Thursday, June 5, 2014

Stranger. Danger?

I took my little daycare family out for a walk Monday morning.

It was supposed to be a walk to the post office and back which normally takes in and around an hour to make the full circle. But we kept running into road blocks that barred our way.

"Post office closed for repairs. Sorry for the inconvenience" was the first sign that rerouted our day.

It was a beautiful morning and we didn't have to be anywhere at any specific time so I asked my little 2-1/2 year old if she was up for a long walk. She agreed and off we went, in search of Post Office #2.

We jigged and jagged and made our way off of a busy street, down residential streets and cut through a school ground.

"Can I climb the mountain?" she asked (our school grounds have many man-made mounds of dirt covered with grass and she calls them 'mountains'). I didn't have the stamina to push the double stroller filled with one-year-olds through the grass so we took a half-block detour to make our way to a paved path so that my little mountain climber could run and pick the beautiful yellow flowers.
Our little 'detour' added some extra steps and time onto our little adventure but how could I deny the request of my adventurous little walker? 

Eventually (about an hour after we had left the house) we made our way to the next post office. We were met with a sign that said: "Closed until 12:00. Sorry for the inconvenience". It was 11:30. My little daycare family was getting hungry and thirsty. 

I was feeling a little defeated. I had turned a mundane little task into an 'adventure' and we were getting 'Closed' signs thrown in our faces at each turn. 

I had not packed a picnic lunch (though the thought had crossed my mind before we walked out the door) so we backtracked a little ways and went shopping at the grocery store within the same strip mall that housed our post office. Eventually I settled on a cheese, meat and cracker Lunchable, with apple juice on the side. Not half bad for a make-do meal.

We settled in to enjoy our picnic in between two stores that provided us shade, a window ledge for my weary 'world traveller' (she was not complaining about walking but I just knew that her little legs needed a rest) and we made the best of the situation.

The minute you walk out the door with two small children in a double stroller, you tend to attract attention. My two little one-year-olds are three months apart in age but people always ask if they are twins (twin stroller = twin children). I usually have one or two more little ones hanging onto the side of the stroller, so people do tend to smile and greet us on a regular basis.

(Side note: I walked past a school that I once worked at and I recognized one of the staff as she was outside on supervision. Granted, I only worked there two months and I would imagine that secretaries roll in and out of that location like erratically scheduled freight trains, so she probably didn't recognize me. But she beamed the smile that helped me through many-a-day at that particular school and said, "HI, KIDS!!", punctuating the fact that it is the kids that are the main attraction).

Back to my story:

People often make a little comment about my little daycare family and quickly move on. That particular day, a gentleman with a walker and a slur that made his English very hard to decipher hovered close to us. Eventually, I made out the words "... are sweet". 

We were in an area that attracts all kinds of people and I have to admit that I was leary of this man. When you are walking about with other people's children your defences run high but I really, really wanted this man to move on. And he did. I quietly nodded and smiled at his comment but I did not encourage conversation.

We ended up passing him once again enroute to our post office (which was now open and had a very long and slow moving line). Once again, I nodded my acknowledgement to him as we walked by.

I couldn't help but think of this man as a person. I assumed many things due to the area of the city we were in, his slur, the way he lingered and his nationality. As I waited in line to mail my parcel, I wondered "What would Glennon do?" (click on Glennon's name to read a post that further accentuates my point)

This man is a person. Possibly lonely. Maybe he has had a stroke (thus, the walker and the slur). He most definitely has 'a story'. 

I humanized this gentleman as time gave me the opportunity to take off his label and wonder. I am setting an example for the children in my care, so the way that I treat people makes more impact than I will ever really know. Yet, it is equally important to treat people-you-don't-know with a manner that does not encourage 'crossing a line' (we came home, turned on our music and Patty Shukla sang the song "Stranger Danger" to me).

As we passed this man the third time (when we were finally making our way home), he asked for a dollar. By this time, I had removed the label and simply saw 'the man inside'. Perhaps he was begging for money so that he could buy his next bottle of liquor. Maybe he needed lunch just as my young family did. Who knows where that dollar would go? It was not my place to judge. I gave him a dollar.

I got home and wondered if I did the right thing.

I took the label off of a man and humanized him in my mind. I was cordial but distant as he hovered in the company of the children I was tending. I was polite and courteous. But distant. And I gave him a dollar.

What message did I give my children (oh, those children are such big sponges)? Children naturally trust everyone. People do tend to notice, make eye contact and talk with children. I always act as a 'buffer' between the adults we meet along our way and my borrowed children. 

Outwardly, I treated this man no differently than I treat anyone else who acknowledges us. No prejudice. Inwardly, I cowered. He was scary to me. Kids are sensitive. They pick up on these things. 

Did I do the right thing? Courteous and treating everyone the same is good. A little bit of natural fear and apprehension towards strangers is instinctive and right. This man did absolutely nothing that I could construe as wrong. He passed by us as we stood still. Once. We passed by him as he stood still. Twice. Had he followed us, that would have been a whole different story.

If I was that man, would I be hurt by the way I treated him? No. Would I understand that women are protective of their children? Yes. How would I feel after our fleeting encounters? I would feel validated as a person. I would be relieved that I didn't get the cold shoulder. I would be okay.

I think I did what was right for me, for my children and even for this man. 

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