When I got home from Olympia my son had already left my mother’s house to walk home and meet me there. Driving home I spotted him at a majestic neighborhood chestnut tree, whacking away with a stick. I pulled over to talk to him and he told me his aim: to release the spiky-hulled chestnuts in the tree branches so he can crack them and retrieve the lovely, shiny fruit-treasure he uses to play conkers. I tried to tell him it was too early for the chestnuts; but since he’d found some on the ground (from last fall) he was sure some were still hiding amongst the leaves. He didn’t want to hop in the car and accompany me to the house.
So I drove off home, a bit irritated at my son (because he doesn’t do what’s convenient for me) but also understanding he’d have to conduct his own investigation before he was satisfied. An hour or so went by and after a time I convinced Sophie to go find her brother. Dinner was almost ready. Looking out the window as I chopped vegetables I saw her astride her bike. She snapped on her helmet then paused and raised her hand in a smile and a wave. Nels was in a blue car pulling into my driveway, driven by an older white man.
I came to the door, my heart filled with gratitude for this stranger’s kindness yet my mind a bit weary at the thought of being lectured to in some way: my son was found wandering around lost (not true), or whatever. It didn’t quite go down like that, though. The fellow did (relatively kindly) launch into some Stranger Danger stuff (so funny, people always say, “You know, ’cause stuff can happen” and I say, “Like what?” and NO ONE wants to say exactly but they imagine they are In The Know and concerned and educating me) but honestly, this fellow didn’t register too high on the douchehound scale. He told me I should talk to my son and tell him not to ask strangers to do things for him. Of course, what Nels had seen was a man come out of his house and walk up to Nels and so Nels said, “Would you drive me home?” He did not wander up to a heroin-laden werewolf in a tattered trenchcoat drinking from a jug marked “XXX”. It’s always funny when a kind, helpful “stranger” tells you that talking to “strangers” will result in Something Horrific (mutilation! raping! abduction! by aliens! that rape and mutilate!) instead of the Something Kind they are themselves engaging in.
So anyway, as an aside, Nels asking for a ride home? I have to chew on that one for a while, because it bothered me and I don’t know why. My kids display a great deal of problem solving skills and competence in both meeting their goals and participating in the Real World (they are for instance intimately acquainted with our family’s spending plan and do a bit of our shopping for us when we need them to – just one example I am daily reminded of). Nels knows it’s OK to be direct and ask for help. These are good things. And in this case, the fellow had the right to say “no”. He even had the right to call me and tell me to get the child, or to call the cops. So I can’t really fault Nels for what he did… Not really. Why then did it bother me?*
Anyway, so I thanked the man, and when he said something about “danger” I just cocked my head and said, “What do you mean exactly?” And given I didn’t immediately capitulate and say “Point taken, sir, thank you so much” or grovel**, I will say his eye hardened and his tone changed. I was disappointing him, I suppose. I managed to be very open and thankful for his help because I truly feel this way. He drove off and my son and I went inside.
Here is what it’s like to be Kelly Hogaboom. After this fellow left I couldn’t help thinking that A., as far as paranoid Americans go, this one was one of the better ones. His tone was one of concern – although he did have a little anger and/or judgment creeping in there toward the end of our conversation, where I didn’t fervently give credence to his implied assertions that OMG MOLESTATION TEH CHILDREN. But the fellow did help my son and didn’t call the cops (as far as I know on that latter bit) nor rant at me (thanks, because seriously, being ranted at would have exhausted me at that point). And I know it’s sad I should yardstick someone by the worst-case television-watching media-saturated fearful person might. Yes, I know he gave me a mansplainy conversation. I know. It’s just – and this got me thinking even harder:
B. I don’t want this fellow to – after his encounter with me – go back home and feel more angry or fearful or confused, thinking there’s “another” parent out there who doesn’t protect her children properly – or is incredibly naive (reader, it is more than likely I know my crime statistics and probabilities better than he, precisely because this life is my work and my heart and my passion and I love these children like my own life). While he and I may end up disagreeing on how “dangerous” vs. advantageous it is for my son to talk to strangers (you’ve all heard the “fear side” of the arguments ad nauseam; here’s a couple of mine in brief: I think 100 abductions a year in a country of 4 million children is not an organizing principle to base our lives upon; I believe freedom, autonomy, fearlessness and knowledge to be so damned important when we allow it for our children; I want my kids to engage their intellect and gut so they can recognize Safe and Unsafe – not to rely on me to give them lists of “do this every time, don’t do that ever” ) I do want him to know – in so many words: I’m on the case. I care. I do. I want him to know this not because I owe him an explanation but because I want to assist him with his needs, his fears; I’m one of “the Helpers” (I try to be) like I imagine he believes himself to be. I can’t convince him but I would like to talk to him, to introduce myself by name and try a connection to a man in my neighborhood.
So tomorrow I’m going to hit the Farmer’s Market and buy two pies – one for my family and one for this man – and go to his house and tell him, again, thanks for bringing Nels home, and try to connect with him on some other point. I don’t know how it will go because I am not armed with facts nor rants or “proof” or anything but my Self, wanting to understand him more and hoping he’s open to understanding me.
Hopefully both of us will feel better.
* I figured it out: it bothered me because Nels said he was going to do one thing – walk home, yet he did something different – ask someone for a ride.
** Here’s a tip: lecturing to women about how to be better mothers? I’d like to be patient and kind here but I must say: SO. OVERPLAYED. Also: much more frequent than lecturing fathers! MEN who lecture women on how to do things better (how to look, think, feel, perform)? Also: very – VERY – common. I’m not a “man-hating feminist” but when I think of all the condescending lectures I witness daily I want to go get a pair of bolt-cutters.