“Zacharie, you forgot your coat,” a man called to my son as we gathered our things and headed to the gate to catch our flight home.
We had been playing in a kids’ zone at the airport, and Zacharie had left his jacket behind in an apparatus.
He rushed back to get it, while I waved to the man and said thanks.
“Wait a second!,” I thought. “How did he know my son’s name?” It took a few seconds, but then it hit me. Zacharie’s favorite thing to wear was a t-shirt with his name emblazoned in big letters on the back. Of course he knew my kid’s name — he was wearing a huge name tag.
And then my mind started to wander … this very kind man, doing a very neighborly thing by helping us collect our belongings, could have just as easily collected my child. He knew his name, and that’s all he would have needed to get an “in.”
A parent’s mind will wander. It will wander places it shouldn’t. Consumed by fear and keeping our kids safe, we are prone to irrational fears. It’s just how it is.
Irrational Fear: Kids Alone In Public
Debate has lit up recently about boys alone in bathrooms. An Oklahoma Moms’ Blog shared a photo of a sign in a mall asking that boys over 6 use the Men’s Room.
Moms hit the roof.
“My sons are 6 and almost 9. Unless I’m out with my dad or my brother, I don’t have the luxury of a male companion who can accompany them into a men’s room,” declared Maria Mora.
As a dad of two boys, I’ve spent a lot of time in mens’ rooms. If your kids are old enough to wipe themselves and operate a kids’ height sink without soaking themselves, let’s say 6 years old, they’re old enough to go to the bathroom on their own.
Public restrooms have one door in. You can stand there, standing guard over all who enter and leave, and your son can go in. Nothing bad is going to happen in there.
In fact, another dad is probably going to help him reach the sink and dry his hands. Why? Because people are good. We will help each other out.
But parents fear. We see the news. We read the headlines. The stats say .005 percent of kids are taken by strangers. And yet we fear. We know the odds are slim, but we still don’t want “the one” to be our kid.
Irrational Fear: Kids Not Being Able To Do What We Used To Do
Last summer I decided to loosen the leash and let my son ride his bike around the block. It was about half a mile around our subdivision. The fact that he’d cross two roads in his big loop terrified me, but I needed to let my bird fly the nest.
It was the longest seven minutes of my life. I knew he would be fine, I trusted he wouldn’t get lost, but still … my mind wandered. I watched the clock. I started to fiddle with my keys, and I was about 10 seconds from hopping in the car and chasing him down when I heard his “Yaaaaa Hooooo!!!!” scream of freedom as he rounded the final turn.
In the 1970s, kids were expected to be able to navigate a 4 to 8 block radius around their home before Grade 1. Do you think 6-year-olds today could handle that kind of freedom?
Lenore Skenazy, the Free Range Mom who champions a loosened leash, recently wrote “all that treating kids as if they’re about to fall apart seems to have created exactly that: kids about to fall apart.”
I get the fear. I understand why you have it. I have it too. But if we want to make it through the next 10 to 20 years without keeping our children behind lock and key, we have to learn to trust people. We have to learn to trust our kids. We have to look for the good in the world.
So bite your lip. Take a chance. Trust a stranger. The man at the airport wasn’t stalking my kids, he was smiling at the cheeriness of kids playing in an airport, the same way you smile at a stranger’s infant when you’re sitting at the food court, remembering those good ol’ days when your kids fit in a sling.
You’re not alone in your irrational fears. We all have them. But we all could use to lose (some of) them and loosen up a little. For our kids’ sake.