Every week, my daughter and I walk my sons down to Scouts. They’re big boys and they’d rather we didn’t go with them – it’s not cool to turn up with your mum and sister. But we like the little walk and they know the deal – if they don’t let us walk down with them, they don’t get a treat from the fundraising tuck shop.
Often, my eldest tries to give us the slip and runs off early. He’s halfway down the road before we’ve even shut the front door. Last week, my daughter decided to beat him at his own game. I crossed her over the road and she sprinted off as fast as her little legs would carry her. Which is pretty fast.
Scouts day is also ballet day, so my daughter goes down to Scouts in a leotard every week, a quality which I find both endearing and hilarious. Endearing – because it shows she is still young and innocent enough not to realise that she is walking the streets in something which is pretty much indecent. My feeling has always been that, until she realises that (which will hopefully be before she hits puberty), that she can carry on wandering around in a leotard. Life is too short for worrying about what people think about your appearance and it certainly doesn’t need to start at 8. It’s hilarious, of course, because my boys ARE old enough to realise that their sister is walking around half-dressed and my eldest in particular is at an age where he gets easily embarrassed. And isn’t the role of parents and younger siblings of teenagers to embarrass them?
It was as we were walking back home that my daughter said to me: ‘When I was running, a man in a car looked at me. He was staring and he went like that.’
She showed me how the man had turned his head to keep watching her and how he had driven slowly past her.
I tried to stay calm, not to react and to find a rational explanation. But inside me, everything felt all wrong. Mixed up, frightened…
Maybe he’d been lost and looking for somewhere and not really looking at her? Maybe he’d been concerned for her safety and had been looking at her wondering why she was running on her own? (I know if I saw a child, particularly one younger than my daughter, that I might do this.)
But somehow these explanations didn’t cut it. He had obviously been looking at her in a way that made her feel uncomfortable.
I wondered how she knew about paedophiles at her age. But of course she doesn’t. When you’re in year 3, it’s called ‘stranger danger’. Kids know when something is wrong. They know they have to tell an adult.
She went inside and she told Daddy. I knew he wasn’t listening. She’s a chatterbox and sometimes Daddy zones out. When she was out of earshot, I asked him if he’d been listening to her and he said he hadn’t. I briefly explained what had happened and he went to talk to her. I was very impressed by the casual way he brought the subject up, and how he managed to get as much information as possible without making a big deal out of it or showing he was concerned. And then I couldn’t listen any more.
I had to walk away. I carried a pile of washing upstairs just so I could be on my own. I felt sick. Maybe it was something and nothing and maybe it wasn’t? I trusted her instincts. What if he’d tried to grab her – would the boys and I have got to her in time? What if it happens again to another child, but this time he doesn’t just look?
I wondered if I should report it to the police – as a ‘near miss’ type thing. Just in case. For next time.
But what evidence did I have – an 8 year old girl thought a man looked at her? Pretty flimsy stuff when you see it written down like that and maybe that’s what you’re thinking as you read this. Paranoid mother over-reacting.
The car was dark green. The man was Asian and ‘about 46’ (the very precise ‘about’ being based on the fact that he looked a bit older than me and Daddy). She didn’t recognise him. My kids don’t know about cars, other than the really distinctive ones like Beetles and Minis. She probably wouldn’t even know if it was a hatchback or an estate.
I hugged her a bit tighter that night. I could see she was still feeling strange, and so was I. I didn’t want to talk about it more than necessary and make a big deal out of it.
As she went to bed, she said: ‘I’m still worried about the man’.
‘Don’t worry about the man,’ I said, ‘You’re home and safe now.’
But I was worried about the man.
There will be no more running off on her own and no more leotards.