Max wondered why I was in a van. Charlie the toddler toddled. And as the only one of us who could read the alarming pamphlet, I got serious.
I was vigilant before. It was Los Angeles, after all. But I stepped up my game and became crazy vigilant. If I even suspected that someone wasn’t one of the world’s best guys, I was out of there. I’d scoop up my children and evacuate. Abandoned snacks, empty swings, confused play dates left in my wake. I judged. I profiled. I never parked near a white van. Ever. I didn’t care. I was my children’s guardian and guard I did.
A year later we moved to New Zealand, and I lost my pamphlet. I got over it. I had other things to think about. How to drive a car and not kill people was at the top of my list. Because, as you might suspect, driving on the wrong side of the road is hard. And wrong. And nothing is where it’s supposed to be. Do you know how many times I meant to indicate my right turn and instead just wiped my windows? Every. Time. I had very clean windows in NZ.
In Australia, it is a different story. Every time I turn? Blink-er. I could give lessons I am so good. But it is not without a cost. The amount of times I have brought up stranger or danger to my children? Zero. Something’s gotta give. Apparently my hired woman white van memory was replaced by foreign car blinker knowledge. Which makes sense because everyone is really nice over here, and how else was I going to turn into the mall that day?
It was time to buy a television. We didn’t have one because we went from furnished to unfurnished and, therefore, had to furnish e-very-thing. Helloooo, Ikea Tempe (Ikea Burbank sister store). We held out on the TV because we thought that could wait. After two months without -- with kids, during school hollerdays, in the rain -- I realized we couldn't. So there we were. In the television department of Myer (fancy Macy’s). Sixty sets of varying sizes and price points flickered before us, each trying to win us over with the same exact image, only sharper or bigger or more dimensional. But since none of the images were Pixar produced, my children were instantly bored. They got in position to wrestle -- a fun activity they can do anywhere! – when all of sudden they saw them. Out of the corner of their headlock. In the next department.
See where this is going? We didn't.
As my husband and I tried to figure out the difference between LCD and LED, a saleswoman approached our boys and started talking to them. I know this not because I never took my eyes off of them but because when I looked over to check out a plasma in their direction, I saw her. Talking to Max and not stopping. Oh, crap, what’d they do? I hurried over, thinking my speed would somehow lower the price of the broken iPad I was about to buy, and threw out an apologetic ‘hi.’ She asked if I was their mum. Depends is what I thought. ‘Yes’ is what slipped out. This is when I noticed that this clerk was missing a name tag. What she wasn’t missing: fleece.
The anonymous fleeced woman then asked if she could talk to me. Alone. No. ‘Okay.’ Once out of small ear and iPad range, she proceeded to tell me that she was with Child Protective Services. Three words I was not expecting to hear that day or ever. She had noticed my two sons, alone, playing with the iPads, and struck up a conversation with them. Max, a kid who feels no information is too private, including my age, which he enjoys sharing with everyone who doesn’t ask, was all too happy to participate. In thirty seconds or less, Max had apparently told her the following: his name, first and last, where he went to school, what grade he was in, his brother’s name, how old they are, probably how old I am, and where we live. Cross streets were mentioned. The cozy government employee then asked my son if he was supposed to talk to strangers. Max's scared straight response: ‘uh-oh.’
That day we got a free lesson in stranger danger abroad. It was unsolicited, decked out in imitation North Face, and necessary. There are bad people out there, even over here. They may or may not be in a park or own a white van or work for Child Protective Services (never really saw a badge), but they are here and they are definitely by the iPads.
|Dick Smith (a low rent Best Buy) entertains my children.|
|The portable headlock.|