So, Meimei, what happened to you was completely unacceptable and I absolutely agree with you that oftentimes we are so worried about being polite and non-offensive to strangers, that we put ourselves at risk. This makes me think about how I really do need to teach both J and Little E how to behave if they are ever placed in a similar situation.
At the moment, J and Little E have very little opportunity to be left completely on their own in a public area as they are always in the company of a responsible adult. However, being in company of a grown-up doesn’t always mean that the kids are safe.
A few years ago, when J was around 2 years old (before Little E was born), I was in the local library queuing up at the information counter to speak to the librarian. I was carrying some books in my arms, so I let J toddle around my legs whilst we were waiting. A few minutes later, a young man joined the queue behind me and started talking to J. For some reason, I felt very uncomfortable with this man’s behaviour.
To be fair, strangers have come up to talk to me and attempt to elicit a smile from J, and I usually do not mind at all. However, unlike most other people who limit their interactions to waving at J and maybe having a little game of ‘peek a boo’, this man ignored me completely and kept trying to get J to shake his hand. Eventually, I just picked J up because it was clear that he was not going to let J alone.
He eventually did acknowledge me but when he talked, his eyes were only on J. I was relieved when it was my turn to speak to the librarian because it meant that I wouldn’t have to continue a conversation with this man, who seemed only interested in pressing me for personal information, even asking me where we lived (I answered this question by waving my hand vaguely around).
Alarm bells went off in my head when I left the library information counter. As I stepped away from the counter, anxious to get away, the man immediately left the queue (he had been queuing behind me for nearly twenty minutes) and tried to engage us in conversation again. Needless to say, I found this very suspicious so I made some feeble excuse about needing to visit the toilet and quickly bustled off with J in tow.
I hid with J in the ladies loo for as long as J would tolerate it, then I decided that it would be better if we just left the library altogether.
On the way out, I stopped to read the library noticeboard, as was my usual habit upon leaving the library.
To my surprise, there was a small folded note on the noticeboard, exactly at my eye level and it had my full name written on it.
I had a cold chill up my spine.
Hurriedly, I snatched the note off the board and opened it, to discover a drawing of a family tree (my name, my husband’s name and J’s name on it), with the words ‘Love’ and little hearts hand drawn all around the borders. J’s name in particular was circled several times in different coloured inks. If I didn’t know any better, I would have said that this was a love note written by a schoolgirl.
I had another cold chill up my spine.
I have no doubt that this was written by the very same man who had approached us earlier. He would have had the opportunity to listen in as I gave my full name to the librarian, and I had stupidly told him both my husband’s and J’s names.
However, the only way he would have known where to place the note so that I would definitely see it, would be if he had observed our behaviour in the library before. This was a library that we visited very often, usually at the same time each week.
I was so shocked that I just ripped up the note into little tiny pieces and immediately shoved it into the dustbin, then quickly exited the library, checking to make sure that we were not being followed or watched.
When I got home, I felt very conflicted because I was not yet sure if I was overreacting and being an overprotective or oversensitive parent. I mean, who knows what his intentions were?
After some thought, I decided that our best course of action would be to:
- Avoid the library for a few months and visit a different branch instead.
- Contact the library to let them know of this incident so that they could keep an eye out for this man or at least be more wary of people who happen to loiter around the children’s section for no particular reason.
The library was able to identify the man via cctv footage based on the information that I gave them (they had evidence that he spent some time writing something on a table near the library noticeboard before pinning it to the board). The library staff reassured me that they would ensure that he would not be allowed to enter the children’s lending section or approach any unattended children in the library.
I still do feel that I placed J at unnecessary risk by interacting with this guy. In retrospect, I think I should have listened to my instincts and just abruptly cut this man off instead of politely responding to his questions and allowing him to interact with J.
What would you have done?