s a big huge hug for you and such a full-body sigh of relief that you are such a present mama.

  • Jackie:

    You know my gut instinct is to say don’t waste your tears; get angry and stay angry. But of course tears are necessary and helpful and we all need them.

    Focus on all the good stuff you and your children did today–Kestrel may have saved his brother’s life by coming to you when he did. And I’m not trying to make you cry; but we all know the stats and you know your gut.

    Predators are the scum of the earth. I learned to recognize them from an early age because my mom’s family is packed with the SOBs and believe me they do not change, they do not rehabilitate, and they do not give up–they simply move on to someone else or take a break and then move on to someone else.

    You did everything right and your children should be able to wander, predators should not be allowed to wander at all.

    It does not take a helicopter parent to raise a safe kid; but it does take more than talks. You need to role play, act-out scenarios, demonstrate techniques–hands-on stuff. Talk about behaviors that make you nervous or suspicious then demonstrate them.

    Don’t just tell them to yell and kick and scream, show it–then have them show you. Don’t just teach them about situations, act them out. And not just once, lots of times and over a period of time and years. Kids need reminders.

    I know parents are afraid of freaking out their kids; but dude it’s no different than earthquake drills and firedrills–we all learn best by doing. Its like learning CPR–yup it is scary as Hell, but knowing it by heart can save lives.

    You are a super mom and a strong woman. You will take this day and turn it into a mission.

  • Oh Laureen, what a scary time! We’ve had some close calls like that, too. I am sooo relieved that your missing child story had a bitchy ending, hee hee! Remember, bitch = babe in total control of herself (and her children)! Okay, not that you are in total control of them, but ykwim. YOU ARE A GREAT MOTHER! Breathe in your strength and blow out your fears. Your sons are smart!

    I have to be honest with you though. *I* deplore *the phrase* “helicopter moms”– and kinda the book in which I first read it, Parenting With Love & Logic (a gift from my stepmom). You know why I’m a “helicopter mom”? Because I was almost abducted when I was five, and because my little sister was molested by a trusted babysitter’s husband when she was five.

    I am ultimately responsible for my children’s safety. I take that responsibility very seriously. I don’t mind if someone thinks I’m hanging around them too much. My kids would disagree. I don’t hover around them all the time, I don’t tell them how to eat or what to do or think, and I give them more freedom than most parents at home. I allow them to do and think for themselves as much as possible so they can learn natural consequences in a safe place, where I can make it better and help them clean it up and then get it all out and set it all up again tomorrow. But even when I do let them roam, like you did today, I am all-ways connected. Some may say I watch them like a hawk. That’s okay, but it’s my calling. It’s what I do, and it’s who I am. I am their mother. I feel it in my solar plexus when something is off kilter. And that’s born out of being around them all.the.time.

    I say, let’s reject the theory that being a “helicopter mom” is so negative. Helicopters swoop down and rescue people stranded in flooded cars being swept down rivers, and on top of flooded homes after levees break. Helicopters get very seriously injured people to hospitals so they can get the very best medical attention possible. Helicopters save lives. So hell yeah, I’m a helicopter mom! Deplore me if you must. I can’t change what my heart tells me to do for my wee ones. I’ve learned to listen to my Mother-gut, and she tells me to stay close. For now.

  • Something isn’t sitting right with me: it’s how the man said, “You’re doing a great job with this boy.” Now, I’ve had several people say this about our boys, too, but always when I was present for whatever creative/polite/witty thing they did or said, kwim? Not knowing whatever led him to say that about Rowan, I am wondering what he did or said that got a response from Rowan that earned that compliment to you? And was it sincere? What exactly did the stranger mean when he said you were doing a great job with him? Perhaps you may want to gently ask Rowan to remember/repeat everything the man had said to him and then how Rowan replied. Not to freak him out or go over and over what happened, but if there was a line of questioning or he had tried to get him to do something or go somewhere, it’s important for you to know exactly how Rowan handled it (clearly very well), and then it will be good stepping-off point for a conversation about ‘What if the man had said this or that?’ Maybe you’ve already had this talk with Rowan. I think of it as debriefing. But then again, Liam will say to me, “Are we done with this now or we still on this?” Hehe!

  • Jessica S.:

    Another thought that shook me (esp. after reading that part of the book): if you were a less involved mama, you’d have brushed Kestrel aside with a dismissive directive to find Rowan himself. If you were a less aware mama, you might have offered to walk over to the management office yourself, leaving that man alone with Rowan longer. Thank goodness you are YOU; a super mamabear. xox.

  • Angela Grace:

    Our instincts are there for a reason–to keep us out of trouble. Trust them. Good job, Mama.

  • So glad Rowan is ok and that you caught this guy being creepy. I try very hard NOT to be a helicopter mom too, but we do live right on a popular hike/bike path and back up to a city park.

    My best girlfriend in town lets her kids ride unsupervised around the neighborhood… even to their park (which is only a block or so away). It surprises me. Sometimes I think I’m overly cautious, but after reading your story, I realize that I’m not.

    We may live in a small-ish town in MT, but bad things can happen anywhere.

    Hugs,
    Kimberly

  • Rixa:

    Ugh, I hate to even think about that…and we have a convicted pedophile who lives 5 houses down (for molesting a 4 year old girl). The neighborhood has tried to get rid of him but to no avail…luckily he has just one arm so he’s easy to spot.

    I like the advice about having your kids act it out, not just talk about it. I’ll probably need to do that with my own daughter in another year or so.

  • ElementalMom:

    Actually, once I got back to the boat and had some of my meltdown, we did have a great act-it-out session. We (Jason and I) talked to Rowan about how to bite and where, and practiced holds and discussed *what* to scream (not “help” but “you’re not my parent!” and “I won’t get in your car!” and other things that alert everyone that this is not just fun screaming.

    It is so so so hard to do this and stay matter-of-fact. Another mothering challenge no one told me about.

  • Francis:

    I have read Mr. de Becker’s book a couple of times (I constantly recommend it to people — BTW – The Gift of Fear, Gavin de Becker). And you are evidence that what he says works. And what’s more, you have imparted that in a meaningful way to your kids. That’s what it’s all about. The doubts that you have in your head afterwards are not worth paying attention to. Your actions were what mattered. And very good for you for letting your kids take care of themselves. Really, you were amazing!

  • ElementalMom:

    It’s de Becker’s book about children, “Protecting the Gift” that I recommend most. But “Gift of Fear” is spectacular too.

    Thanks again, everyone, for helping me not think it’s just me.

  • Jackie:

    Over at the New York Times Motherload, Lisa has a post up about abductions: http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/05/23/keeping-children-from-going-missing/

  • Jodi:

    DeBecker’s books are outstanding.

    Unknown adults have no business EVER asking a child ANYTHING…..not for directions, the time of day, the location of the restroom, nothing…..no matter how innocent the question or the person asking.

    Your instincts were perfect. That man was up to something.

  • NY Times reader:

    I saw your link from your comment on the Times website. There is no doubt in my mind that you did, indeed, prevent a nightmare. The “You’ve done a great job with this boy” line was part of his script–this man was trying to flatter you to get you to trust him. He’s probably done it with other women and perhaps it’s worked. You did a great job, you handled the situation perfectly. I wonder if it is possible for you to report the guy to the police even though technically no crime was committed. You could try giving them a heads up.

  • What a horrifying story – so insidious, so “nothing really hard core spotted happening” but you know it was a close call. Read Lisa Belkin’s NYT online from May 23rd for more about tips – she interviews LA DA and child safety expert Robin Sax.

    My new book “AFTER ETAN: The Missing Child Case That Held America Captive” is the first book ever written on the Etan Patz case, 30 year anniversary tomorrow, which is why National Missing Children’s Day takes place on this date. Information new to the public suggests Etan barely knew his abductor, but well enough to consider him not a “stranger,” and that he went willingly with him. Even though your child had just met this creepy man, in another five minutes of friendly chat, he may not have seen him as a stranger either. Morale: Don’t just beware of strangers, beware of the fallacy of “stranger danger.”

    Congrats on your quick response, your timing, and good outcome. And for spreading the word.

    Lisa R. Cohen, http://www.afteretan.com; twitter: AfterEtan

  • Shanon:

    just got around to reading all my May blogs…
    Laureen, you handled this so well. I would actually write down the notes of what happened/description of the guy and give it to the Harbormaster “in case” the guy comes around again.

    It’s so scary that we live in such a public world where we trust so many, so immediately…it’s hard to protect our little ones and still teach them to be open and polite to people..
    I’m so glad you got to him.

  • You have every right to freak out as much as you need to. That is so so so scary!
    That’s the advantage of hovering! Glad your mother fight instinct kicked in when it needed to.

  • [...] me about six months ago. He is thrilled with the freedom. The first few times, I was a wreck, and not without reason. That particular predator, after approaching two other kids in this marina who were totally [...]

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