by KATE SELTH
I met two strangers. I treated one with distrust and disgust; the other with confidence and respect. Same situation, same actions. I probably shouldn’t have judged. But I did.
And I’d probably do it again.
I was at the park with my two kids when an old man with a dog approached my young daughter. He walked straight up to her, said hello and told her what a ‘beautiful little girl’ she was. With a big smile he asked her name and introduced himself and his dog. I was standing right there but the conversation was clearly directed at her.
He proceeded to ask my little girl fairly appropriate but direct questions about her age, family and so on. My very social daughter was all too happy to share. I didn’t stop the conversation. It all happened rather quickly. There was laughter. Then the man leaned down to her, looked her in the eye and said he hoped to see her at the park again soon. *shiver moment* He walked off with his dog.
Yes, I was right beside her and he was just chit-chatting in a park while taking his dog for a walk. But he was an old man beside a playground without a kid. He’d walked straight up to her and shown an awful lot of interest. My perverse versus polite radar went up and we got out of there. His rapport building skills with my precious kid in just those few minutes were so strong that on the way home she said to me, “We know that man don’t we mum?” I firmly told her no and that she was not to talk to him again. Images of him trying to give her a lift home from school flashed through my mind.
Later that day I called the rangers and reported an old man hanging around the playground chatting to children.
They said they’d keep an eye out.
We returned to this same park yesterday. I was with my two kids again. A little girl arrived at the park and ran straight up to my daughter. They were both about the same age. They introduced themselves and got straight into playing together. Kids are social experts like that. The little girl’s mum was standing near the kids and started talking to my daughter. She asked my daughter her name, her age and a few questions about her school, family and the like. Despite me being nearby, these questions were, once again, directed at my little girl.
The girls started playing hide-and-seek and the other mum joined in. She was hiding, giggling and at one stage singing with the girls while I stood nearby holding my baby.
It got me thinking. Both adults had approached my daughter. Both had asked similar questions. My trust level of these two individuals could not be more different. With one I had felt compelled to gather up my family and call the local services. With the other I had l trusted her hiding behind trees with my child.
I trusted her just because she was a mother. I didn’t trust the old man, because he was an old man. I didn’t know either of them from a bar of soap.
How dare I treat the old man as perverse when he may have just been acting polite? He had not tried to bundle my kids into a car. He had not even tried to approach them on their own. Maybe he was a lonely old grandpa missing his grandkids. He may live alone. He may have ten grandchildren in another state or who never come to visit him. He may have just wanted a chat. He may have no friends and a dreary old life. Seeing my daughter happy and playing quite possibly could have brightened his day, his week, his month.
As parents we try to teach our kids stranger danger but where does that start and where does politeness and community spirit end? I don’t want our kids to be afraid of saying hello to a friendly neighbour. I want our suburbs to be inclusive and welcoming. But I don’t want my kids best-friending everyone they meet either.
My instinct needed to take precedence, whether it was prejudiced or not.
I probably shouldn’t have judged the old man. But I did. I’d probably do it again.
Kate Selth is currently a ‘career woman without a career’ spending time raising her two tiny tots in beachy Perth. She tweets her views about babycinos, politics and the world here.
Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation? What would you have done in Kate’s position?
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