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?

Comments

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
107 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
cakeburnette
cakeburnette
10 years ago

You did EXACTLY right. We can NEVER be too careful with our babies.

Sarah
Sarah
10 years ago

I think you did the right thing and I would have done the same.

Molly
10 years ago

You absolutely did the right thing. No, it is no creepy for you to jump right to “this guy has ulterior motives” because the sad reality is that many people DO have ulterior motives and as Cakeburnette said above, “we can never be too careful with out babies.”

kim hartman
kim hartman
10 years ago

Kudos. I would have reacted the same way you did.

Lisa
Lisa
10 years ago

Oh my god, this is So timely for me! I am reading a book (‘Protecting the Gift’)and I am rethinking all kinds of things about Stranger Danger and how to talk to my 5 and 3 year old about personal safety, etc.
Basically, the author of this book teaches that your gut is your most valuable and important tool when it comes to your kids and you should ALWAYS trust it, even at the expense of making a seemingly innocent encounter awkward. You did the right thing. And, I totally recommend this book for any parent to read: “Protecting the Gift” by Gavin de Becker.

Amanda
10 years ago

I would have been all over that. And then I would have been all over the Dean because who lets Kindergartners outside of the school without some sort of procedure? I’m glad Sam is the type of kid who tells her parents when something is unusual and I’m glad you were there.

Amanda
Amanda
10 years ago

You did alright, in my book, though it is good that Sam’s mom called to inform the school. Lax security like that seems like the kind of opportunity creepers look for.

The guy might have been just a nice man from a time before we had to worry about strangers approaching our children, but why take the chance? In every self-defense lesson I’ve ever experienced, it is stressed that you should trust your gut. Even if you feel foolish, you are better off looking paranoid than dead.

Amanda
Amanda
10 years ago

Also, thanks to Caroline for the link to Checklistmommy’s post. “Tricky people”! *facepalm* Of course!

Jill
10 years ago

I didn’t read thru all the comments… but I have to ask *who* was the guy and the lady holding the door? Were they parents/grandparents? Did the school try to figure that out?

Stacy
10 years ago

I don’t think you can ever be TOO careful… “mom gut-instincts” happen for a reason. I think having an open dialogue with children about strangers is extremely positive.

If you ever have doubts, or questions about how to talk with children about strangers, check out this website: http://www.jwrc.org/

It was founded by the Wetterling family after their 11 yo was abducted in small-town MN. Sure, this is an extreme case, but the truth in the matter is IT HAPPENS (as sad as it seems…).

Pat yourself on the back. You did a great thing.

wealhtheow
wealhtheow
10 years ago

It was probably nothing. But if your gut says it was weird, then you definitely did the right thing by speaking up. FOR SURE. And I think kids always need a little refresher on how to deal with the “outside world,” in terms of not going places without permission or checking in with a trusted adult. I like the rule one commenter mentioned up above saying to always tell a parent or teacher or other adult in charge before you go off with anyone, especially since most of the time children are in more danger from Creepy Cousin Charlie than the stranger.

Redbecca
Redbecca
10 years ago

Trust the gut! You did good. Be sure to circle the wagons with Sam’s mom, as you obviously made an impression on Sam!

Trina
Trina
10 years ago

You did the right thing. I see my son (also in Ktg) without an ounce of stranger awareness and it scares the daylights out of me. No matter how often we talk about strangers he still does not seem to have an ounce of concern. It is likely that what you said stuck with Sam and that is great! Can you come talk to my son now?

Aubrey
10 years ago

I also think you did the right thing. If your gut says something, you’ve gotta go with it. Besides, like you said, teachable moment.

Gina
10 years ago

I think you did the right thing – you are right – it was a teachable moment. And while I do think that it’s sad that as a society we have to be suspicious, it’s definitely better to be safe than sorry.

SJ
SJ
10 years ago

I’m going to chime in along with the many others prior to me and agree that yes, you did the right thing. Always, always, always go with your gut, and even if it’s something innocent? It’s always better to be safe, than sorry.

Anonymous
Anonymous
10 years ago

Nope, totally did the right thing. And I would bet if you were Sam’s mom, ie watching a non-familiar man approach your daughter and ask her age etc, you wouldn’t be questioning your reaction at all. Always go with your gut, mom gut is rarely off-course.

Kate
10 years ago

I agree with all – it never hurts to say something but you didn’t go nuts over it causing panic for the drama of it all.

Gretchen in HB
Gretchen in HB
10 years ago

I’m glad you and Sam’s mother touched base! That would have been my first phone call I made after speaking with the Dean. After you give the kids the Stranger Danger talk, be sure to give them the Don’t Say Dirty Sanchez At School talk. ;-)

Becky
10 years ago

Better safe than sorry. You absolutely did the right thing – and like you said, they became aware of a total lack of supervision on that side of the building. Double kudos to you.
I know it may be sad that this is what our world has become – drills for school shootings, being paranoid about every stranger, etc. However, that IS what it has become, and we have to protect our kids. That means understanding that you don’t walk up to kids you don’t know and ask how old they are – unless you feel like they might be in danger. It means understanding that if you don’t report someone for doing that, they could make off with your kid the next day.
I doubt we’ll ever get back to the safe, happy, run around town with your friends until it gets dark era.

obabe
10 years ago

im be more concerned that there is an entrance that kindergartners can exit and there is no staff memeber watching them and that anyone can get into the school as well – in our school there is one main entrance that is unlocked at dismissal that everyone has to enter/exit from, and no other door is unlocked. in the mornings its unlocked as well and then ten minutes after the bell rings its locked and you have to be bussed in. additionally at dismissal the kindergartners are watched by ALL 6 teachers (from their 3 classes) because there are 300+students milling about as busses are dismissed one by one.

Mary
Mary
10 years ago

I agree that you did exactly the right thing. If my kid were in Sam’s shoes, I would only hope that the parent in your shoes would do what you did.

camille
camille
10 years ago

Every parent should read “Protecting the Gift” (http://www.amazon.com/Protecting-Gift-Keeping-Children-Teenagers/dp/0440509009). Its written by the same guy who wrote “The Gift of Fear”, which was mentioned in another comment. Invaluable, but its core message is to always trust your instict/gut and that our concern about being polite/seeming paranoid results in us overlooking potentially dangerous situations/people.

Amy
Amy
10 years ago

Ditto, ditto, ditto! Better safe than sorry when it comes to protecting our children!

Rachel
Rachel
10 years ago

I think you did just exactly the right thing.

Lisa
Lisa
10 years ago

Always trust your ‘mommy feeling’. If it struck you as weird, it probably was! I’d rather be embarrassed, than regretful.

Deanna
Deanna
10 years ago

Related funny story.
My hi func autistic then 4th grade son was on a field trip (to see a famous building in a city an hour away) and my parents were enroute to visit us. My mom called and was like Hey, we are an hour away driving by the famous building. And I joked do you see my son? He’s there right now, wearing a grey class tshirt. And she saw him! It was too funny. So she circles the block and hands my tiny Philipino dad – who looks *nothing* like my son- the camera and says go get a picture of him.

The ENTIRE 4th grade was milling around and there were tourists all over, too. My son greets my dad and then ALL FREAKING CHAOS erupts. Like 5 teachers and aids literally descend on them from all over the place. With more reaching for cell phones and closing ranks, counting kids, etc.

My mom is in the car – and a teacher – so she realizes what is happening but is giggling (she cannot park and get out to explain). My dad is all what? Yeah, I’m his grandfather (remember they look NOTHING alike). My son says yes, this is my grandfather but the teachers are highly skeptical. My dad is all I just wanted a picture, would you take one of us? And it is starting to dawn on him what they must be thinking.

I get a cell phone call from the teacher (we are pals and she has my number in her phone) asking me what my dad looks like and explaining what is happening. My dad is totally embarrassed and says goodbye and is royally pissed at my mom.

I felt bad for the teachers and for my dad. I took him to the school the next day at pick up and I apologized to all the teachers. I also called the vice principal and told her about it and thanked the teachers and aids for noticing and acting – even in such a huge group at a famous landmark with loads of tourists.

But my poor dad- how embarrassing.

Brenna
10 years ago

I think you acted perfectly appropriately. I am ALL FOR trusting your gut when it senses weirdness, and I think you did a bang up job of not overreacting. A quick “stranger danger” refresher is never a bad idea in my mind. I think the school is just doing their due diligence, making nothing gets overlooked.

On a side note, I am appalled that there are no school employees helping kids get on the buses? Especially in an area where the public apparently has access? Seems to be asking for trouble.

Christy
Christy
10 years ago

Not overstepping at all, in my opinion. The thing is you just never know. I wouldn’t have called the school either, but making your presence known and moving on with the teachable moment, yes.

And, me too with the phone phobia.

katie
10 years ago

I think you did what you would want some other mom to do in that situation. So, awesome. Plus you didn’t judge or make up rules that any mom would disagree with. And I’m glad she was nice when you talked to her.

lumpyheadsmom
10 years ago

He was your damn creepy cat, transformed into a human for just a little while, wasn’t he?

Melissa
Melissa
10 years ago

You did precisely the right thing. And a very important point (forgive me if it’s been raised already, SO MANY COMMENTS!):

We tend to assume that kids know what a stranger is, but they’ll think it’s someone who looks scary and creepy and gross. Someone who is dressed nicely and is walking into school and might be someone’s daddy or grandpa is still a stranger. The guy or gal in the UPS uniform is still a stranger. Etc. Etc.

When my overly friendly eldest (why, SURE, she’ll come sit in your car and see your puppy!) was young and scaring the crap out of me with her trusting soul, I told her I don’t care if Jesus himself walks up and tries to talk to you — you get away and tell Mommy or Daddy and we will apologize to Him later.

Karen
Karen
10 years ago

Sounds like you did exactly the right thing, and if I was Sam’s mom I’d be forever grateful that you took advantage of the teachable moment. It’s a shame that we have to second guess ourselves, largely in the interest of wanting to appear kind, open-minded, not paranoid, etc. But then when you realize that your #1 job is to look out for those little people, you realize, screw appearances. You have to err on the side of caution. Glad to hear Sam’s mom put your mind at ease.

gillian
gillian
10 years ago

this is a great website with safety tips for parents and kids. i love the *very* clear and easy to understand language she uses and teaches.

http://safelyeverafter.com/index.html

PS: you did the right thing.

Very Bloggy Beth
10 years ago

You only did what I, and a lot of others I’m assuming, would also have done. It’s a fine line we walk these days: keeping kids safe from predators while not assuming every stranger is in fact a predator. It’s a tough call to make, but I think where our children are concerned, we can be a little overly cautious. Have you had a personal conversation with Sam’s mom about it? Maybe the situation also made Sam a little wary.

shriek house
10 years ago

I would have done the same thing. It’s maybe unfortunate, but not creepy that you wondered about the guy’s motives. Most adults today seem to get that asking a strange kid personal questions is considered inappropriate and that kids are taught to be wary. And I think talking to Sam was right – the school is a community and depends on its members to look out for each other. As a parent wouldn’t you want someone reminding Riley the same thing if you weren’t there to do it?

Lydia
Lydia
10 years ago

You can never be too safe. You did the right thing.

Victoria
10 years ago

You went with your gut, nothing wrong with that.

Jennifer
Jennifer
10 years ago

I think you did the right thing. If your creep antenna was up, there was probably a reason. And even if not, maybe it would be useful for the kids for another time.

Lisa M.
Lisa M.
10 years ago

I would have done the same thing; Sam’s parents should be happy that another parent was willing to look out for their little girl. They probably are grateful. :)

RRM
RRM
10 years ago

A few months ago, my 2-year old and I were in the kids’ clothing department at Target. Out of nowhere an older (late-60’s) woman approached me and started asking me questions about my son. The interaction was very odd in that she didn’t smile (as one might when talking about a child), and every time I turned my back to her to see where my son was, she continued talking to me. Finally, I just grabbed my son and walked away. My “mom gut” was telling me she was trying to distract me–maybe so someone else could take my son. This interaction bothered me so much that I went back to Target the next day to tell the supervisor on duty about it. Even though the supervisor (who was about 12-years old) looked at me like I was crazy, I didn’t care. I couldn’t have lived with myself if I found out later that a child had been taken from Target. You did the right thing.

Karen
Karen
10 years ago

Read a wonderful book some time ago (Protecting the Gift, by Gavin de Becker) which was very helpful to me as a parent of young ones — difficult to read about horrible things, but its basic premise was trusting your intuition coupled with practical advice on building that in your kids without scaring them… understanding warning signals and risks etc. Well worth it.

KDA
KDA
10 years ago

So, should I not greet the children at my child’s day care? Do you think that bothers the parents? I never approach them or ask personal questions, but if see a child, I will greet them. Should I not? I guess I never thought about it before.

With that said, trust your instincts although also remember that it’s not usually the stranger you need to worry about. I’m in the legal field and most of the child molestation cases I see are perpetrated by family members–usually father figures. I know, it’s sad.

Carrie
10 years ago

1) I think you did the right thing.

2) I don’t think you should ever think yourself rude, hitting the panic button, or over-reacting when it comes to the safety of your own children or children who you know and care about.

3) Why isn’t that side of the school staffed at bus time? That seems like a glaring miss-step for them, which as you point out, hopefully will be remedied following this.

4) I also don’t think that we, as parents, should ever feel badly if our actions to protect our children cause a well-meaning stranger to feel uncomfortable. Bottom line – it’s creepy for a stranger to approach a child. Period. And if a well-meaning stranger is truly well-meaning, then they’ll probably get it sooner or later.

5) And while, yes, the vast majority of molestation cases are perpetrated by people a child already knows, there are more than many cases of child abductions by complete strangers, so better to be safe than sorry, as it were.

Tara
Tara
10 years ago

Wow, lots of comments, and I will chime in with everyone else to say that you did the right thing. After all, even if the man HAD been someone’s grandpa or other relative, it does not necessarily follow that his intentions were innocent, and you never know. As a fellow parent, I’m glad you did what you did, and that the school is checking it out–though as a parent and as someone who works in risk management, I am horrified that they didn’t have a teacher or administrator at that entrance in the first place. That’s a massive fail in my book.

lucidkim
lucidkim
10 years ago

Odd to me they don’t have teachers on that side especially if that’s where the kids get on the bus. My girls have been to a couple different elementary schools – both had monitors for the kids getting on the bus – and for the kids who walked home or picked up there were teachers out there watching but very casual. At their current school no kids are allowed to walk home alone and the kids who get picked up by parents have to be walked one at a time to the parent’s car – a teacher opens the car door (which I hate when my car is a wreak with papers, etc.!). I think it’s overkill – but otoh having no supervision for kindergarteners is alarming. k

Tina G
Tina G
10 years ago

Maybe the school needs to have a better dismissal pick/up procedure. The way you describe it- there’s no oversight and kids aren’t visually/verbally/on paper signed out by the correct adult at pick up. Our elementary school is pretty tight- teachers walk their classes to the buses,stopping at each of the 21 buses in line. Kids who are picked up are attended to and supervised in a central location (cafeteria K-2 or lobby 3-5) by aides whose sole purpose is to check kids off the master list of who is being picked up by whom (child also has a slip to give her) They make eye contact hand the kid off and you leave. They will ask for ID if they do not know you. (Small town, bug district) No kid just walks outside vulnerable to whomever is waiting there. You also cannot get your kid off the bus line without going to the office and signing them out. So although our system sounds very strict, it’s pretty darn safe. As far as the “non-stranger danger”- Non-custodial parents who are not allowed to pick up their kids by the court order or separation agreement will not be able to do so.

Frannie
Frannie
10 years ago

Isn’t our society fearful/anxious or what? And to worry that we even piss off another parent for just watching out for our kids? My thoughts are to be aware and smart, but not scared and not live our life. That’s something I deal with as a person and a parent almost everyday. It’s smart now that there is staff at every entrance. That’s actually the most unsettling part of all this. The man might have just been trying to be friendly (is there a double standard to this?)although I definitely get the mom gut stuff. Do parents frequently enter there? Did they have a Visitor sticker? My husband tells me my mom gut is always on (I just had a baby so..). There’s protective, overprotective and being smart and logical. I’m glad it worked out for you, and that they upped the safety in your school. Good communication, and not being afraid of speaking up-between kids, parents and teachers, being involved. From my personal experience, that really works.

Ali
Ali
10 years ago

Mom gut pretty much trumps any social faux pas you may potentially be committing. Given the world we live in: yes, it is odd that an older man detoured his route to the door specifically to stop and speak with kids he didn’t know.

Recognizing odd behavior doesn’t make us excessively fearful; it makes us aware and keeps us alive. Instincts are powerful things, and yours told you that something was off. Sometimes we can’t even nail down WHY things feel off…they just do.

How we handle the realization that something isn’t adding up is just as important as recognizing the gut instinct in the first place. You absolutely did the right thing. I second other readers, too–who was this guy? Did the dean ever find out? Is there a teacher at the door now? It’s not overly fearful to want to have all the information–it’s smart and safe.