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Friday, February 06, 2004

Carlie Brucia


How do you teach your children to be safe? Is it possible to ever really be safe?

We're not homeschooling to hide away from the world (that's just added value), so I don't hide reality from my girls. Most likely, they will grow up to be as much a cynic as I am. On one level, that's sad, on another, it might save their life.

My three year old wanted to know about the bad man that took the little girl, after I snapped on the news to hear of any updates. She wanted to know why. She wanted to know if he was brown. The latter comment startled me, not just for its racist implications, but because in her mind, bad guys should look a certain way. That scares the hell out of me.

A friend and I were nearly abducted when we were about 9 years old. We were walking along the wall behind her house that separated our subdivision from the commercial properties beyond, when a normal-looking man approached us from the business side of the wall and offered to pay us $5.00 each if we would wash his car. We didn't see any car. We were nervous. He assured us his fancy, red sportscar was just out of sight, around the side of the bank building. We told him no thanks, we thought we better get going home, and that's when he reached up and grabbed my friend by the arm. Paralyzed with fright, she never resisted. I thought about running back to get her mom, but I knew she wouldn't be there when I got back. I tried to scream, and after a few self-conscious attempts, finally got a good one out, after which my friend finally came back to her senses and joined in. The guy took off.

A few years later, a girl disappeared walking from our neighborhood to the drug store, on her way to buy posterboard for a school project. She was last seen crossing a vacant lot, adjacent to that same wall. Related? Who knows. It obviously made a lasting impression on me.

Sure, my mother had given me Never Talk to Strangers, but she also taught me to be quiet, polite and respectful, to the point of obsequiousness, to adults. She never taught me that strangers can be young and handsome, that they don't have to look like bad guys (or camels with bony knees.)

Teach your children to be suspicious and aware. Teach them that bad guys don't look like the boogeyman; they might look like the friendly old man two doors down. Teach them to yell and scream, to be defiant and fight back; not to worry about manners and hurt feelings, or being nice and quiet.

A terrible lesson.

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