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22 May 2007

"Hi!" [More:] said the small voice, as I was getting out of my car, late this evening, in the Winn Dixie parking lot. I looked around, didn't see anyone, but being it was a very small sounding voice, I decided to answer.

"Hi!" I said, trying to make my baritone sound cheery.

"Hi!" said the small voice, again, cheerily itself, off to my left, around the front of the van I'd parked beside. I walked to the front of the van, and there, sitting in a shopping cart, was a small girl.

"Oh." she said, as I came into her view, around the corner of the van. She was probably expecting somebody she knew, not this big, old man in a blue t-shirt.

I never talk to kids to whom I'm not related, try never to look at them, and generally ignore them entirely, unless they are screaming in a restaurant, or kicking the back of my seat on an airplane. It's really the only acceptable attitude for adult men in public, in 21st century America, where children are involved. I've gotten good enough ignoring children that I suppose it would only be a 50/50 chance I'd notice a toddler running out in front of a bus, but that's the breaks.

So, this little confrontation was as unexpected and generally uncomfortable for me as it looked like it was quickly becoming for the little girl. I looked around, and it was only the van in front of her, or the empty parking spots she was sitting in, and the ones next to it, to which she could possibly have belonged.

"Where's your Mommy?" I asked. No answer. Just big eyes.

"Where's your Daddy?" I followed up. No answer.

"What's your name?" I tried, hoping for some useful response. Nada.

When in doubt, try what's worked, I thought. Prime the pump.

"Hi!" I said.

"Hi!" she said.

"Hi!" I responded.

"Hi!" she grinned back. For a 30 second, 4 syllable conversation, this was going swimmingly, I thought.

About that time, a tire squealing extended cab pickup came screeching up, and a heavy set young blonde woman jumped out of the passenger side, yelling "Baaaaaby!" She shot me a dirty look, as soon as she saw me, and ran to grab the child out of the grocery cart, first pulling the cart towards herself, away from me (although I'd never gotten closer than about 4 feet to the cart), before yanking the kid out of the cart seat, under her arms.

"You her mama?" I asked the young woman's retreating back. No response, as she swiveled and jumped into the truck with the kid in her arms. As soon as the truck door slammed, the cigarette smoking male driver squealed rubber, making their getaway, leaving the mingled scents of motor oil and tobacco smoke hanging in the still Florida night air.

And then, it was just me and the empty cart, and some parked vehicles in the Winn Dixie parking lot.
It's such a sad reflection of society that a man talking to a child is automatically perceived as wrong. The mother's reaction is understandable in today's society.

A friend of mine found a lost boy wandering round a shopping mall, nobody seemed to notice him except my friend. He didn't know what to do but wanted to help the child. In the end he found a security guard but by the time they went back the boy had gone. Thankfully there were no reports of an abducted child so presumably his mother found him again.

I said to my friend that the best way to keep yourself safe in such circumstances if you want to help is to make sure you draw attention to yourself - that sounds weird but I mean something like, for example, going to the nearest open store and pointing out to a saleslady that there appears to be a lost child outside and making sure that other people get drawn into helping the child so it's not a one-on-one thing. Or if there's nobody else about, just wait, a distance away. I found a kid once on a busy street, and I helped him up onto a raised flower bed so he could see over people's heads and so his dad could spot him in the crowd.

Never, ever take the child by the hand and walk away with him/her, even if all you are doing is going to the information desk.

posted by essexjan 22 May | 01:05
Yeah, that could be a scary situation, especially if you are a middle-aged or older male. If you leave the kid alone, they could be at risk from some scumbag, but helping out could land you in hot water.

Glad it worked out OK.
posted by dg 22 May | 02:28
Ugh. And it goes from bad to worse, fueled by Madeleine frenzy. One could watch from a safe distance, to make sure that the child doesn't come to harm in the interim, and use a cell phone (if you have one) to call the store and ask for security to come out, all the while trying to wave down other shoppers who might come into view to provide the safety in numbers thing.

Sorry you had to go through that.
posted by taz 22 May | 03:34
This might sound real sick, but whenever my wife and I are out and about and we see a young kid that isn't supervised, we always say "yoink!" to each other.
posted by fallenposters 22 May | 07:47
Geez. It is beyond me how anyone could forget their own kid. Nice writing, too, paulsc.
posted by chewatadistance 22 May | 08:12
I was the youngest of five; I'm not at all surprised to hear a distracted parent could accidentally leave a kid behind.

The notion that men are to be feared, always to be feared, is a poison. I hadn't really considered how much of that particular poison we spoon into children's mouths.
posted by Elsa 22 May | 09:08
The notion that men are to be feared, always to be feared, is a poison. I hadn't really considered how much of that particular poison we spoon into children's mouths.

posted by Miko 22 May | 09:23
I hadn't really considered how much of that particular poison we spoon into children's mouths.

Absolutely. Years ago (probably late '80s), my dad sadly related the story of being out one afternoon, walking our dogs. A couple of girls, he thought probably around age 10 or so, were playing in the park where he was walking. They saw the dogs -- who, being a Scottie and a Westie, were pretty much the cutest pair of pooches on the planet -- and instinctively ran over to pet them.

But then they looked up, realized that the dogs were being walked by a middle-aged man, and they simply ran away.
posted by scody 22 May | 13:46
I haven't taught my kids any of the "stranger danger" stuff. Maybe I should, but it doesn't feel right. I don't wish my kids to be afraid of people.
posted by LoriFLA 22 May | 17:27
Being the father of two adorable girls, I really have a soft spot for other adorable girls. But, I always check my behavior when I am out by myself. Even more so when I had longer hair...I saw a mother get pretty worried looking on a few occasions. It felt weird to have to qualify my smile, saying, "I have two of my own", or some such thing, so now, I try to not smile, etc. It's too bad, but being the softie that I am, I don't want to make anyone feel uncomfortable.

That being said, I am sure that I have shared a few smiles with happy kids without their parents even noticing. There's that sorry trend too...the parents who wouldn't even notice if some nice older fella in a parking lot grabbed up their little one from the cart.

I really enjoyed you conversation Paul...30 seconds a four syllables. Well described!
posted by richat 22 May | 19:06
Happy Birthday to my Gemini sisters....essexjan and JanetLand! || Free album!