Today I was in the cafe at Target getting nachos and an Icee [I’m 21 weeks pregnant. Don’t judge!] when a little girl around the age of 5 or 6 got in line behind me. She got a little impatient while the cashier was making my nachos, so she started standing and sort of bouncing on the flimsy chips display case in front of us.
I am always careful with what I say to strangers’ kids, because the last thing I want is to give some random nutjob a reason to go off on me. This time, I decided to let it go with a simple “Ooh, sweetie. Don’t stand on that. You don’t want it to fall under you.” She got down, and no one confronted me. Two crises averted.
While I was grabbing napkins, the little girl ran past me and went running through the aisles of Target. That was the first time it occurred to me – Where is her mother?. My internal question was soon answered when the little girl darted into the Starbucks inside the store. However, this revelation did nothing to soothe me.
There are no parts of the cafe visible from the Starbucks and vice versa. In the same amount of time it took me to warn the little girl about standing on the chips display case, she could have been snatched. If I hadn’t said anything, there was a possibility this little girl could have fallen and gotten injured. The little girl could have even decided that, instead of buying chips, she wanted to exit the store completely and cross the parking lot (The exit is also not visible from the internal Starbucks). All of these things – bad things – could and have happened, all without the mom knowing until it is too late.
Maybe I’m just paranoid. I have read too many stories about children being abducted from toy aisles while their parents shopped elsewhere in the same store. I’ve heard too many stories of children being snatched or running away into peril when their parents looked away for just a minute. I have watched too many episodes of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Thirty years ago, one of my cousin’s 15-year old best friend was abducted, raped and murdered on her way walking to meet her little sister and me at our pre-K and walk us home [in another dangerous situation, after waiting an hour without someone meeting us, the sister and I – both four at the time – walked home two miles by ourselves]. So, yes, I may be a little over-paranoid about letting my five year old stroll the aisles of a large store by herself. And I’m okay with that.
I’m not saying parents should watch their children with the almost obsessive-compulsive hawkishness that I can exhibit from time to time. But I do think that parents should keep their guards up even when in their own neighborhood. I’m sure the mom thought her child would be fine going to get chips on her own, because she was in a store in our neighborhood, and our neighborhood is safe. And, yes, this little girl was fine, so it was not an unreasonable assumption to make. However, our neighborhood is not a utopia. Many kids are abducted from or severely – even fatally – injured in their own front yards. I think kids should be able to play and have fun. However, I know that for myself, I don’t ever want to be in a position where if, goodness forbid, something happens to my child, I am forever plagued with the thought of “If only I had kept an eye on her.”
So, for me, I’m going to continue to let my child be a child — but within my eyesight and earshot. How about the rest of you? Am I being paranoid, or has the state of the world the last few years caused you to be overly cautious also?
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