“Is this a daycare?”
There’s a woman I don’t know, wearing a huge, grubby T-shirt, leaning on my fence, looking over my yard.
“Oh, no – haha. I’m sure it looks like one, but no. I live here.”
“It looks like a daycare. I thought it was a daycare.”
She makes a squinty, slack-mouthed face at me and then looks down at her phone. She’s still leaning on my fence.
“Yeah, well, it’s just my house.”
I feel awkward so I turn away to yell a futile and unnecessary “Be careful!” at one of my kids. My friend who is visiting with her two kids gives me a quizzical look. She’s wearing big sunglasses, but I can still tell she’s giving me a look. I’d be giving her the same one.
The woman is still just there, at my fence, doing something with her phone. She doesn’t seem altogether, um, well. I mean, is she looking for a daycare for her child? Does she have a degree in Early Childhood Education and just happened to wander by while scouting for a new job? Is curiosity about our heaps of bikes and slides and kid-sized lawn furniture really all that’s brought her here? I decide that I don’t need to engage her any further so I mumble something about getting back to the kids and hope she just leaves. She does.
My encounter with this woman was puzzling and awkward, but she wasn’t threatening, exactly. She mostly just seemed a bit dim. I felt kind of uncomfortable though, talking with a stranger who approached my fence (and walked all the way up my driveway to do so) as my kids ran and played. It felt invasive.
Just two days later, a police officer appears in my driveway to drop off a sheet of paper with a photo of a shifty-looking middle-aged man on it. It’s a mug shot. He’s a registered sex offender, and he has apparently just moved in down the street. Great. The kind of neighbor that absolutely no mom wants to have. But what can you do?
I’m pushing my kids on the swings one morning when I see him, the sex offender, walking along on the sidewalk. I busy myself chatting up the girls and try not to think about it. I don’t know any details about his criminal history. I don’t want to. I am aware that just because I know about his presence, just because he’s registered, doesn’t mean that he’s any more dangerous than some other random person who could walk by my house anytime. Still though, I wish he would move away from here so I don’t have to feel an ugly knot of fear in my stomach while I’m talking about beautiful leaves on a beautiful day with my beautiful girls.
I hate these reminders of my vulnerability as a parent. I work so hard to keep my children safe and happy; it’s unsettling when these kinds of shadows creep in around the edges of our sunny days.
As much as I hate it though, I know that it’s also good to be reminded of this vulnerability. I need to remember to be vigilant, to use caution and good judgment, even as I try to trust and connect with my fellow humans. When it comes to my neighbors, I’ve always felt lucky to have such great ones. Next door is a woman who knew and loved my grandparents and who, for some reason, finds my dogs charming. Across the street is one of my very best friends. We share laughs, wine, coffee, and tears, and we help each other with kids and laundry and life. And there are at least five other houses right here on my street full of kind, helpful people. But now there’s one that’s different from all the rest. One that used to be home to a young family, and now just looks dark, even on the brightest of days.
It’s really hard to protect our children, without being over-protective. To teach them to say hello and be polite to people, but not to trust just anyone. To teach them to have a healthy fear of strangers, but not one that’s anxiety-inducing. To show them that the world is full of wonder, beauty, and love, but make sure they know that it can also be dangerous, ugly, and mean.
That responsibility is enormous. I’m never sure if I’m doing this right or not.
I just love my little hooligans so damn much.
So stay away from my fence, weirdo strangers. This is not a daycare. It’s my life, my heart – climbing, running, and swinging all over this yard.