“Dylan, what do you do if a stranger comes up and tries to talk to you?”
A sexual predator had moved into Miami Shores and Becky was just being a responsible parent, making sure Dylan was instilled with a healthy fear of strangers. Her question made the bottom drop out of my stomach. I looked at Dylan and couldn’t even imagine him coming to harm. How could anyone - ?
I’d known him a few scant months at that point. It’s one more thing Becky has carried as a mother, but she’s probably only allowed those thoughts fleeting attention as he's grown up; I got mine all at once, over breakfast.
A few weeks later, Dylan and I were playing in Becky’s kitchen when he suddenly turned serious.
“Aaron, do you know Adam Walsh?” he asked softly.
Dylan had hidden in a clothing rack at Sears to trick Becky a few days before. She’d freaked out, of course. She told him about Adam Walsh, who’d been his age, and taken from a Sears, and murdered.
Matching Dylan’s conspiratorial tone, I told him I didn’t know Adam Walsh, but I knew who he was.
“Is it true someone took him away from the store and killed him?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Is it true they cut off his head?”
Becky gave me two rules in helping raise her child. 1 – never hit him. 2 – answer anything he asks truthfully.
“Yes.” (He was obsessed with this detail for a few days, and Becky had leisure time to repent what she’d told him in the heat of the moment)
Dylan got that faraway look which indicates his little mind is churning; then we played Pirates some more.
He just turned six years old, the same age as Adam, taken about forty minutes north of where I’m typing this. Whether I can fathom it or not, there are people out there who would like to harm him.
As the youngest of three, or six if you include the cousins, I’ve often said that I envy Dylan’s childhood. I grew up with hand-me-downs and a third (or a sixth) of the attention, while he is lavished with the gifts and love of an entire family.
But his is a different world than mine. Fear of strangers is as much a part of Dylan’s life as Nintendo.
Yesterday, we took our first bike ride through the new neighborhood. We used the sidewalk in deference to his age. Another biker passed us in the road, coming in the opposite direction. I said hello, and instructed Dylan to do the same.
“Hello!” Dylan cried enthusiastically. The mustachioed, sunglass-wearing man smiled and nodded in passing.
“Why did you make me say hi to a stranger?” Dylan moaned.
Oops. I’m learning all about Stranger Danger from my six-year-old.