Mud Puddles

I skim the on-line version of the Daily Mail every day.  Serious news stories inter-laced with National Enquirer type pieces.  It’s much more lively than any American paper and they have a U.S. homepage.  But a great deal of the time the reader comments are the more thought provoking.

Today in response to a piece about the murder of a young mother by her husband Dave from New Hampshire commented:

“… I guess her daddy never told her to stay away from thugs — just as he never told her not to drink out of mud puddles. Some things are such obviously bad ideas that few parents would think to mention them.”

And it struck me that that bit of advice itself was obvious and usually ignored as well.

Children don’t understand a lot of  the “obvious” but since oftentimes they act so self-assured, competent and knowledgeable we assume they do.  But they can’t because they don’t have the life experience.

Recently a young (seventeen), extremely attractive girl I know walked into a bar in the middle of the day.  The bar offers very tasty sandwiches and salad entrees to go and taking a lunch break with friends from her summer job who decided on the Italian deli next door she walked into that bar alone for the first time. 

Where waiting to pay she was hit on by a man in his sixties.  He asked her name, where she worked and some other details about her.  Frightened and confused by the situation she made the mistake of answering his questions, then paid and fled.  Well guess what? – the man turned up at her job and when her boss had the old man leave, he telephoned and eventually showed up again whereupon the boss called the police.

There’s more to the story, because a man like this takes a lot to discourage but the point is that she never should have answered him except to say something like “I’m sorry but I don’t want to talk to you.” Or maybe she just should have turned her back.  I know this bar very well and that it’s full of construction workers (which this man wasn’t) on weekday lunch hours and so she also could have tapped any of them on the shoulder and asked “please can you help me?  This man won’t leave me alone.”

But she didn’t have the life experience to do any of those things instead being very polite because she was brought up by a loving family and reluctant to give offense she answered his questions and then ran away.  Which when you understand the mentality, was like throwing meat to a hyena.

The point being that children and many young adults don’t understand these mentality of people they’ll encounter with dismaying frequency, the predator, the huckster, the con artist, the sadist and let’s not forget the – career politician.

So good advice is to write down a list and like all good lists, take a long time to finish it, of all the “obvious” things he or she should know.  Like not getting into a car with someone you don’t know very well, never go with someone you don’t know very well, don’t be afraid to run or yell, don’t believe the story you hear about your best friend, always look for motive, always leave yourself an out and so on down the line, things you have learned about people. Then over the course of time bring up the little one sentence reference, even role play.

Then maybe you won’t find their face in a mud puddle.

And don’t discourage vigilance.

One blowy wet autumn afternoon I visited the school which three of my grandchildren attend.  Instead of going into the office I walked over to the open little meadow where it looked like the entire student body was playing and tried to pick out them out. 

A minute later I was still at it when an volunteer with a whistle around her neck on a chain walked over and confronted me.

“Can I help you?” she asked archly.

“No I’m just here trying to say hello to my grandchildren.”

“And their names are?” she demanded.

I drew a blank – a complete blank – couldn’t remember the names of my grandchildren – hadn’t a clue – instead just stood there, a grinning idiot with a red face.

But before she decided to blow her whistle and summon the posse one of my granddaughters spotted me, ran out of the mob, launched herself in the air, knocked me over with her exuberant hug and when my head hit the ground I got my memory back.

Later I brushed off the woman’s apology along with a lot of wet fall grass and fallen leaves.  “Please don’t apologize.  I’m very glad the school has such aggressive sentries posted.  Would that every school did.”