My phone rang this afternoon and after I life-coached myself into answering it (phone phobia, man), I about had a goddamned heart attack when the man on the other end of the line identified himself as the Dean of Students at Riley’s school.
I mean, maybe some people’s first thought upon being called by the Dean of Students is to assume that their child has been honored with the little-known but much-revered Most Incredible Kindergartener in the History of Ever award, but that wasn’t my reaction. In fact, despite the fact that Riley’s never once been in trouble at school, my immediate concern was that he’d been caught repeating something awful that I’d accidentally said in front of him. You know: like referring to one of his classmates’ chocolate milk mustaches as a Dirty Sanchez.
As it turned out, the dean was calling to investigate something that had happened yesterday when I was picking Riley up from school. I didn’t think it was a big deal at the time, but he’s certainly treating it like a big deal, so I thought I’d ask you guys about it.
A little backstory: when I get Riley from school, I go to the side entrance where the kids line up for the buses. Parents hardly ever come to that side, so there’s plenty of nearby street parking, which makes it easier for me to herd Dylan. Lately, when Riley comes out, he waits for his BFF Samantha, and he and Sam hang out in front of the school for a couple minutes, giggling about whatever, while I stand nearby whistling casually and trying not to bark at Riley to hurry the hell up already, it’s freezing out here.
So yesterday he and Sam were marveling over a stuffed raccoon she’d brought to school, and I was maybe twenty feet away with Dylan. I noticed an older man walking towards the doors, and he stopped to talk to Sam. This is when I turned around and gave them my full attention, because it seemed … weird, you know? I heard him ask Sam how old she was, and I heard Riley chime in that he was also six. Then both kids walked towards me, and I watched the man head to the entrance—where a door was being held open for him by a woman (not a teacher). I generally assumed that he was somebody’s grandfather, that the woman was the kid’s mom, and that they were picking someone up as a family.
Once Sam and Riley joined me, though, I asked Sam if she knew the guy. She said no, and I went on to ask both Riley and Sam if they knew not to ever go anywhere with strangers (I was careful not to say that it wasn’t okay not to talk to strangers, since I didn’t know if this was Sam’s family’s rule). They said yes, Sam left to get on her bus, and I continued the conversation with Riley for quite a while after that — you know, I just figured it was a good time to have a refresher on stranger danger. Teachable moment! Etc.
And that was that. Until the dean called me, that is, because apparently Sam had gone home and said something about the interaction that concerned her mother enough to talk with the school.
So, you know, I feel a little weird about it. I certainly didn’t mean to worry Sam, or scare her mom. I also didn’t mean to cast any suspicion on a perfectly innocent man who was just being friendly.
On the other hand, the way he approached Sam in particular definitely raised my antennae, if only because it’s become so taboo in our culture for adults to walk up to kids like that.
The dean was, I think, just following what must surely be a rigorous procedure these days to look into Potential Stranger Weirdness, which included calling both kids to the office to discuss it (I asked Riley about it this afternoon to make sure he wasn’t freaked out, but he was all, whatevs, they asked what the man was wearing and I said I thought it was brown hey can I have crackers for my snack today?). A potential positive outcome is that the dean didn’t know there are no school employees available on that side of the building, which I have always sort of wondered about — it’s teeming with kids getting on various buses and lining up for afterschool program vehicles, you’d think someone would be around to generally make sure nothing goes awry — so maybe that will change.
But anyway, what would you have done? Was it overstepping for me to say anything at all to Sam about it? Was it creepy of me to even think the man was doing anything other than being nice to a kid? Or was it too complacent of me to just walk away and not really think twice about it?