It’s happened. Grown men have started noticing my 10-year-old daughter. And that horrifies me.
My daughter, who I’ll call Ten, is as beautiful and sweet and as innocent as a character in a Disney cartoon (and not just any character, but the really good ones, like Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, made when Walt himself was still alive). She is athletic, creative, kind, and a fantastic big sis to her two siblings. She also is oblivious to the creeps who are increasingly drawn to her—and I don’t know what to do.
I don’t want this to be the part in the Disney movie where her little world is shattered by learning there are monsters out there who possibly mean her harm. But I also don’t want her to be taken by surprise (or taken away in a van) by any of them.
On a visit to the Art Institute recently, Ten had her sketchbook and colored pencils out and was working on her interpretation of one of the Gauguin Tahiti paintings in the Impressionist wing. She happily studied the colors, brushstrokes, and distinctive shapes that make a Gauguin a Gauguin (and not a Monet or a Manet or a Seurat). I was horrified to notice that while she was studying the art, a creep in his 50s was studying her.
He didn’t see me at first, but I saw him staring at her. At first I hoped he was looking at something in front of her or behind her, or the Rodin bronze over to her left. But, no, he was definitely staring at Ten, watching her draw, ogling her.
At moments like this, I wish I had the ability to shoot laser beams out of my eyes and zap creeps like him into the Phantom Zone or teleport them onto the surface of the sun. I think the creep sensed I was onto him, because his eyes shifted to meet mine and he turned beet red, became flummoxed, and then scooted out of the room before breaking into sort of a jog out of the Impressionist galleries. It took every ounce of self-control I had not to chase after him and turn his face into a Jackson Pollock.
I kept my cool because the danger had passed and there was no sense in alarming Ten, who was having a wonderful day celebrating and studying world famous art on a lovely field trip downtown that didn’t need to be ruined by a creep she hadn’t even noticed. For the time being, it’s rare for Ten to ever be out of my sight, because as a homeschooler, she’s with me for most of the day and when she’s off at jiu jitsu or social activities with friends, there are always other moms around (or scary guys with black belts that no one in their right mind would challenge).
But now that I see so clearly how the creeps have her on their radar, even at a place like the Art Institute that has armed guards patrolling every room of the building, I’m tortured by the internal debate about when it will be time to open her eyes to more of the dangers that clearly exist in her little world.
I wish I could say that creep in the Art Institute was just a street vagrant or a drunk or someone who clearly telegraphed by his appearance that he was a danger. Ten knows well enough to stay away from those types. But this creep looked like someone’s kindly grandfather or favorite professor or local accountant or insurance salesman. There was nothing about his appearance that immediately registered CREEP, aside from the fact that he was standing there in the middle of the room transfixed and openly staring at a ten-year-old girl.
How can I teach her to spot the monsters out there who might not even realize they are monsters themselves? These are the things that keep me from giving her the freedom she deserves—to ride her bike to the library or to the 7-Eleven for a candy run—and it makes me angry that our children have to be shuttered inside or watched over obsessively because of people who would harm them. Every time I start to feel comfortable giving her a little more freedom, some creep ruins it.
Will I ever feel safe letting her out of my sight? How do you deal with the fear? And how do you educate your children about dangers to them? Leave a comment and let me know.