Being that I’m a mostly-exhausted, 40-something, happily-married working Mom, I don’t often get checked out these days. On the rare occasion it does happen, I’ve realized it’s usually my car they are checking out – not me. If some kind gentleman happens to sends an appreciative glance my way, I’m usually quite grateful and even somewhat relieved that maybe I have not lost my sparkle.
But when I see a grown man checking out my seven year-old daughter, that is a whole other thing.
It happened last night. We’d been out for dinner and I was driving my daughter home. She was in the back seat and had the interior light on so she could look at some toy or book. We slowed down at some traffic lights, waiting for the arrow to turn green so we could turn left. I happened to look over at the car in the lane next to us – a run-of-the-mill white Toyota, I think – and saw that the driver, a man in his late twenties wearing a grey hoodie, was staring at Tessa. Not a “hey who’s in the car next to me” glance, but a creepier, darker gaze. It was only a split second, then the lights changed to green, we turned left and he took off ahead.
My blood froze and I felt like vomiting. I checked and double checked that he hadn’t turned around to follow us. He hadn’t. I can never know if he was just looking or had some kind of other intent or desire in mind.
But it made me realize, with horror, that there are people out there who may look at my beautiful daughter and feel something very, very different from the way I feel when I look at her. Or our friends and family. Or most people we interact with. And I am disgusted and scared.
Of course, I think my daughter is a beauty. But what I realized yesterday is that her look is not traditional little girl “sugar and spice.” She has cheekbones, large oval eyes, long hazel locks. She’s a tomboy, won’t wear dresses or skirts. I’m not going as far as to say her looks are more mature or womanly than her age but I also think they will inevitably – yet obliviously to her – draw attention. And not always the right kind of attention.
How do I prepare her for this? I’m not a helicopter parent and she is an independent creature. Yes she’s a purple belt in karate but there’s no link in her mind behind the kicks and punches she learns at the dojo and their potential to get her out of a threatening situation.
Self-defensive skills aside, how do you teach a kid to have that sixth sense that can tune into malicious intent before it’s too late. Whether it’s a bully at the playground, an older kid with an unrequited crush or a predator?
I’m not sure I have any answers. Do you?