Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Who Are You Anyway?



I walk pretty frequently in my neighborhood and generally avoid houses where I can. That’s not always possible, however, and today I walked further than usual because of the nice weather and passed a house where a boy of 7 or 8 and a girl of 4 or 5 were playing. The boy came running toward me as I approached but I tried merely to nod at him and continue on my way at a fairly fast pace. There would have been a time when I might have stopped to chat. But that time is not now.

The girl followed her brother, and made sure to inform me that he was her brother. I said, “your brother, huh. That’s nice.” I still kept walking, moving over to the far side of the gravel road as far away as possible, and tried to do nothing to encourage them to come closer. But I didn’t want to growl at them like some ogre.

The little girl turned and started running along beside me, along the side of the road, and asked: “Who are you anyway?” I replied, “Oh, my name is Charles and I’m just getting a little exercise.”

I heard the mother come outside then—I was almost past the house—and imagine she’d heard my voice. She snapped at the children, particularly her daughter, to “get over here.” The little girl asked her mother “why,” then said, “he was talking to me.” I thought to myself, I’d rather you not say that, little girl. I might get shot for something like that.

I almost stopped to explain to the mother who I was and try to reassure her that I’m just a harmless guy with long hair. But then I thought, what if she finds that suspicious? In the end I just kept going.

I’m proud of that mother for coming outside, for intervening. She did her job. I just wish it wasn’t her job. I wish she didn’t have to be suspicious of a fellow out for an evening stroll in the nice fall weather. I’d rather not be thought of as the bogie man. Even if it is almost Halloween.

17 comments:

Sidney said...

The times we live in.

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

what he said. and i'd rather see a watchful parent or neighbor than a paranoid one. because of my unsteady walk, never mind that i don't drive, makes me the town drunk to some people.

Danette Haworth said...

Charles,
So true. I was at Target once and this girl, maybe eight, maybe nine, was walking in tears, mumbling, scanning the aisles. I was almost afraid to help her, but I was more afraid of someone bad "helping " her.

What was really scary was how much information she gave me as soon as I asked and appeared to be "nice." We found her mother, who didn't seem to notice the distraught condition of her daughter or even that her daughter had been lost.

Travis said...

Ditto.

I was taught that the polite thing to do was hold doors open when I'm the first one through and others are behind me. I was taught the polite thing in general.

But several years ago I was in a grocery store parking lot. There was a woman wrestling a young child and several bags of groceries, plus her purse and her car keys. She was trying to get the trunk open with her arms full.

I grabbed the trunk before it popped open and smashed the child in the head. I was just doing something I'd been taught, but I might as well have been wearing a sign that said rapist and murderer for the way she recoiled from me.

Women with their arms full of groceries and kids shouldn't be afraid of strangers trying to do the polite thing.

But they are.

And now I think that way too before I do the polite thing anymore.

Ello said...

I think I am a very watchful parent, but I am trying not to kill the natural friendliness that my children have. So I always try to be right next to them when meeting anyone new and to reassure my children by my presence. I also scare the dickens out of them with horror stories of what would happen if they were snatched by strangers. I have walked them through all the important drills they tell you to warn your kids about. it's too bad we live in a world that we have to do this.

JR's Thumbprints said...

Just the other day I was in a bookstore perusing a journal when a little girl asked me, "Do you know where my daddy is?"

I pointed to the cashier and said, "She probably knows."

Off the girl went. She obviously thought I or anyone else in the place would know the answer to her question. After being paged, the dad and his little girl were reunited.

As for your encounter, it's not always easy for a man in these types of situations to appear innocent, regardless of intent.

Bernita said...

Yes, I prefer the hyper parents to the gormless ones - because the alternative, not matter how remote, cannot be borne.
At least, Charles, you weren't stopped and questioned later by guys in uniforms.

Marsha said...

I never let my children play outside alone until they were about 12. Call me paranoid. :)

Michelle's Spell said...

It's totally depressing, I agree. As for avoiding children, I do it all the time when I can except that they do try to talk to me when I'm out. Happy Halloween -- a holiday best reserved for adults, yes?

Shauna Roberts said...

Some of the best times of my childhood (when I wasn't in a corner somewhere immersed in a book) were spent riding my bicycle, alone, making up adventures in my head. As an elementary school child, I once begged my parents at the county fair to let me go off by myself. Even though they were strict, protective parents, they let me do it. How times have changed.

I feel sorry for the solitary children of today. How do they bear the constant smothering watchfulness? Where do they find the aloneness they need and that feeds their creativity?

SzélsőFa said...

Oh, yes this is so sad. People have seem to have lost the initial trust towards each other. Kids have it, though, which makes them vulnerable for nowadays not everyone is about to be nice to kids.
I had some hard times explaining my kids that they should say NO to strange requests by anyone, should run away from strange situations and so on...
But with all those sick people running loose...
Parents can really get paranoid, yes, unfortunately their fear is not without any reason.

cs harris said...

Hmmm You do look kinda scary, Charles!

Charles Gramlich said...

I appreciate everyone's comments. It's a strange situation. Having been the father of a youngster, and now of a teenager, I know the fears and worries of parents. Personally I'd like to see much much stiffer penalties for child abuse, although whether this would curb the problem I don't know.

Travis Erwin said...

I sometimes get the same reaction because of my long goatee but like you say, the mom was only doing her job and the kids were simply being kids.

Steve Malley said...

Americans are more afraid of each other than any other culture I've ever seen. I mean, Israelis are pretty hard-core (school field trips have snipers for chaperones!), but even they don't freak at nothing the way my birth people do.

Then again, the Dynamo is always surprised that my own open and trusting behaviour never gets me in trouble. I like to think my inner nature shines through...

Danny Tagalog said...

No I've seen your picture, I can understand parents worrying about you!!! No, not really - it's those who try and blend in and be *straight* - they are the one's to worry about. Erase the pin-stripes and grow the hair long.

Kids can sense the lovable, humane types anyway. They wouldn't have approached a pin-striper.

Church Lady said...

I remember reading that when children are asked to draw 'a stranger,' they end up drawing a monster of some variety. It doesn't occur to them that a normal-looking person could do them harm.

There's a great website. I hope it's okay to post here Charles. It's www.familywatchdog.us

If you plug in your address (U.S.) then you will see all kinds of interesting criminals who live around you. It's sponsored by America's Most Wanted.

I'm sorry you felt uncomfortable when you are one of the good guys. Unfortunately, nobody can take any chances (like what Bernita said.)