Friday, July 20, 2007

Overprotective or Just Protective?

There's a lot of talk these days about overprotective parents (Helicopter parents) robbing their children of opportunities to be children. While I grant that I'm more stringent in my childcare guidelines than my parents ("be home for dinner") rules rule, it is not without reason. In the last year:

  • Car-jacking attempt at church preschool with baby on board
  • Two discreet attempts by same man to pick up children playing in front yard
  • Weird guy watching children through school fence
  • Woman robbed at gun-point at my local grocer (very nice area)
  • Unsolved disappearance of ten year old girl
  • Weird guy prowling the local park
  • Flashers (two or three) every summer on the hiking paths (The Woodlands has over 100 miles of them)
  • Sting operation to pick up middle-aged men attempting trists with underage girls via internet chat rooms
There is always some email coming in about something. And I've had enough experience observing freaky guys at public pools to know that it's wise to use caution. And then there's the news that (surprise!) 85% of child porn readers molest children.

So I'm protective and so are other parents:
The first year I was certain I would lose her in the daily riot, but every parent feels the same way. You see the school as a giant whale’s mouth, the children as teeming plankton, and you wonder how you’ll find your own before Scary McRaincoat pops out of an empty room and takes them off to the Land Below the Stairs.

But this is nonsense, right? The fears of roaming predators are overstated. Not exactly. We’ve had two cases in towns of evil men trying to lure children into their cars, and I’m tempted to suggest that ought to draw mandatory life. Because they’ll do it again. And if they don’t do that they’ll do something similar. Not because they can’t help themselves, as Peter Lorre’s character blurted pathetically in “M,” but because they want to do it and they like to do it, and that’s all that matters. They know it’s against the law, which ought to tell them they’re wrong, and consequences will follow. But they try it anyway.

There was a creepy old man at the park the other day, my wife told me. Dressed in a ragged suit, carrying his possessions in a plastic shopping bag from a store that has no local outlets anywhere in the neighborhood. Disheveled. He wandered over to the swimming pool and watched the kids. Then he left and wandered away and came back and watched the kids some more. Then he went into the community center, where the kids play unattended sometimes; one of the neighborhood dads followed him, then followed him outside and took him aside for a chat. The fellow said he was homeless, heard about a new shelter in the area, and wanted to live in the neighborhood.

Now. You could say that there’s nothing wrong with a fifty-something guy with a grey beard and a raincoat and no fixed address wandering around a playground looking at the kids in their bathing suits, and that it’s unfair to deny a fellow the simple human pleasure of watching kids enjoy themselves just because he happens to be homeless.

I don’t care.

First of all, there aren’t any shelters in this area. Second, I don’t care. Third, it’s possible he’s homeless because he spent a lot of time in prison for kiddie-diddling. Fourth, you don’t get to look like the fellow who shows up to collect the Hellraiser cube and hang around the kiddie pool. Good bye.

There are those who dismiss the statistics as so much hand-wringing over the unlikely event that a kid will be snatched by a freak. I suspect they don't have children or chain them in the front yard just out of reach of the water bowl. When you see the freaks with your own eyes, it makes the theoretical rather real.

I'll stay protective thank you.

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