Posted by: Kate | January 11, 2012

Kind of Upsetting

There’s something you should know about my daughter, in order to properly set the stage for this little vignette. And that is that the seriousness of the situation is inversely proportionate to the amount of noise she makes about it. So when she shrieks and moans about how bad her back hurts, I’ve developed a combination shrug and “you poor thing” mutter that I can’t suppress, it’s so reflexive. But if she’s quiet – like she was the night she broke her collarbone, or the weekend she spent with a broken arm waiting for me to come home – then I get nervous.

So when she walked calmly in the back door today – despite knowing full well that the Lego set she had spent the past six months saving up for was waiting for her on the kitchen table, and today had been an Early Release Day (an evil that is somewhat unique to Massachusetts schools, in which they release the children several hours early once a month, all school year long), giving her extra time to build her new creation – I had an immediate suspicion that something had gone wrong.

When she walked, still calmly, into the kitchen, where her brother had been building his Lego thing for an hour already, and barely glanced at his toy, I knew something had gone wrong. Now the question was only, what? Something new with the Almighty Principal? An argument with a friend? In the world of an almost-12-year-old, the spectrum of Things That Could Be Terribly Wrong is a broad thing, indeed.

“Mom,” she said, far too quietly to really be my Emily, “something happened on the walk home today, and it was kind of upsetting.”

And thus began one of those small, one-day adventures that make life just so fun and interesting; one of those times when I was kind of grateful Willem had been called in to work today, because as much as I might have preferred not to deal with this, I’m certain he would have preferred not to even more.

Apparently she was most of the way done with her half-mile walk home, daydreaming and lugging her trumpet case, when she became aware of a car driving just a little closer to the sidewalk than the rest. This is noteworthy because the street that she was on – the only other one she has to travel before reaching ours – is Salem’s busiest, two lanes in each direction. Lots of vehicles pass, and by this point she has probably walked that path a hundred times or so, give or take. She’s used to the flow of traffic, by now, and usually can sustain a solid daydream from the school doors to the kitchen table, uninterrupted. (I know this because I’ve driven past her, and nothing short of stopping the car and shouting her name can grab her attention, some days.)

So, this car – a dark green four-door Ford sedan, she noticed – came a little closer than typical, so she looked up. Just in time to notice its darkly tinted windows and four inhabitants, with the back rear window rolled down and that passenger leaning out. He reached for her, though never made contact, shouted out some inappropriate comments – of the sort that, bless her heart, she is too young yet to realize just why they were inappropriate, hence her ability to repeat them to herself long enough to get home and report to me, but then to immediately lose the words, because what does it mean when a boy shouts to a girl, “Hey, baby, how much?” anyway? – and then the car continued up the hill.

A small thing, right? No big deal. And if all they had done was shout, I’d have soothed her down, agreed that that would have been upsetting, set her loose on her Legos and let the day continue. But one of them reached for her, could have hurt her, certainly scared her, and thus the line was crossed. I’m confident – as are the police – that this was a car full of high school kids, also on Early Release, who were just indulging in the stupidity of the moment. I’m confident that she was never in a moment of actual danger, and that our decision to tell the police won’t do much more than give them one more item to pay attention to for the rest of their shift – which I’ve already been so kind as to do before, myself.

But with all that confidence, I’m still glad that we bothered to have the talks with Emily, before this. The ones about what to do if a car ever pulled up and the person told you to get in, or what to do if a driver was simply making you nervous (run away from the road, shout and fight if necessary, go to the nearest business or house and pound on the door until they let you in). The ones about what to say if a stranger ever approached you, asking for help finding his puppy (say, “I have to go ask my mom,” and if that’s not enough to send them elsewhere, walk to the nearest mom-looking person and ask for help) or what to do if you’re really, really lost in a store (stand still and scream). The ones about what to do whenever something weird happens and you’re not really sure what to do with it (stay calm, remember as much as you can, and come home and tell Mom).

And if this is the worst-case scenario that we ever have to deal with – the last time we ever have to deal with the police – then I will consider myself fabulously, brainlessly fortunate.


  1. The important thing is that you validated her feeling of threat, she knew what to do about it, and she wasn’t harmed. Giving out kids permission and support to report wrongdoing (however “sorta dismissable”) is one of our best gifts to them.

    • Oh, agreed, on all counts. And there’s always that little back-of-the-mind whisper of, “It *could* have been worse,” which is a nasty concept but the whole reason why we rehearse the Big Bad Stuff in advance, just in case.

      The biggest job of parenthood, in my opinion, is to make oneself obsolete. But that’s a hard, hard job, and the wages aren’t always very good…

  2. ugh! is about all i can conjure up, this type of behavior in people makes me sick. poor Emily and yeah for her knowing how wrong this whole thing was.

  3. I’m sorry this happened. The “what ifs” of these situations are scary.

    When I was in HS, I had to walk between my little school and the big public high school half a mile down the road to take classes our school didn’t offer. One day, while walking back, probably listening to my Walkman, I was startled to see a naked man jump out of the bushes. He didn’t do anything but stand there and shimmy, and I burst out laughing. But later in the day, after I’d told the principal and my parents and the police, it got a lot scarier.

    The police officer said laughing at him was probably the best thing I could have done.

  4. I am in a rage for Emily. Why does our society teach to degrade and humiliate women? That should never happen – no matter what the age.

    I hope the police do find those boys and give them a stern and frightening lecture.

  5. KIND of upsetting? Sigh. Good for Em for knowing what to do and good for you for teaching her.

  6. Just catching up on my reading after a month of no sleep. Horrified for Emily, but thanks for the reminder that I really need to have those talks with my kids again and more frequently.

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