The pedophiles, they’re everywhere. They’re your neighbors. They’re your teachers. They’re the man behind the register at the convenience store. They’re brothers, and uncles, and friends. Watch out for water parks, and amusement parks, and parks in general. Stay out of pet stores. And big box stores. And schools, especially schools. Even female teachers cannot be trusted.
This is how they’ll joke, poke fun at the fear fest, try their best to make you see how silly all that sounds. Scary schools, ha! Like, what are you going to do? Home school on a compound in the middle of Texas forever.
Supposedly, there are fewer monsters hiding under beds and in closets than ever before. People are better. And nicer. The world really isn’t a gruesome parade of baby killers and child rapists. Good things happen. Good people reign. Just read all the blogs. Visit the Pinterest boards. There are plenty of fields of daisies to skip through, and you can even hold hands while doing so, if you want. You can dance beneath strings of inspirational quotes and mingle under the warm light of paper lanterns, and then you can pin it. Listen to Judd Apatow, he knows. He will tell you what’s what on the side of Chipotle’s latest paper bag, your lime salted chips spotting the outsides with grease dapples. He will tell you not to worry so much. According to Judd, violent crime has been on the decline, shooting out of our solar system like a meteor, since the dark ages. So just feel good, okay? Just feel safe. Because you are. Of course you are. And your babies and puppies are too.
Well, I don’t buy it. And maybe that’s because of my past. Maybe that’s because someone I was supposed to trust more than anyone in the world hurt me three decades ago, and I will never ever forget. Healing? What’s that? When half of who you are is a scar, is it really even possible for the pain to fade away? My anger glows as bright and as constant as the sun. The clouds cover it at times, but it is always there.
Or maybe there really are more monsters than we’d like to believe. Lurking in the dark corners of every day.
What happened at Los Angeles International Airport a week ago today has certainly made me wonder. A strange thing, it has been bothering me since then, nagging at my conscious like a stress headache. I’ve been mulling it over, considering it, replaying it, trying to determine if maybe I was wrong to react the way I did.
“May I take the child’s picture?” the man asked, stepping entirely too close to me and my offspring.
I was holding baby girl, her wearing only a long sleeved onesie because of a post flight poosplosion, and my failure to include an extra outfit in her diaper bag. I was gently rocking in a circle around our mountain of luggage, my 9-month old daughter tucked in one arm. We lingered near the cab line, as hubby disappeared inside LAX’s baggage claim to see what in God’s name had happened to our stroller. That entirely-too-large-to-be-traveled with jogging stroller had gotten caught in the conveyer belt and we were waiting for it to be freed, a whale tangled up in a greedy fisherman’s net. I could almost hear it calling to us, moaning to be saved from death by black roller bags.
This man had an accent. He was tall and dark, a tourist with a Canon around his neck, a visitor from a far off land. He was traveling with another man. And I instantly judged him, them. I pictured third world countries and horrible things. I pictured encrypted websites. And soulless morning-after breakfasts aside polluted beaches in Thailand.
“No, you may not,” I barked, pulling my girl closer and thrusting my back toward him, them, the down coat that was too hot for LA, but perfect for Minnesota from whence we came, still on my back like a soft shell I could hide in. Judd Apatow’s words didn’t make me feel safer in that moment, but my puffy jacket sure did.
The man slinked a few feet away. And it was awkward for several minutes. He and his traveling companion took entirely too long to load their bags into a Prius. And I couldn’t go anywhere because leaving baggage unattended at any airport is frowned upon. I kept my back to them and my baby nestled close, while I seethed, rapidly inhaling and exhaling the exhaust from a thousand passing cars.
The cab dispatcher asked me what was wrong. I told him.
“Fucking totally weird,” he said, we were out of earshot of the traveling man. “Like what was he planning to do with the picture, show it to all his weird friends back home?”
The cab dispatcher was a young Hispanic guy, short and handsome, the perfect amount of scruff shading his olive skinned chin. I was touched by how protective he seemed.
By that time, hubby had re-joined us, and asked the dispatcher, “What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen here at LAX?”
He didn’t skip a beat, “Probably that, oh and the time a woman peed herself in line.”
So maybe I wasn’t wrong to react like I did, but at first hubby wasn’t so sure. We talked about culture. We talked about how maybe Mr. Tall and Dark’s people back home might delight in seeing a baby so different from their own, mine blond and pink like a baby rabbit, theirs brown and dark eyed, cute little teacups of chocolate milk. We talked about this testament to our child’s beauty. How some might be flattered, not freaked out. We talked about National Geographic magazines, their breath taking spreads of mothers and naked babies.
But this wasn’t a photo mission to Africa. This was Los Angeles.
When we finally made it home over an hour later, I retrieved our mail from our over filled mail box, the contents oozing from it like frosting from an overstuffed cannoli. Amongst the Bed Bath And Beyond coupons, and magazines I’ll never have a chance to read, was something I’ve been waiting for for 6-weeks.
My baby girl’s entertainment work permit. So that strangers can do that very thing that frightens me, take her picture.
Now clearly the context of future photo shoots will be far different than impromptu snap shots outside of airport baggage claims by “weirdos.” But I can’t help but reconsider my decision to put her out there like that. I can’t help but think about limiting the photos I share on social media as well. And on the site I created for her. Or password protecting it at the very least.
By sharing our photos online are we endangering our children? Are they more likely to be exploited on the web than they are in person, without us even realizing it?
For someone who loves social media, the sharing of glimpses into the life I’ve created for myself, spilling with true love and happiness, I don’t like the idea of self censoring. As a writer, that’s what I do, I share. I share pictures, words, and moments with gusto. I’m proud of how far I’ve come, despite, and because of, those rotten spots in my childhood. I won’t let them ruin the whole apple, and my smiley, happy, pictures are here to prove it. But I’m reconsidering just how much I reveal. I don’t want to live my life in fear, but I also don’t want to be reckless with what I put out there.
What are your thoughts on sharing photos of your children? Is it unreasonable for me to think that predators are combing my posts for pictures? Or is that really the world we live in. Judd Apatow might not think so, but I’m not so sure.