So did you get that amber alert yesterday on your cell phone? It was a little freaky because I usually hardly ever am aware of that cell phone that lives in my front jeans pocket and yesterday about 4pm it started vibrating and ringing in this extra special and startling “Pay Attention To Me!” kind of way.
When I took the cell phone out of my pocket instead of ignoring it like I usually do, there on the screen was a yellow triangle and it said Amber Alert and then something about a 2002 Red Kia Sportage and it was eerie because that is my husband’s make and model, although I’m not sure what year his car is. (I do remember one of his co-workers saying, Hey, that teenage girl called and she wants her car back, which is extra funny because we did buy it from a teenage girl, but he used to have a Dodge Omni so it’s a step up anyway. I think.) So I had a weird feeling of ‘is this coming just to me for some special it’s-your-husband’s-car kind of reason or is everyone getting this alert?’ It said go read the news for details, or something, but I thought, I don’t have time to figure out how to do that on my phone right now, so I’ll just do my civic duty by looking out for a red Kia Sportage that may or may not be my husband’s.
I didn’t say much to the kids, except “Let me know if you see a car like Daddy’s out your window.” (We were driving to Walgreens to buy Funyons and Mike and Ike’s which will be tomorrow’s post.) Of course that results in “Why? Why do we have to look?” so I tried to say something vague about the police need our help looking for a missing car, because I didn’t want to blurt out “Crazy people sometimes steal children” without choosing my words a little carefully.
Luckily it all ended fast (I should say Thankfully, Praisefully, because it’s too big for just Luckily if someone is missing a child), and it sounds like it ended well at least my husband implied it did and I prefer not to know details about these things if they don’t interfere with doing my civic duty because they upset me too much. He started to say something while we were eating breakfast-for-dinner (because, Yay! it’s Waffle Wednesday!) about an 11-month-old and not a stranger, but I sort of shook my head no like ix-nay on the ory-stay because the kids were right there and I didn’t actually know what had happened at that point, and didn’t know it was already over and that everything came out okay. I intended to talk to the kids about it more thoroughly at some point last night, but along with so many important things like homework and cleaning out their thermoses for the next day, it didn’t happen and we instead watched I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched and then it was time for bed.
The universe has an uncanny ability to notice when I’m not paying attention to the important things, though, so apparently when it woke up this morning it said “When the heck is she ever going to learn her lesson and talk to her kids about safety?” and handed me this SO AWESOME teaching moment that went like this:
It was 8:50 a.m. and “we” were walking to school (which means I was walking, and they were riding merrily along like royalty in their blue plastic sled making plans to play “I Dream of BeJeannie” after school, while their Awesome Mom toiled and toiled, lugging the sled behind her). So we were walking/riding merrily down the middle of the alley when all of a sudden this guy appears out of nowhere at the end of the alley. He is holding his hands about a foot apart, standing there saying something loudly to me but I can’t hear him because the sled on the lumpy alley ice is making that gravelly I’m-riding-my-Big wheel-on-concrete sound that drowns out everything. But I suspect he is yelling at me to get out of the alley because it’s not safe to walk down the middle of the alley pulling your kids in a low low sled which I already know and totally deserve to hear so I’m fine with being yelled at on this particular morning.
But when I stop so I can hear what the guy is actually saying to me it’s this: “Have you seen a small black dog running around?” Which explains why he was holding his hands apart: to tell me its size. I yelled back, “No, sorry. We’ll keep an eye out, though.” So he said (and this is no lie, people, I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried) “It’s a SHIT-ZU Bijon mix.”
I can’t hear that word and think it’s real. Ever. But it is. That’s even how you spell it (or at least auto correct didn’t step in). [Update: my sources have informed me that the correct spelling is Shih Tzu. Sorry. But the pronunciation is pretty much like I wrote it. I think.] All I can think is, “Stewardess, do I need to store my SHITZU under the seat in front of me?” (Fact checkers, please correct, because I will never get this done if I keep going to Google fact-check everything, and I’m on deadline here because I’m the guest reader for the kindergarteners today.)
But then this man whom we have never seen before says, “She is this big,” and then he holds up his hands again, and just saying She instead of it makes me now see her as a real dog, not a cartoon dog or a cliché dog with an unfortunate breed name, or a movie star dog who might know Fred Willard, but HIS dog, so I yell back, “What’s her name?” and he says “Cocoa.” He looks worried so I say, “Okay we will keep looking.” Only then do I notice that his car is still running across the street and he jumps back in, and pulls away and then I get that creepy feeling of some random person just jumped out of his car to talk to us and jumped back in and the whole thing happened in like ten seconds and was he for real?
And the kindergartener is perhaps having a similar vague creepy feeling and says, “I thought maybe it was that guy that lost his car yesterday.” Because apparently that is what he took away from the amber alert: we need to help the police look for a missing car, and a hazy sense that bad things sometimes happen, but no real understanding of any of it.
So I knelt down to the kids, right there at the end of the alley and said, “You know what? A really great thing just happened. We got a chance to learn something just now. Do you know what that is?”
I suddenly became the calm kindergartener teacher who (along with the second grader’s teacher), is one the BEST slow-talking-never-lose-their-temper-so-kids-will-pay-attention people I have ever met.
I slowed down super-duper slow and said, “We met a man in our alley who needed help looking for a dog. And do you know what?”
It was working. They were totally listening like this was going to be the best dramatic story ever.
“I got to talk to him. And do you know why?”
“Because I’m a grown up.”
Pregnant pause while they hopefully took this in and weren’t just thinking that Shitzu sounds like a bad word.
I smiled, proud of my ability to hold their attention for more than three seconds. “If you guys would have been here by yourselves, what would you have done?”
“Get a grown-up,” said the 2nd grader.
“You are absolutely right,” I told her. “Good job.”
And she looked a little proud of herself too.
The kindergartener and 2nd grader are both completely riveted, and I’m amazed at how well this talking really slowly and calmly is working. “And if you felt like you wanted to say ‘I can’t talk to strangers,’ or something that’s okay but just go find a grown-up to help.”
We turned onto the sidewalk and I gave the kids a little bit more info about talking to strangers and safety as we continued up the hill. When we got to the top, (as if this life lesson moment couldn’t get any richer. Or maybe the universe was thinking I really needed remedial help) the man in the black car had already circled the block and pulled over right up close next to us and rolled down his window.
“Did you see her yet?”
I was frankly startled, even though we were still talking about the incident, because it had only been about 60 seconds since it had happened, but in all honesty I couldn’t have really described either this man or his black car so it was like he was a complete stranger, and startling all over again.
I said No, and he said Well, I live right here if you do and he pointed down the alley the opposite direction we just came from, and said his street address–a number that would indicate he lives less than a full block down from us.
And I said, “Thank you for asking for our help because it was a really good chance for me to talk to my kids about stranger safety. I was just telling them how if they were by themselves they would not be allowed to talk to you, and that it would be okay for them to run away.”
And he was probably thinking that’s great but stop talking now because I need to keep looking for my dog, not hear about your blahdee blahdee blahdee life lesson, but he said, “That’s right, kids, don’t talk to strangers.”
It wasn’t a perfect lesson or anything, because it was a little fuzzy with me talking to the stranger, and the stranger telling the kids not to talk to strangers, and kids are easily confused, so I went over it really explicitly. You would never ever ever go up to a car like that. You would run the other way, and if it really is someone who needs help he would not even be mad, like that guy, he seems like a nice guy, and he probably really is our neighbor BUT you should STILL run away from the car no MATTER WHAT if you don’t know that person. No one will be mad or anything, they will remember kids are not allowed to talk to strangers without their grownup right there, and the second grader and kindergartener chimed in with some really good comments so overall I think it went quite well.
I have this smart friend who actually practices with her 2nd grader, “pretend you are walking down the street and I run up and try to grab you” and he practices getting away, which is seriously brilliant. And she does not do it in this paranoid helicopter parent you are going to freak your kids out kind of way, but in a “this is a fun way to practice safety without making light of it,” way, and she has several times offered to do this with my kids and we just haven’t gotten around to it, but we will do it. Because it’s so important.
So here is my Public Service Announcement to myself: “Keep talking to your kids about stranger safety, what to do if a stranger asks them for help when no other grown-ups are around, like the man who was looking for his dog.”
Also, downplay “Shitzu” when they keep asking “What did he say? What kind of pet? A zhu zhu pet?” Yeah, I’m pretty sure he said that. Or else just small black dog. Even though you might want to say Shitzu out loud one more time because you can still hardly believe it’s a real word. But they repeat everything you say. So be careful.