I never thought that this was possible but I'm grateful that what could have happened didn't actually happen.
We went to the bookstore to use my oldest daughter's gift certificate. I promised her for weeks that we would go and since school was done for me, naturally I had more time to fulfill all those promises I made over the 20 months of my grad program. We decided a cake pop from Starbucks was needed fuel for this expedition and stopped by the coffee shop before perusing the rest of the store... That's when I noticed him. Being one of a few black people in the store how could I not.
Something about him was a bit odd. He was an older ambiguous and greying black man. Not too dark, not too light...average height and very unassuming.
The girls and I head upstairs to the kids section. Fortunately the section is blocked off from the store. It's shielded as well, with high bookshelves to create a little cove or safe haven where parents are allowed to let their little ones explore. And I did so because I thought my girls were safe. They were only about 4-6 feet away at any moment. Sometimes I was talking to one about a book while the other two giggled in a corner. Or two would bring a book and a toy they found while the other read at my side. I spoke with the attendant in the children's section about books she recommended for early avid readers all the while keeping an eye on everyone as they discovered the joy of finding treasures to read. That's when he and I linked eyes again.
It didn't register that he was the same asshole from the Starbucks downstairs until I put it all together at the end. But I caught eyes with him as he peeked through the high bookshelves that concealed the children's section from the store. I thought "what a creep", gave him my angry black woman eye roll which quickly made him divert his eyes and walk away. But he came back two more times to watch.
I called out to the girls to wrap it up. I was facing my older two as they decided between two books. My youngest was playing with the toys behind me about 6 feet away. It seemed as though I was not paying attention but thanks to sports I have great peripheral vision. Something wasn't right over there and something made me turn around. Thank God. Because I caught this asshole reaching for my daughter. I gave him the craziest "what's up?!" Stance and I think I even said it. Like what's really up? He quickly walked out and down the escalator out the door.
It didn't really register until we got to the car. I put the key in the ignition and sat there. In a parallel universe this asshole stole my kid. In another scenario I mutilated him in the store and went to jail. In this universe nothing happened.
I yelled out to my kids as they sat with their books... "Someone tried to steal your sister today". Shocked they all said who and when? I said, "I worked too damn hard to have someone try to steal my stuff. I can't make another one of you guys. If someone takes you from me what do you do?" They began all together shouting out what they say and the action plan. "Look if we are in a store and someone takes your sister and two of you are left what do you do?" We began going through the scenario and what is possible and what isn't. We go through who can and cannot be trusted.
I sat there in the car with my key in the ignition and I thought... This asshole scoped us out from the moment we walked in and went to Starbucks. He followed us up the escalator into the children's section and watched us the whole time. This fucker waited until he thought he had a moment to act and then failed. What the hell is wrong with people? I say to myself... I'd never go to someone else's house and steal or destroy something that doesn't belong to me. At the root of it that is what he planned to do. Steal my shit and destroy it.
A primal desire to destroy him rushed over me. Why can't I be in the kids section, a place that the store has gone through lengths to create and shield from the rest of the store without some weirdo trying to defile that? Had the guy grabbed her, because we were the only two black groups of people in there, people would've thought they were together. I'm guessing he knew that.
I can go on and on about this. I just want to convey to all parents that it's not safe out here. Pedophiles are in all shades and economic backgrounds... Don't assume. Also be real with your kids. I'm extremely honest. I tell them that most scenarios where kids are taken result in the adult harming the child's private area and killing them. There's nothing to protect their innocence from in that regard. I want them to know so they can fight for their life if need be. I'm going to talk to the store about the scenario and see what their policies are. I'll describe the man but because he was so generic and blended in so well it's almost mute.
Child predators are getting bolder... Parents and communities need to become more vigilant. Trust your instincts. If you feel weird about something it's probably what you think it is.
I'm a former teacher and former college athlete, currently working in edtech. My mission is to get parents to partner with their child's teacher.