Enjoy my latest Urban Erma blog post or listen to the blogcast: http://ow.ly/6HdAd
This morning, I saw a Little Girl sitting in the park by herself. She was quiet and content but that was hardly the point. She looked to be about four-years-old, entirely too young to be by herself without a conspicuous, supervising guardian near by. There was no one.
I was supposed to go running but I couldn’t, in all good conscience, walk away not knowing for sure whether or not this child was under someone’s protection. Maybe I watch too much TV but the faces of missing kids on milk cartons are real enough.
I was in a quandary. I didn’t want to approach the child and frighten her. I was, after all, a stranger and if her momma raised her right, she shouldn’t be talking to me no matter how well intentioned and friendly I looked.
I chose instead to abandon my running plans and sit nearby on the bleachers. Since I had just arrived at the park, it was possible that the child’s mom or dad had simply dashed back to the car for a forgotten item, or maybe had gotten caught up in a conversation.
So I waited.
No one came.
The Little Girl began to fidget on the bench. Her body language looked as if someone had told her to sit right there and not move. And at that age you do what mommy tells you. But for little ones, sitting all by yourself even for just a few minutes can seem like a long time. I know it did for me. All I could think was: who would leave a kid all alone for so long? The Little Girl began edging reluctantly off the bench, as if torn between doing what she was told and being scared of not seeing the person who told her to do it.
As my own worry escalated and I considered calling the police, two elderly women walked by and I heard them make comments about The Little Girl. I said, “Excuse me Ladies? Do you know her?”
“No,” they said and looked at The Little Girl with a combination of naked grand-maternal worry and anger at a mother who would be far enough away from her child to peak the curiosity of strangers. Grandma Number One asked me how long I’d seen the child sitting there. I said about five minutes, which was four minutes and 59 seconds too long for The Grandmas. With none of my dithering over social correctness, Grandma Number One said to The Little Girl, “Baby, where is your mommy?”
And that’s when the fear and uncertainty sprang across The Girl’s tiny face. She had no idea where her mother was. And as if Grandma Number One’s question freed her from the bench, she popped up, ran to the edge of the track and began searching the crowd. “Mommy?” She yelled. No one answered. We all scanned the crowd with her, not knowing who we were looking for, but hoping we saw a worried woman wondering what three strangers were doing in such close proximity to her child. We did not.
Grandma Number One asked the child if she knew what her mommy was wearing. Geez, I thought, was the Little Girl even old enough to know her colors? “White shirt and black pants,” she said. I quickly surveyed the park and the running track. No one fit that description. I began to fear the worst. Did someone really abandon this child?
And then suddenly the Little Girl began running toward a young woman in a white shirt and grey pants. “Mommy!” she squealed. The mother, who had been taking a slow walk around the track with her boyfriend, seemed less than excited to see her daughter. The edge of the track, a quarter mile around, was 60 feet away from the bench where The Little Girl had been sitting. A walk around the track without her in tow should have been out of the question.
The Mother looked familiar. Had I seen her on an episode of “16 & Pregnant?” I don’t mean to imply that all young mothers are clueless and incompetent, but she certainly wasn’t doing anything for their image.
As she sauntered by, I wanted to say something, but the Grandmas beat me to it and I’m glad, because in that moment I very possibly could have gone to jail. Conversations that start with “Bitch, have you lost your damn mind?” generally don’t end anywhere but jail.
There was a moment there, before the “mother” materialized, when I considered picking up The Little Girl and taking her to the police station myself. But technically, that would have made me a kidnapper and given me a second bite at the jail apple.
On a side note, I suddenly understood how men must feel. Several had walked by and no doubt saw what was going on. But sadly, in today’s society, how does a male stranger show concern for a child that is not his own without looking like a pedophile? In the name of safety, we’ve demonized men to the point that even fathers walking with their own children are sometimes looked at askance.
And to be honest, as I sat there with the dark side of my imagination running away from me, it was the image of The Strange Man I pictured swooping down and running off with The Little Girl. But with the element of surprise, and a head start anyone — man or woman — could have done the child harm. And who would've stop them? The Grandmas were pretty bad ass, but they were both on canes.
I’d like to think that — in a weird way — this would have given the good men in the park who were aware of the situation permission to give chase, rescue the girl, and detain the SOB for the authorities. And by detain I mean hold them down while we good citizens of Gotham pummel him — or her — into the ground. And yeah, I’d catch a case for that.
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