Stranger Danger

03/11/2015

Volume #212

I knew it was bound to happen but you never really see these sorts of things coming. JoAnn asks me, “If a guy you don’t know offers to buy you candy what would you do”? It’s a loaded question from the get go, I just didn’t know where she was going with it when she asked. Of course there is only one correct answer and when I saw the sheepish look on Kate’s face when she heard my answer confirming her mothers it was obvious she made the wrong call. She and her good friend walked down to a local store that sells candy. They had a about a dollar each which was more then enough to satisfy their quest for sweets. When they arrived back home with cash in hand all proud of themselves they had a bit of a rude awakening. Apparently an older gentleman in the store at the time had purchased the candy for them. They just thought he was a nice guy but hadn’t really put together all the things either of their mothers had been telling them for years. Do NOT ACCEPT CANDY FOR STRANGERS. (Yes, this is what they meant and when that statement comes into play). They both said he seemed nice enough but when asked if they knew the man they had to confess they did not and had never before seen him. Thus he fits into the category of STRANGER.

 

Now we’re not the type of parents to panic right away, OK one of us isn’t. JoAnn called the store to speak to the clerk to query her but she was already gone for the day. Luckily one of Emma’s best friends parents are both police officers so a friendly conversation could be had without over reacting and actually making the call to the police. After all there is the chance it was just a nice grandfatherly older man from a different era that just didn’t see the harm in buying some treats for a couple young girls. When I was a kid we were never taught to fear or suspect strangers and we would have been over joyed if someone ever bought us candy.   Kate is nearly twelve so you’d think she’s have used better judgment but even she told us she though it may have been wrong but they weren’t on the street, they were in the store with the clerk right there so they felt it was OK. I can see her argument but that’s how these things start. The kind older gentleman who see’s you next walking home from school stops his car to talk and you recognize him from the store, (no longer a stranger) and he offers you a ride home then who knows what happens next. That’s the stranger danger your mother has been warning you about. It was the first time I had that pang that being the father of girls is going to be a lot more complex then I thought. As I dropped their sister off at Sparks later that evening I saw a police cruiser in the parking lot of the arena and I nearly went over to talk to him but decided we needed to first hear from that clerk and talk to our parent police officer friends before any real investigation happened. We may live in a sleepy bedroom community but not that many months ago by a ravine between our home and the friend Kate was with in the candy store a guy tried to pull a woman into the woods but she got away and screamed for help. That’s less then a 1 KM from our home as is this candy shop the girls were visiting so you can’t say it can’t happen here.

 

The conversation JoAnn had with the store clerk the next day at least confirmed this was merely a case of a kind-hearted man in the wrong era. A local grandfather who plays lotto all the time at the store always leaves some of his winnings with the clerks to be distributed to any kids buying candy. Normally this is 100% anonymous but on this occasion the kind gentleman was there to see it happen. Apparently he was a bit embarrassed, as he’s not looking for recognition. It’s kind of sad that a good-natured gesture in this day in age has to be treated with suspicion but that’s the era we live in these days. Quite honestly I don’t think it’s less dangerous these days as it was when I was a kid, there were creeps around then too, it’s just social media and the speed with which stories can travel have made even small local events world news.

 

I still recall dumpster diving behind a strip mall not far from home with a friend back when I was all of about 7 or 8 when a guy stepped up on the edge of the dumpster and he offered us chocolate bars. He looked like a high school kid we thought so we took the candy happily and then he asked Jo (short for Joan) to help him out. Of course she said, as this was a good guy he just gave us a full size chocolate bar each. He took her hand in his as he pulled out his penis and used her hand to stroke it till he climaxed. Neither of us really understood what was going on as at our age sex was the furthest thing from our minds. Once he was done and departed we stopped to examine what came out of his penis with a stick, we had no idea what it was. We then just went back to digging in the dumpster eating candy and never spoke of that incident again. Till I wrote it here now I’ve never shared it with anyone. It wasn’t till years later I realized what had happened that day and I often wonder if Jo recalls that day herself. At that age we both looked like boys especially since Jo was such a tomboy the creep probably didn’t even know she was a girl and it probably really didn’t matter, she was just standing closer to him so he grabbed her hand. If I was closer this may be a story about my own personal sexual assault. I haven’t seen Jo in over four decades but now the gravity of that incident and the fact I’m the father of four girls weighs in my mind. I sat and watched a female minor be sexually assaulted and I didn’t do a thing other then eat a chocolate bar. I hope if anyone is witness to something like this with one of my own daughters that they’ll actually speak up and say something.

 

JoAnn has been very clear about what is and isn’t acceptable. She was quite graphic in letting them know that NO ONE touches you in certain areas. If anyone does you don’t keep it quite you must speak up. If this takes place in public you need to be very vocal and get the attention of anyone around. It’s if this happens in private in what you hope is a safe place that things get a bit more difficult. She’s even been so careful to tell the girls going on a sleep over that if they ever feel uncomfortable around males they don’t know to just call and she’ll come get them, any time of the night. Statistics tell us most sexual assaults on minors happen in these sorts of environments. It could be an older brother, or a friend of a brother or an adult in the home. JoAnn has been very watchful of whose homes the girls go to sleepovers with. Generally we always know the parents and the one time we didn’t recently I think she only let Emma go because it was a slumber party with 5 other girls. There is strength in numbers I suppose.

 

Times have changed but I think the real change is awareness. We just didn’t know to even say anything back then in the 70’s and I was certainly never given any sort of talk about predators as a kid. I never saw this situation played out on TV, we didn’t have the Internet sharing stories of abuse. It just wasn’t getting any coverage back then but you know it was happening,

 

I hope our girls who have all been warned about stranger danger are never afraid to speak up. Even though Kate and her friend took the candy from the store clerk at least they told us so it’s obvious they already knew it was odd. They were warned to never accept gifts from strangers so this seemed to fit the bill but it was the third party of the store clerk that seemed to skew their perception if this was in bounds or not. Since this specific scenario was never mentioned we can’t blame them for not really knowing and maybe we need to add a few caveats to what’s taught to Sam and Dani in the very near future.

 

No one was physically hurt during my experience 4 decades ago but that fact I still remember the incident in the dumpster but I don’t recall my friend’s last name tells me the incident was bigger and did leave a lasting mark. It did change me, I just didn’t realize it at the time. I just hope the guy we never reported didn’t go onto bigger crimes later in life because it was so easy for him early on, like giving candy to a child. A part of me hopes he’s seen the inside of a cell but then I’d know someone else was assaulted and maybe that all could have changed if he’d been shut down early. I just hope the guy didn’t become some Clifford Olsen type just because he had success getting his rocks off as a teen. When you speak up about an assault like this you’re not just standing up for your own personal safety you’re paying it forward to any future victims this abuser might take. I’m so proud JoAnn took the bull by the horns and have clearly street proofed the girls. Even when they did take the candy they deep in their hearts actually did know it was peculiar. I wish we could live in a world where suspicion towards kindness wasn’t our first reaction but it’s always better to be safe then sorry. It’s also fine to say “No Thank you” when you’re offered something and after the reaction to this incident I have no doubt that’s exactly what Kate will do in the future. You don’t have to outwardly fear the person or be rude; you just say, “No thank you, my mom told me not to accept gifts from strangers”. Any adult that doesn’t respect that comment should be feared but in this day in age you should just be proud because you know that kid has parents that have taught their child well. I’m not claiming we’re great parents or blaming my own parents for not equipping me with the info I needed, it was a different time, and they didn’t say anything but then again what parents did back then? I was 7 out on my bike, dumpster diving with a friend miles from home behind a strip mall. We won’t let our kids leave the street and the one place we do let the older girls go in our neighborhood they are offered candy so do you blame us for being over cautious? I didn’t think so.

Daddy on the Spot

02/13/2015

Volume #210

Five years ago when Vancouver hosted the Winter Olympics we were having unseasonably warm weather that precipitated trucking in snow to stage the games. I didn’t need a groundhog meteorologist to predict what the budding crocuses have already told me. Spring is not only getting closer but by the temperature it’s pretty much here now. I don’t ever recall seeing the local ski hills being closer so early as they usually enjoy skiing into April. It’s just been that warm. Five degrees cooler and all the rain we’ve recently had would have assured them a great season but blame el-Niño again.

 

It was during this warm spell that challenged me as a father like never before. JoAnn was flying east to see family for a long weekend and it was going to be my responsibility to keep our girls alive for four full days. This also included the dreaded morning drop offs at school and the staggered afternoon pick-ups. This had me especially concerned because even though I hear her leaving and arriving home from my office everyday, I really didn’t know what time she was actually picking anyone up. She can tell me, sure but how long does it take to get across town mid day to get Dani at Preschool. I would actually be working so my hope was to leave at the last possible minute to maximize my workday. It’s possibly a bit sad that a dad that works from home hasn’t once picked his kids up from school and it’s February already. It’s just how the week seems to play out since most afternoons after school JoAnn has them off to Piano or dance or some activity she’s arranged with another mom. In the end I thought about just taking them to a local hotel for the weekend but decided I could handle this.

Is Norman home?

To catch her plane she was out of the house by 4 AM but I still got up to see her off, mostly hoping she was just playing me with this notion of leaving me and was really staying home. She was not and I soon crawled back into bed for a few more hours. She told me what time the girls normally get up, or what time their alarms would go off had any of them been set the night before, which of course they were not. I’d not set my own alarm in over a year and refuse to even set the time as it usually means we have a power outage within a few days so my clock blinks 12:00 most of the time. Morning came and I hit snooze, I hit snooze again and then one more time because I was so comfy. I mean I did get up at 3:30 to see off JoAnn. Alas by the time I figured out their alarms were of no use we were already behind the schedule that the girls usually follow. Everyday it’s a struggle to get them out the door on time and I’ve now just shortened my working time by 20 minutes.

 

From what they’ve all told me I was a bit harsher then mom in my wake up technique. Well I had no time to be sweet the clock was ticking loudly. I had to forfeit any thought of a shower and just go with coffee to get me through. My normal day generally starts around 7:15 to 7:30 depending when the screaming starts between whichever girl is most pissed off at their mother. Today I was first up and had the rest of them up in record time. Breakfast was fast (jut sugary sweet cereal) so now it was just getting them dressed. This too is pretty much automatic since they already picked out their cloths the night before but you do need to poke them to make it happen. Hair was the last huddle and probably my biggest fear. JoAnn is so anal about head lice she always has their hair up or in a braid. I didn’t know how to do either so it was off centre ponytails for all. I hustled them all down to my van, which was a treat for the girls as they always like to go in my car but being outside of their ordinary routine seemed to slow things down. Much to my surprise we made it to school earlier then the girls arrive normally. Since I didn’t know where everyone’s class was Dani walked me through the halls to show me so I could wish them all a good day. She may only be four but she’s made this trek every school day this year so she knows where she’s going. It still felt a bit odd taking direction from a four year old. We made it to her pre-school across town in plenty of time and by the time I got back home I was actually starting work about the same time I normally would though I felt considerably more beat then I usually do at this time of day. I got everyone picked up and even texted a photo of the girls to their mother just to prove I pulled it off. Now I just had a three day long weekend to keep them entertained and alive. How hard could that be?

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I like to consider myself a fairly involved parent. I do more then just work to make the money to keep everyone feed and cozy. I will get in the trenches with no qualms. I’m balancing my level of involvement as a parent against myown fathers so if I grunt more then two words to each of them in a day I’m up for father of the year. We made it through that first day and I was never so happy to see them all tucked into bed. On most evenings this is when the volume on the TV goes down about 10 points and we as a couple can enjoy a show or two we recorded. When I say we enjoy, I mean I’ll watch while JoAnn naps through most of the episode but after today I see why. On a normal night I’m there to run interference. After dinner we’ll do the dishes together then she takes the young ones up for a bath and I can push the older girls to play piano or do homework. When you’re on your own you have to hope they’re doing what you asked when you head up to bath their sisters. I made dinner exceptionally early so we could have a movie night. When you have to prepare the meal, serve it and clean up on your own you realize there is a lot more too it. I still have 9 more meal times to get through. I’m basically a cook on the weekend sort of dad or through the week if it’s helpful but JoAnn rarely lets me through the week as I start messing with her grand plan. This weekend it was baptism by fire, I had to show up for every meal. Heck every snack, tear, tantrum, bedtime or late night scare that required a cuddle. There was no hand off, no rolling over in bed hoping the wife would answer the wailing call of one of our children.

 

On the second night Dani decided it she was all in on the concept of making me put her back to bed as often as possible. It took the better part of an hour to watch the first 20 minutes of the movie I started. After chasing her back upstairs countless times I ended up just scrapping the idea and went to bed to watch TV so she could then join me and pass out. Once she was asleep I put her back in her bed. And I did it three more times at 2: 18, 3:20 and finally at 4:58.

 

Other then the fact we had miserable weather and my boomerang girl kept me up most of the night I think over all it went very well. We did make it through with minimal flare-ups. I also put dessert out there as a carrot every night to keep the wheels greased so I got the things I wanted from them done. No one said you couldn’t bribe your own kids with sweets. It’s just creepy when it’s not your own children.

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As I tucked them on the last night knowing their mother would soon be home from the airport I put my feet up and had a beer. I had accomplished something but I won’t say it was easy. It was not only a lot of work it was a lot of pressure and in the end I got a hug at bedtime. Seems like a lot for something I can ask for anytime but it really was an eye opener. I know I don’t help as often as I could and I’m going to be a bit more conscious of that now. I already know my wife is a super hero rock star. The only thing missing is her cape but I wonder how other single parents do this. When there is no option but to push on, work all day, look after your kids with no spouse to ever tag you out. I honestly never really gave the single parent a lot of thought but they were on my mind now. How do they do it? I can’t actually imagine how difficult it must be to balance it all with no one else living in the same house to support you. Most people don’t choose to become single parents, it’s thrust upon them by outside influences and though I know my team mate will soon be back but I’ve got to give to those that call what I just went through over one long weekend, their life. I just couldn’t imagine it. I’ve had nightmares about JoAnn having a horrific accident and I’d be lying if I weren’t a bit worried with her flying across the country and back. I don’t dwell on the negative but worst case scenarios always pop into my mind and her not returning from this trip fits that bill. Let’s be serious she has a far higher chance of getting hit by a car here in our own neighborhood then she ever does of being in a plane crash but it’s that sort of news worthy accident that few people ever walk away from that instill fear into us. We should all be more worried about going to the corner store for milk but if we did that we’d never leave the house. Most of my near misses have all been within 10 km of our home and JoAnn got rear-ended just two years ago with in that same distance. She’s actually safer in the air then we are at home but I still wasn’t going to relax till I heard the garage door opener grinding.

 

The key take-away for me this weekend was that I could actually do this on my own (for a short period anyway). I always thought I could as I’ve been watching and absorbing what my wife does for the girls but watching and doing are very different. I’m sure the girls are also much more then happy to get things back to normal with mom at the helm. The next time I meet a single parent I’m not sure what I might say but I may just ask them exactly how do they cope? I thought my wife was a super star but these people clearly are working on a different level then the rest of us. Hat’s off!