It Really Does Take a Village: Being “Safe”

Last night was family date night, so we went really super classy for dinner: Applebee’s.  And only because the Olive Garden was really crowded.  Top notch dining, you guys.  But decent food relatively quickly is the name of the game, so to the ‘Bee’s we went.  Both kids fussed almost the entire time, but it was really loud and crowded so nobody seemed to mind them, thank God.

After we finished our dinner, we decided to walk over to Bruster’s to get Cole a little ice cream cup.  There were several other people there, including a young father on his own with a boy about Cole’s age and a baby girl, who he was holding.  The boy, being a typical 3-year old, wanted to eat his ice cream straight away after it was handed to him.  The dad was busy with baby girl and trying to get his own banana split situated and everyone’s ice cream paid for.  The little boy started wandering toward an open table, and the dad looked torn as to what he should do.  Should he walk away from the counter without paying to tend to his son, thus holding up the line?  Should he just let his kid wander to the table, hoping that he gets there and seated without dropping his ice cream or making a break for it into the parking lot?  It’s hard to do either of those things while holding another child.

So, being a mother whose natural tendency is to mother anyone who needs mothering, I made eye contact with the dad and said “Zone Defense!”  Then I took Cole’s hand and followed the little boy to the table, and we all sat down.  We kept a little distance in case the boy was shy or wary around strangers, but within moments he and Cole were laughing at each other and comparing ice cream cups {Cole had a snowman cookie in his ice cream cup and the other boy had a dinosaur}. The dad gave me an appreciative smile, then paid for his ice creams and went to put his baby girl in the car, right beside the table at which we were sitting.  Then he collected his son, nodded at us, and they were on their way to “pick up Mommy.”

I really love seeing dads out with their kids.  I also know how overwhelming it can be to be the solo parent out with multiple kids.  I debated what to do, but I decided to err on the side of being a weirdo to help this conflicted dad.  I couldn’t take the chance of a child running out into the parking lot and getting hit by a car.  And I tried to put myself in that dad’s position.  There have been a lot of times where I have been out by myself and Cole has broke into a run, only to be stopped by another friendly parent before he got too far.  Yes, I have shouted “STOP THAT KID!” in Target, and been grateful when someone managed to corner him before he turned the aisle.

I read a blog post the other day called Tricky People Are The New Strangers.  It’s a great read, so be sure to check it out.  But the gist of it is that telling your children not to talk to strangers isn’t good advice, because one day they may have to talk to a stranger.  If they get separated from you and it has been drilled in their head to not talk to strangers, who are they going to ask for help?  The key is to teach them what kind of strangers are safe to talk to, and that if they find themselves in trouble or separated from their parents to find the first mom with kids they see and tell them.  I would think that 99% of the time, a mother or father out with their kids is a “safe stranger”.  There is a lot of other great info there, so give it a read.

Anyway, it made me realize that I put a lot of effort into presenting myself as a “safe” person for kids.  I want any child in distress, or any parent in distress for that matter, to take one look at me and decide that I am a person they can ask for help.  Lost your kid?  I’ll help you look.  Lost your mom?  Take my hand, let’s go find her.  I’m that person who sees a young child with no adult around and stops and watches the kid until his or her parent realizes he or she is not by their side and calls them to hustle up.  I’ve comforted lost kids aplenty until their parents came tearing around the corner to see us sitting on the bench at the mall, grateful that they were not in the hands of someone who would do them harm.  I try to be the person that I would want to help my children if they found themselves lost or separated from me.

I’m glad that I was able to help out a frazzled dad, and I’m also happy that I was deemed a “safe” person from whom that dad could accept a little help.  Sometimes you have to go from a man-to-man into a zone defense when you least expect it, and it’s nice to have a few trustworthy defenders around.

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