By JL Rehman
Distance is your friend…
Being in and around law enforcement and security for most of my adult life, I tend to exercise situational awareness when out in public as a matter of daily routine. We had plans in place when our kids were small, especially due to the very public spotlight on Doug’s career in online child exploitation investigations and the arrest and convictions of those people. For us, it was just a way of life. Most people don’t or have not had to live that life, but the lessons learned can apply to anyone.
Now with grandchildren, that situational awareness is even higher. Now it’s not just about the kids, but about our kids and their kids. Watching how strangers react to our grandchildren and how our kids in turn react to the stranger.
I’m a big proponent of distancing. Keeping enough space between me and a stranger to allow myself reactive time if the stranger, for whatever reason, decides to become a threat. When someone gets too close, my internal brain alarm goes off. I’m not a fan of crowds either.
The same went for our kids in public. Pulling them back whenever they were practically nestled up on the hip of someone waiting in line, or too close when suddenly engaged by attention and conversation by a stranger, or just zoned out and not paying attention from a long day. Distance.
For the first time an issue arose that, looking back, could have been handled differently. I was out with my daughter and grandchildren, we stopped to eat and took a table. They were seated with their back against the wall with me on the outside. There were tables lined down the wall, most filled. A guy came over, a bit disheveled, and began talking to us as if he had known us for years. I get that some people are like that and perfectly harmless. He could have been too.
He sat at the table next to us so he was closest to the kids and immediately started interacting with them. Not us, them. He clearly had experience with kids in how to engage them for conversation and the ability to get them comfortable enough to answer questions. He got down to their level. Even so much as encouraging the youngest to howl like a wolf. This may all sound harmless and cute, but on the other hand, it felt like “grooming”.
We ate quickly and left, but it compelled me to re-evaluate the way I handle those situations now. Next time, the kids will be buffered from the stranger. One of us (adult) will be in-between. Distance.
There is a fine line between being socially kind and polite, and taking action on a possible threat. It’s hard. It means constant evaluation. It means reading body language. It means listening to what the stranger is saying. And not saying. It means allowing your natural instincts the ability to do its job (that gut feeling) and doing what it tells you.