The boy who cried wolf.

The world is not a scary place, but, sometimes scary events happen. The world is not filled with terrible people, but, sometimes terrible people do terrible things. The world is kind. People are good. Mostly.

It’s these small fractions of bad we worry about. Obsess over even as we try to give our children useable language and a toolbox in the event of the unthinkable. So, we arm them with lessons while remaining vague and hopeful enough to discourage a feeling of constant, impending doom or fear.

It’s during these conversations that I feel the most inept. How do you talk about strangers when the majority of people they will encounter in life are helpful and kind? How do you encourage trust with a healthy life preserving dose of mistrust? Enough to not take the candy from the stranger…unless it’s Halloween, of course.

In this world of no absolutes – where everything is nuanced and rules bend and shift to fill the shape of the situation, how do we balance living in beauty and taking time to smell the roses while remaining aware of who is behind you while you inhale?

And, how do we respond to the hard and fast rules when there really, truly are no hard and fast rules?

This weekend, we spent the afternoon and early evening at a local event. Families and children in a moderately controlled environment of chaos. When you are a child, there is never enough time when you’re having fun. Hours feel like minutes to the adults watching minutes as if they’re hours. There was a feeling of semi-freedom, the event was car free and partially bordered by uninviting hills. It was perfect – it felt open and yet, somehow, safely contained. The children felt this as well; the lack of fencing but firm boundaries. Lots of running and checking in with very little helicoptering necessary. A lovely balance making grown-ups more relaxed and children, high on freedom.

When it was time to leave, there were the inevitable melt downs. The tears, refusing to put arms in jackets, the wild flailing of legs. We are well versed in the stoic, “This is our reality…stare if you must. Judge lest you be judged.” look. We wear it on our faces with calm because this is life. Sometimes, scary. Mostly good.

Our son, who has entered an age of awareness of his size and destructive capabilities, has turned over a new leaf. There is no level of angry eyes, “listen to my words!” or solemn, clenched teeth that can initiate the desired response. Those days are over. We are in the deep end of something new.

Displeased that the party was over, and that my husband had to physically remove his straining, kicking body from the Scarecrow patch, he said, “HELP! You’re not my Daddy! He’s taking me!”

And our world temporarily stopped spinning. Oh my God. Did he just say that?

Admittedly, part of me was thrilled that the tender lessons we’ve taught sink in. The other part, horrified, as parents we barely know and do not know at all watched us walk this tightrope between complete calamity and focus. As we switched roles, I quickly handed my husband the baby and took hold of my son (paternity now in community question) by the hand. I figured, let’s at least make this LOOK better as women are less likely abductors. This did not stop him. “You’re not my mommy! You’re taking me!” and then he wrenched himself so violently out of my grasp that the seam on my coat, along my shoulder to my arm, ripped. At this point, our facade of normalcy crumbled.

How many times can your own child scream abduction before you break? For me, the answer is twice. I could feel my hands begin to shake with fear and a new level of embarrassment I have never felt started to creep past my toes, eventually making the hair on my arms stand on end. The faces of the crowd shifted as well – watching a family of six, separated by more than 100 feet, achingly try to make their way home with The Boy Who Cried Wolf in tow.

There is no great life lesson learned here except the lesson I tried to impart to my son as he half-listened while constructing his Transformer. The tools in your toolbox can be incredibly dangerous when used inappropriately. Using the wrong tool for the job can render it useless if ever the time comes that it must be used. For this mother, there is nothing more terrifying than that. Even though the world is kind and good. Mostly.


  1. Karin Ponce says:

    Everywhere always its a fine balance. You’ve got your finger on the pulse. I love your toolbox analogy. Have you been informed by the boy who cried wolf that you’ve lectured about it enough already? LOL Great piece of writing here- you made me feel like maybe my crazy life in my family of 5 is kinda normal after all.

  2. Oh, snap. That IS scary. And infuriating. Here’s hoping it’s a short-lived phase and you have enough wine to muddle through it. Hugs, Mama xo

  3. Gosh, wouldn’t it have been great if a stranger/event staffer had intervened and called him on it? Or made a gentle inquiry? He would be freaked out that his charade “worked” be in your arms in two shakes. This is a village moment, people! Step it up! We need a theatre workshop for villagers who can put on some serious extemporaneous parenting support, “Why hello Johnny. This isn’t your Papa? You come with me and I’m going to call the police on this man.” <>

    My kiddo is this age too, so I’m so curious to know how you deal with this—talking with him, punishment? I mean…what’s the natural consequence here? Next times his sibs get to go to the cool event and he must stay home? Probably wouldn’t phase him. He’d be happy to have the run of the house. Next time his sibs go to the event but he must sit in the car with Grandma? hmmm…closer….

  4. First of all, holy hell! Second, I’m sorry, you have a really smart kid and that means a lot of trouble for you. I haven’t experienced that particular episode of horrifying public humiliation coupled with righteous parental rage, but I have experienced so many others that I can feel your blood pressure from here. (Either these moments are shaving inches off our lives, or they’re really good cardio micro-bursts. Let’s check on this when we’re 90.)

    Did anyone intervene? I wonder what has to happen to move other adults from not wanting to interfere to taking action? I guess in a real situation a kid would shout more than just once per abductor?

    I’m a year ahead of you on the boy-child front and it seems to get easier in some ways and harder in others. Luke long ago stopped caring about clenched teeth and stink eyes. But now he’s also too big and strong for me to move against his will. Which leaves me with no tools in my toolbox. Luckily, he generally leaves places better than he used to. Also, and importantly, he doesn’t know that I’m no longer strong enough to relocate him or fast enough to catch him in a sprint. He must never know.

  5. People *are* nice – mostly – which is part of why they often don’t want to get involved when a kid’s yelling, assuming it’s part of a tantrum. That’s why it scares me, too. I don’t want my kids’ cries for help to become like the car alarm that everyone ignores because everything sets it off.

  6. Whoa- you handled that WAY better than I would have, B! My first thought would be an old fashioned ass whuppin’ and my second would be to put him on the ground and say, “Nope- he’s right ..not my child!” and walk away from him. You are a better woman than I.

  7. I think you say this so well- the right tools used in the wrong way can be just as dangerous. You seem to have handled that very well. My hat os off to you. Once, my son said he was going to call the Child Abuse Hotline. I told him he could right after I called the Home For Difficult Boys. Kids.

  8. Cassandra H says:

    I did this to my father at a grocery store when I was about eight. He let go of me and he left. Drove off. I had to walk about two miles home and I was scared to death of what would happen when I got home. I still remember that feeling. If my son had done this to me, I honestly would have walked away and said something that I would have regretted- secretly wishing I could drive away as my father did to me. But why would I want my son to experience such a dreadful feeling that will stay with him for the rest of his life as it has for me. I tell you all this because you handled it better than I would have and because I want you to know that other children have done this to their parents before thinking it will hurt but not knowing the tremendous force of their blow.

  9. OMG. You are a nice, nice mama! I think to distract everyone around, I would have yelled, “I have no idea who your Daddy is, but I sure as hell no you are mine!” That would have confused him and put the fear in those around you. Of course, I wouldn’t have thought of that until I was in the car leaving! 🙂

  10. I am so sorry you experienced this. What a nightmare. I am shaking just thinking about your sweet family in this public battle, and I give you serious props for not getting as hulk-like ragey as I would have.

  11. Oh my gosh my heart is pounding for you. I am so sorry you went through this. It is so hard to know when to arm them with information and how to reason with the unreasonable that is children.
    Ashlyn has never said I was taking her but she can get very combative and I have always worried that someone would think I was taking her. That fear that runs through your veins when you feel your own parenting being questions or worse is unbelievably awful. I hope your nerves have recovered a bit.

  12. Christy Cruz says:

    I have no words for you, only hugs! Lots and lots of hugs!

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