Last week we had some refreshingly nice weather. Nice enough to get the kids out to the park. (I know, in the first week in March?! I love Colorado weather!) We met some friends at a big park and Mason had a great time running around. Maiya was super happy just to be outside and we have also discovered that she loves the baby swing. We had a great time, and when no-nap-Mason had run himself to the brink of a meltdown we loaded up in the car and headed home. I started out in a good mood. Happy we were able to get outside and real happy knowing that the kids would sleep good that night.
Halfway through the drive home I started getting this nagging uncomfortable feeling. It took me a minute to figure out what my deal was, but I realized that this was the first time I had taken Mason to a busy park with lots of people since last summer. Now I hate to sound like a totally neurotic mom, but lets face it, I AM. So, my deal is that busy public places make me nervous when I have Mason with me. When he was born, my plan was to hold onto him until he went to college. As he got a little older, I relaxed some and planned to only take him to non-crowded places unless he was securely strapped behind a five-point harness. Last summer I was ok with letting him run around the park as long as I could see him and he could see and hear me. So yeah, I get that the whole growing up process has started and as he gains more independence I have to start letting go. That was my first thought when he started walking “First he walks away from me and next thing you know it he will be driving away.” And when Maiya started crawling, I was already mourning her going away to college. I know this sounds dramatic but some of the big milestones are also reminders to me that the more independence they gain, the more control I lose. (I suppose I am a control freak also.) I read once that you have to start letting go the day your baby is born. And my reaction to that was NO WAY. I will hold their hand every step of the way. I get it now and I realized that I can do both, just not the way I planned. By teaching my babies the skills they will need to become happy, well-adjusted toddlers, and teenagers, and one day adults. So this is where I am right now. We have come to the point where I need to teach Mason an important lesson and I’m stuck. I don’t want to confront it, but I know I can’t avoid it. So here we go…
Mason is at the age where I need to teach him some serious lessons and it is important that I do a good job.
Not only is he old enough to run around the park and disappear into the massive toy structures with towers and twisting slides and herds of kids running around, but now I have two kids to watch. And every 30 second gap that I didn’t know exactly where Mason was is haunting me. I’ve seen Dateline, I know what kind of weirdos are lurking around just waiting to take advantage of a distracted mom. That’s all I will say. I can’t even write about this stuff because the thought of anything happening to Mason scares the shit out of me. I like to think that we live in a safe area and that people are good, but you can’t live in a bubble and you can’t trust everyone. Mason is super friendly. Something that I am so proud of him for. He says hi to everyone. Worries if they look sad. Wants to know how their day is going. And when asked his name he says it loud and clear. I couldn’t have asked for a better kid, but these qualities make me very nervous about how he deals with strangers.I don’t want to ruin how friendly he is and I don’t want to scare him, but I want to drill it into him how serious this is.
So the next morning at breakfast I tried to explain what a stranger was and what to do. I basically told him that if the person wasn’t a family member or a friend that we know then he could only talk to them if he was holding my hand. (I know the holding my hand thing is a little extreme, but I want him to know it is serious.) We talked about who is a stranger and who isn’t. And I tried to explain to him why it is dangerous to talk to strangers. Mostly I told him that he could get lost and not be able to find mom and if they were a stranger they would not how to find mom either. I mentioned that sometimes people can be mean but he wants to know who is mean and why are they mean and what they do and if they have to go in time out or to jail, so I set that one aside for now. He seemed to understand and didn’t seem too freaked out.
The next day we were at the library and he was playing at a table with a kid and Mason said to the kids Mom. “Your not a stranger.” The mom hesitated and then said “Well, actually, I am a stranger.” Then the kid got pretty upset and told his mom “Your not a stranger!” So the mom and I tried to explain that we were strangers to each other and somehow in making this point she told Mason that he was a stranger to her and he got real upset and pounded his fist on the table and yelled “I am not a stranger! I am just Mason!”
Not sure where this is going now. It seems like he is too young to really understand, but that is why he needs to. My mom pointed out that until he is old enough to really understand that he will also be too young to be anywhere without me, which is comforting, but what about those moments when I have bent over to pick Maiya out of the swing and he walks up to a stranger and says “Hi, How you doing? Where do you live? Where is your kid?” (He often wants to know where people live and if they have kids.)
I’d love to hear your thoughts on stranger danger. What do you tell your kids? How do you draw the line between being friendly to people and avoiding them?