This is one of my more serious posts… read at your own risk, but be courageous enough to consider reading it and please leave a comment with your thoughts.
I believe I have mentioned maybe once or twice (or 8,000 times) that we have recently moved. We went from private-ish acre properties in a huge sprawling community to a close-quarter development. Tons and tons of families. Kids run to and fro from one house to the next without invitation or knocking. It has struck me in the past week just how many parental units are freely interacting and just wandering about with their kids- like parental interaction is a normal activity and not an extra curricular. It’s fantastic, really.
But the other night I had a dream that has made one thing glaringly clear. The stranger-danger talk with my kids, specifically my daughter, is long overdue at the ripe old age of six.
Here’s the part that I am compelled to write about because no matter what I do, I cannot scrub this horrible dream from my brain. I’m hoping in writing about it it will stop the post-dream-feeling I woke up with and have not been able to shake. I purposely did not share this with my husband because there’s no need to transfer this awful feeling, but I’ll share it with the faceless followers and anyone who is brave enough to take on the challenge this has inspired.
Let me start by saying as a woman now, I grew up a girl. Shocking, right? Oddly enough most women start as girls. There are lots and lots of us. Tons, even! While this shouldn’t be a novelty, for predators it seems it is. Mothers and sisters begin as girls. Despite this, men seem to continuously victimize girls. I do not understand it, and there is no reason big enough to justify it … ever. But still, it happens. I had multiple attempts as a child. From a camp counselor, to family members, to family member’s friends, to neighborhood regulars. For the most part I was able to avoid physical contact, but not every time. That does not mean it isn’t still atrocious and scar-building. I will drop this disclaimer here and now and only this once, because i’m not writing this to be careful. Yes, sometimes women are the predators. Yes, it also happens to boys. Yes, some women actually start as boys. However, let this not distract from the overwhelmingly massive numbers that it’s usually men, and it very often happens to girls.
Now, having said all of that, you understand I have a foundation for some opinions and deep rooted reaction. Here’s the dream:
My family is at a restaurant. My six year old daughter needs to use the bathroom. I walk with her to the restrooms and let her go in. I’m waiting in the hallway outside the bathroom.
A few minutes later she exits completely naked and looking lost and confused. She’s smudged and her hair is a mess. She walks out with a haunted look and crumples to the floor.
Then a man leaves the women’s restroom well over six feet tall with a handlebar mustache looking completely sure of himself, buttoning his pants.
I stomped up to him and immediately put my hand through his nose and into his face, turned to gather my daughter and then woke up.
5am, shaking, sick to my stomach and fighting everything to go wake up my sleeping innocent daughter and hug her to me and never let her go. The dream and feelings and reason continued to play out in my foggy brain. I couldn’t help but replay it over and over with different outcomes of me exacting vengeance on the nightmare monster in my dream. Nothing alleviated the helpless, dark, hopeless feeling I was left with.
It stayed with me all day. I resisted sharing this with my husband because I couldn’t see causing this for both of us, but something had to be done. I told him I needed to talk to the kids about predators. We both agreed it was necessary. We have spoken before to both kids about all the standard things. Bathing suits cover your most private parts and that is never to be showed to or touched by anyone, etc etc.
This did not convey the real life worry, though. Not really. It’s just become one more thing for them to ‘learn’.
This morning on the way to school I changed that conversation. I shared with my kids that moving into the neighborhood is wonderful, but it’s made me realize that we haven’t really talked about what that may come with. I told them when I was a kid that I had a family member’s boyfriend say creepy things about my body over and over again, and I didn’t tell and I wish I had. I told them when I was my daughters age I had a trusted camp counselor try and take me outside into the dark one night and hide me from my mom while he tried to get me to kiss him on the mouth.
My daughter looked horrified.
I told her that I had the presence of mind to say “NO!” and run to find my mom. I told both of my kids that the predators are hidden. They only reveal themselves to the kids they try and prey on and convince those kids never to speak up which keeps them hidden.
I told them there are grown ups and older kids who are not right in the head, and they try to touch children, specifically. I explicitly told them that there is never ever a reason for a grown up or other person to ever ever see, touch, or feel their body or have my kids see, touch, or feel another person’s body. Ever.
You can vaguely discuss the concept with a kid, but until you honestly speak with them about what you are actually protecting them from, how are they going to know? There are not child predators on cartoons that look like Uncle Bob or the neighbor’s father, or the football coach trying to pull down their pants.
It’s a difficult concept to allow into your brain. Believe me, I understand that. This conversation is markedly more difficult than fathoming how to speak to kids about puberty and sex. This conversation breaks that innocence bubble and begins the reality that the world can be ugly and cruel and unfair. It’s revealing scary concepts that grown ups – a trusted group of people – can actually be dangerous.
But it’s necessary. It’s absolutely necessary to protect them. Children, girls especially, need to know they have a voice. They need to know it’s possible they will one day be in a situation where they can and must stand up to a grown up – a VERY scary situation to a kid – and they absolutely CAN say “NO!” no matter who that person is that is trying to harm them, touch them, feel them, or see them.
I wrapped it up by saying it isn’t something that happens often and it isn’t every adult, but it does exist, unfortunately, and I’m sorry that I have to talk about it. I told them fires aren’t an everyday occurrence, but they still know to “stop, drop, and roll”, right? Burglaries don’t happen to everyone, but we still know to lock the doors and shut the windows.
Kids need to know this is a danger, and it’s real, and it’s the most sinister because the perpetrators are mostly unknown. Hidden. They lie and they threaten and it’s all based on the assumption the kid stays quiet and is able to be manipulated.
My kids know they are smart, they know they are strong, but now they know they have permission to fight for themselves. They were always told and warned, but now they have been given permission to fight and deny and resist and tell, tell, tell. Shout it, yell it, bite scratch kick, get away and talk and tell no matter what.. and to my daughter’s delight, yes even cuss and use “those words” if needed.
So the challenge is to talk to your kids, boys and girls both, about the reality that a grown up may lie or threaten them to allow access to their body, or give access of their own. Our kids must know that it is absolutely okay to deny, to say NO, to run, to fight that authority figure. Under no circumstances are they to believe or listen to that grown up, and it is always safe to talk to mom and/or dad about it.
This subject is horrifying and awful and unfathomable on so many levels, but at the most basic level, it’s real. It’s something children will be confronted with and will need to know what to do before they find themselves in that situation. Give them permission to use their voice, and know that there are safe places to tell and get help.
It’s so ugly that I have no witty closer. I want to say that I pray for those children who have experienced this, and it’s true, but it makes me sad that I have to. I want to say that I pray for those parents who have had to deal with the reality of this, but I know that there are parents who are creating this very situation and that is just too depressing to fathom.
It is sometimes a shitty world, and when you reveal that to your kids, you are empowering them despite the feeling you get that you just dropped a giant crap bomb on their heads.