So that we are all on the same page, I don’t for a minute believe that I am in any danger whatsoever of being named “father of the year.” I know better than that. First off, due to us waiting later in life to start a family, I’m old enough to be my own kid’s grandparent, so I am nowhere near “hip and happenin’” enough to be father of the year. Need proof? Read the last sentence. I just said “hip and happenin’.” That should tell you something right there.
I am also painfully aware that I am at no risk of receiving a “#1 Dad” or “World’s Greatest Dad” coffee mug for Father’s Day for the next few years. I have a tween daughter who is at that sociopathic, hormonal stage in her life where Dad and Mom are both complete idiots who don’t understand, simply don’t get it, and probably received their diplomas and degrees from Cracker Jack boxes, because they are so totally clueless they couldn’t possibly have learned anything in their lifetimes. I get that. We all went through that phase. It’s all part of growing up. Truth is, I may complain about it in Facebook updates, but that’s just my way of weathering the storm. I am truly looking forward to the bright, headstrong, and much more even-tempered young lady whom I expect will come out the other side of this process. Hopefully she will like us and much as her mother and I like her (even now) – most of the time, anyway.
However, oddly enough, I’m not here to talk about MY kid. I’m here to talk about a situation that I simply cannot fathom, and yes, it has to do with kids. A kid, specifically.
Now, I will grant you, I’m a bit overprotective. Hell, I won’t even allow my kid to walk to school by herself, and I actually have rational reasons. Per the state and county there are six registered sex offenders living in our neighborhood, and I’m not talking about bullshit offenses like urinating in public during Fair Saint Louis and getting popped for “public exposure.” I’m talking about convicted of molesting children sort of offenders. Adding insult to injury, I simply KNOW way too much about crime and sociopathic offenders from the research I do for my novels. Most of the time I am glad I know these things. It allows me to stay aware and keep my family safe – or at least, try to convince myself that I can. Other times I wish I didn’t, especially when the nightmares they spark wake me up in the middle of the night with a panic attack the size of Rhode Island, and I wander around the house making sure the doors and windows are locked, the alarm is still set, my Glock is loaded, and the offspring is still snug in her bed.
All of this is why I was completely flabbergasted last evening.
As my Facebook followers know, E K and I are coaches for our daughter’s Girls on Track team. GoTR is a great organization. Look it up and be inspired, especially if you have a daughter. Seriously. But that isn’t really what this is about, except that we were at a local park for a training session. The reason for choosing this park is proximity, and the fact that it has a 1/3 mile track, which is very helpful when you are training for a 5K run.
During the 1.5 hour meeting and training session, a strange little girl wanders into our midst. By strange I mean that we didn’t know her and she didn’t belong to anyone in our group. By little, I mean all of three years old. She had no adults or older siblings in tow. None. NADA. She walked up to us and asked us to play with her. Not the girls on the team, mind you. The coaches. When asked where her parents were she pointed to the baseball game in the far distance, happening on the other side of the park – better than a football field away. During this time she was returned to her parent, but that didn’t last long. She eventually showed up again, running across the field, alone, until she ended up in our midst once more.
At this point I am going to fast-forward, however, during the intervening time the interloping munchkin entertained herself by playing on the swings nearby with some of the other kids in our group who were not members of the GoT team (as in some of the other coaches younger children.) Being the adults in the area, we kept an eye on her at the same time we watched over the other kids.
Now for the fast-forward…
For the last 15-20 minutes of our meeting the little girl left the playground and entertained herself on the opposite side of the pavilion we were using. This is significant because now, for that period of time, she was COMPLETELY out of sight and obscured from the view of the baseball diamond, which is already more than 100 yards away as it is, mind you. So, if the parental unit was doing some sort of line-of-sight remote parenting thing, we are now in the middle of full blown FAIL.
It gets better, and by better I mean worse… The child then proceeded to approach any adult who happened to be walking around the track – male, female, didn’t matter – asking them to play with her, volunteering information, etc. We coaches kept watch, and intervened when necessary, expressing concern among ourselves.
Remember me mentioning before that there are a half-dozen registered sex offenders living in the neighborhood?
So… Then, the child disrobed. Yes. She got naked in under 10 seconds and began playing in the dirt. Naked. Clothing in a pile and stark naked, all the while inviting adults to play with her as they walked by. Okay. We’re talking about a three year old. Not unusual for a kid that age to elect to shed clothing, even in public. It’s all part of the self-awareness, unabashed Id/Ego/Superego thing, but in my estimation the problem has now gone from serious to RED F*CKING ALERT! General Quarters! WTF!?
I was actually starting to look around for a camera crew and John Quinones of ABC’s “What Would You Do?”
Well, John didn’t show up, but here’s what I did anyway. Leaving the child under the watch of the other coaches (thankfully, she DID put her clothes back on, btw. And of her own accord just as we were about to strenuously suggest she do so.)
Anyway… I marched myself across the field to the baseball diamond and said, while waving my hand about 2 1/2 feet above the ground, “Excuse me, but are any of y’all missing a little girl about so tall?”
The adults stared at me like I’d grown two heads. Finally, one of them said, “Huh?”
I waved my hand again and said, “Are any of you missing a little girl about so tall?”
A woman reached forward and slapped another woman on the shoulder and called her by name. She turned around and said, “What?”
At this point I was ready to pull my face off and pitch a fit. Why? Because TEH STUPID was starting to make my brain hurt.
I repeated myself for a third time, aiming my now somewhat louder voice directly at the woman. “Are you missing a child? A little girl about so tall?”
She looked at me and without any concern in her face or voice whatsoever, said, “Yes.”
I was somewhat dumbfounded, but kept my face attached. Raising and eyebrow I asked, just to be certain I was hearing what I was hearing, “So you are missing a kid?”
“Yes,” she replied, again without any concern at all, and while watching the little league game out of the corner of her eye, because, I can only assume, directly supervised children on a baseball diamond are in far more danger than unsupervised three-year-olds randomly approaching strangers on the other side of the park.
“Well,” I said, pointing toward the pavilion where we were holding our meeting. “She’s over on the other side of the park, and she just took her clothes off. I thought you might want to know.”
Now she gets up off the bleachers, but her response still amazes me. “She took her clothes off again? Oh, well now I’m embarrassed.”
How about being embarrassed that you let a 3 year old kid out of your sight for more than an hour, in a public park, and didn’t seem to think there was anything wrong with that? And now, here’s a strange man who you don’t know from Adam, telling you that she’s getting naked and not even in your line of sight?
HOLY F*CKING SH*T, LADY! This is your kid we are talking about here… What the hell are you thinking?! <– This is going on inside my head. How I managed to keep it from coming out of my mouth at very high volume is still beyond me.
Here are the facts, and I am NOT exaggerating – That child could have been gone in under a minute. The pavilions where we were positioned are next to the track, near the entrance of the park. The enclosed and secluded restrooms are 100 feet away. The parking lot and main thoroughfare just beyond. A wooded subdivision backs right up to the park. The child was approaching adults – complete strangers – and offering up her name, asking them to play with her, and I am betting would have walked off hand-in-hand with anyone who paid the least bit of attention to her.
Children are abducted every day, people. Think about it and try engaging your brain for two seconds.