While searching for a hammer in our dark garage, I open the garage door a crack to let in more light to see. Adjusting my baby boy onto my other hip, I resume my search. Suddenly behind me I heard small footsteps run across the garage floor toward the opening. Turning just in time, I see my toddler bend under the door making a mad dash to our front yard.
Cursing under my breath, I set the baby down as quickly as I can and hit the garage door switch to make it close. Unsuccessful in my attempt, I hit it again as I watch it slowly lift up. All the while my thoughts are racing; “What if my baby boy runs into the busy street? What if some stranger sees him out by himself and calls the cops or tries talking to him and he gets scared? What if he keeps running and disappears forever?” Then I stop myself, take a breath and try to think more rationally; “No, no, he’ll be fine. We live in a safe area. He knows not to run into the street. I’ll be there in a second.”
Finally the garage door lifts high enough for me to dart outside. I spot my boy right away on our sidewalk and stride quickly toward him. I see a car slow down and stop next to him. My heart starts to race again and my jaw tightens. Thoughts of fear run through my brain; “What does that pervert think he’s doing? Doesn’t that driver see that I’m here and my boy is safe and not alone? Why isn’t he leaving? This jerk has something coming!” But then I almost stop walking as I purposefully reroute my thoughts into a more positive direction. “I’m sure it’s just a concerned person making sure my boy is okay. I’m grateful that others, even strangers, care for his well-being.”
Once I finally reach my son, the driver rolls down his window.
Looking up I recognize my neighbor’s face –“Oh, hi Tyrone!”
“I saw Ashton there alone for a sec and just wanted to make sure he was alright.”
I quickly repress a flush of shame and replace it with thankfulness. “Thank you for watching out for him. I appreciate it.”
“You got it. See you later!”
I wave as Tyrone drives away. Ashton waves too and calls out in his sweet little voice, “buh-byeeee!”
Even though I know we live in a safer world now than ever, it seems the first reaction I and many other parents have to any sort of perceived safety issue is one of panic and fear. However, these days I’m trying my best to balance listening to my gut with using my head. I do not want either of my sons to live their lives or make decisions based on fear; so I do my best to lead by example by practicing fearless parenting in a freaked out world. Plus in my experience, most people are kind, nice, and also care about the safety of my child. I rely on “the entire village,” to help me with my kids. At times, even strangers.
Another example of an opportunity to practice fearless parenting in a freaked out world happened while on a recent trip home from Iowa. Driving home alone with my 2 kids in tow, I stopped at a McDonald’s in a small town to give my toddler his favorite treat- french fries. A senior citizen saw me walking near with my baby in a stroller and my toddler holding my hand when he kindly opened the door for me. I flashed him a big smile and offered him a warm thank you.
Encouraged, the older gentleman followed us to our table after I placed our order. Had I been parenting by fear, I would have given him the cold shoulder and make it very clear by my body language, facial expressions, and curt replies to his questions that he was not permitted to be near us. Instead, I decided to take a chance that this elderly man was not a serial killer or kidnapper and welcomed his conversation.
He asked about our travels and I shared stories with him. He told me about his own children and grandchildren and how his wife knows everyone in town. He made jokes with my toddler as I fumbled to nurse the baby while rising out of my seat to get us napkins after Ashton spilled his drink. He was kind and I enjoyed the company of another adult. I have to believe my toddler also benefited from our interaction.
Yes, I will teach my boys about stranger danger. Yes, I will teach them how to be safe and listen to that important inner voice. But I will also teach them to be unafraid and that the majority of the people they will meet in the world are just as friendly as they are and it doesn’t hurt to be friendly back.