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Tales From The Crib

April 17, 2006

Don&

t show your privates to strangers

Becca&

s mom wouldn&

t let her walk through the park to school. So when I met Becca at the corner of Gibbs and Center streets, we crossed Center, walked up the hill, and took a right on Pleasant Street, skirting the park, walking the long way past parked cars and houses.

Becca&

s mom thought the park was dangerous. But one day on the way to school we saw a man in a parked car, his pants down, exposed to the morning sun. He looked like he was sleeping but I thought I saw his eyes open as we passed.

When Becca went to piano lessons after school, I walked home by myself, through the park.

One day I was walking by the basketball courts.

&

Hello little boy,&

a man with shaggy brown hair caught the ball he was dribbling on his hip as he called out to me.

&

I&

m not a little boy,&

I giggled. &

I&

m a girl.&

&

Really?&

He cocked his head to one side as he looked at me, exaggerating his disbelief. &

You look like a little boy to me,&

he said matter-of-factly.

I stopped walking, I was so surprised. I had three older brothers and spent a lot of time around boys. I liked climbing trees and playing chase. I was a tomboy, maybe, but no one had ever told me I looked like a boy.

&

Can you prove you&

re not?&

the man asked. He seemed genuinely interested and sincerely baffled.

Could I? I thought as hard as I could and chose the most definitive piece of information my first-grade mind could settle on.

&

I don&

t like trucks!&

I announced, sure this would resolve the matter.

The stranger remained unconvinced.

What happened after that? Maybe I pointed out my shoulder-length hair. But there wasn&

t anything else girly about me. I had holes in the knees of my dungarees. Pink was my least favorite color. I never played with Barbies.

It was the stranger who came up with a definitive way I could prove I wasn&

t a boy. I could show him the one thing I had that boys didn&

t! This seemed completely logical &

it was such a perfect solution to an otherwise vexing problem that I wondered why I hadn&

t thought of it myself.

I sat on a bench and pulled down my pants just enough so he could see.

&

See!&

I was happy to have proven myself right. &

I&

m not a boy!&

But suddenly the air changed. He told me he would have to go to his car to get a dime for me, he asked me to come with him, and said he&

d drive me home.

That&

s when a terrible feeling of shame came over me. I knew &

I had been warned by my parents and the other adults &

that you should never get into a car with a stranger.

Now I was scared. I said no thank you, I didn&

t want the dime, and I didn&

t need a ride. &

I live close by,&

I mumbled, waving my hand in the air as if to point in the direction of my house. Even as I said it I worried I was saying too much. There was something wrong. He had tricked me. He was a bad man. I didn&

t want him to know where I lived.

I walked away as fast as I could. As soon as I was up the side of the hill with some distance between me and the basketball court I started sprinting. I still remember how my heart &

my proud heart that had made me do a shameful bad thing without even realizing it just to prove a point &

pounded in my chest.

I didn&

t want them to be angry at me so I never told my parents. Becca and I never talked about the man in the car with his privates exposed.

Those were big secrets for such little girls to carry. &

You can tell me anything,&

I remind my daughters as I tuck them into bed, smooth their hair back from their faces, and kiss their little cheeks. &

Even if someone tells you not to tell me, you can. Even if you think I&

ll be mad. Even if it&

s the middle of the night and you have to wake me up.&

I can&

t protect my children from everything bad in the world but I can do something my parents didn&

t: help them feel safe enough to share their secrets.

&

Tales From the Crib&

appears every Monday in the Tidings.