Something happened recently that has me freaked out a bit over what could have happened. I want to share it with you, not to be exploitative, but to bring awareness.
And because writing about things is how I “deal.”
Not that this is about me.
My 8-year-old son and I went to my favorite place in the whole wide world (Target, of course) to buy materials we needed for a school project. My child had to, of course, use the bathroom, because using bathrooms in every store we visit is his most passionate hobby, so I waited by the registers for him to come out.
He came out of the bathroom and told me that something weird had happened.
In a hurry (because I’m always in a hurry, primarily because of my terrible time management skills), I pressed him to quickly tell me what weird thing happened.
A few things you should know: first, - and because I watch Dateline – I have a fear of my kids using public bathrooms. But this was Target, and everyone knows nothing bad happens at Target.
Besides, I’m there every day, so I don’t consider their bathrooms to be “public.” They're more like a bank of stalls in my second home.
Secondly, my child – despite being raised by wolves (me and my husband) – has an extremely narrow view of what’s considered “acceptable behavior.” He has a problem with me wearing one of my favorite shirts, which happens to have that trendy “burn-out” look, meaning there are areas (my arms, for Pete’s sake) that you can see through the fabric.
He rubbed my arm a bit once when I wore that shirt, and said, “I like your shirt,” then patted it lightly and said disapprovingly, “but I can see your skin.”
If I say a curse word, he looks at me judgingly and says, “Um, you know I’m right here, right?”
So I didn’t expect this “weird” incident to have been much of anything.
But here’s what happened: a man in the bathroom had exposed himself to my boy.
I'll share more details later, when I'm able to. There's an investigation happening at the moment, and I can't risk hindering that in any way.
I’m so proud of my son for coming right out and telling me what happened. And I’m thankful the man did nothing more than show his junkity-junk, because it could have been so much worse. My child, rightfully so, thought it was weird, but it didn’t freak him out, thank goodness.
But I was a disaster.
After almost blowing him off, but thankfully my mommy intuition told me to ask more questions, I got all the details and then said out loud, “Oh hell no.” I grabbed the store manager, who then pulled over store security, who then called the police to come down and take a statement from me.
When the police arrived, they kept their car parked right in front of the store, with their lights going.
They came in and questioned me in the lobby for about an hour.
I always manage to make things about me, so as I told the officers everything my son had told me, I couldn’t help but keep looking around at the customers coming in and out of the store, making sure to smile at them as they looked over at us, so they’d know I wasn’t the one in trouble. I even shouted toward a few of them, “I’m not shoplifting!” and “This isn’t about me!”
The store manager came over to ask if we were alright, and if we needed anything. She could tell I was uncomfortable on display in the front of the store being questioned by the police. She asked if we would be more comfortable in the employee room, set right next to the store entrance. “Yes!” I said, relieved.
So we went in that little room, except she propped the door open, so now it appeared that I was being detained. If it didn't look like I’d been shoplifting before, it certainly did, now.
The officers handed me a few papers to fill out with my written statement of all the details my son had shared.
As I wrote, I noticed my hands.
Let me back up a bit. I’m a redhead. I have freckly, redheaded-person skin. It was cute in my 20’s. It’s awful in my 40’s. I visited the dermatologist last week and had a bunch of pre-cancerous areas frozen off. By a bunch, I mean three were taken off my face, and 14 others were taken off the tops of my hands.
My dermatologist said these will blister (they did) then the little sores left behind will heal and they’ll disappear completely. I don’t know how long this will take, but my hands are still covered in these little ant bite-sized marks.
I look like a meth-head (do meth-heads have sores on their hands? How about heroin addicts? I’m not sure if either demographic has this issue. I don’t know anything about this type of thing at all. Because I’m not a druggy.)
I noticed the police officer glance down at my hands as I filled out the papers, and then – because I was shaken up by the Target Restroom Flasher? Because I had too much caffeine and nothing for lunch? Because I was afraid the cop thought I was a user, and even though this whole situation had nothing whatsoever to do with me, I managed to make it all about me? I’m not sure why – I said (out loud – not just in my head):
“I’m not a junky. I went to the dermatologist last week. These aren’t track marks. They’re pre-cancers that I had removed. My older son told me I need to keep them covered up with Band-Aids – that they look really bad. But I wanted to let them breathe today, because I think they’ll go away faster if they breathe. And we were just popping into Target just for a second to buy stuff to make an Indian headdress because he” (pointing at my son) “has a presentation tomorrow night, and he’s going to be an Indian Chief. Then this happened, and now you’re here, and I just feel like you’re thinking I’m a junky. But I’m not.”
(Update: my son just told me that the policeman made a face, and silently mouthed, "Okaaaayyy," when I turned back to the paperwork. Sweet Jesus, why am I such a freak in stressful situations?)
Here’s the thing: I do not want to minimize what happened, because the guy who did this is a sexual predator, and my child was within the same four walls as him. The “what could have happened” makes me sick to my stomach, and kept me from sleeping well the night it happened.
Our plan going forward – and my suggestion for your little ones
If your littles refuse to let you go into the restroom with them, have them use the family restroom – the one where there’s just the one toilet, and they can go in alone, or with you, and lock the door.
I encourage you to report anything along these lines if it happens to your child. Push for action. Push for an investigation. Advocate for your child. Listen to them. Believe their words. Trust your intuition.
Also, talk to your kids and tell them what to do if a stranger approaches them. My thought is: no stranger needs to be talking to a young kid in the bathroom. I told my son that if a stranger ever tries talking to him in the future, and if it makes him uncomfortable, he should just ignore them.
He said he’d thought about that at the time, but he didn’t want to be rude. Oh, my sweet boy. This brings tears to my eyes, just thinking about my precious, innocent boy being put in this position.
This is important to tell your kids: if they’re uncomfortable, it’s ok to be rude.
One time, I was driving around my neighborhood to help a neighbor find their lost dog. I saw a kid - probably 11 or 12 years old, if I had to guess - walking on the sidewalk, so I pulled over and rolled down my window to ask if he'd seen this dog. The kid kept walking, acting like he didn't hear me, and didn't see me.
I totally get it, and commend that kid's parents.
I felt bad for putting that child in an uncomfortable situation, and only did so because I thought he was probably old enough that it wouldn't be weird. But it was uncomfortable for him, and I get it. If I were a perverted weirdo, that kid’s (lack of a) reaction would’ve been perfect.
And I want my son to be able to do that, too.
UPDATE: The investigation on this guy went on for nearly a full year, and the case went before a grand jury, who then decided to dismiss the charges instead of moving forward with a trial.
I’m glad about this, because my son would have had to testify and honestly, he didn’t really even realize what the guy did was wrong. He was embarrassed for him, thinking he’d accidentally let my son see his privates.
I didn’t want to take away that innocence.
But I was disappointed, too. Because this guy was getting away with what I believe were the first steps on a dark and perverted path that can harm a child’s precious mind forever.
Where I live - in Williamson County, Texas - our law enforcement is strict and just. The problem with this case was that there was no proof as to (1) what the perpetrator’s intentions were, and (2) if he was sexually gratified or in the process of gratifying himself.
Without the proof of either, the likelihood of him being found guilty was next to none, so the county opted not to pursue.
The good news is, that even though this man does not have a record, his information and the information on this complaint was filed into a national database so that if there is ever a complaint of this nature filed against him in the future - even in another state - it will show that there’s this other questionable incident.
With that, I felt satisfied, as far as my son’s case is concerned.
Here again are steps to keep your child safe in public bathrooms
• Have them use the family bathroom, where they can go in alone and lock the door behind them.
• Stand immediately outside the bathroom and don’t hesitate to yell inside to them something like, “You doing alright in there, bud?” To let anyone else inside know that you are right there and you are listening.
• Talk to your child about what to do or say if a stranger approaches them. Let them know that ignoring another person, and simply walking away if they feel uncomfortable is not rude.
• If your child tells you something unusual has happened to them, listen to their words and believe them. They need to feel safe telling you these awkward things. Then report it. And push for an investigation.
Now you: I'd love to hear your thoughts on all this in the comments below.