A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Saturday, September 02, 2006

A cautionary tale

I was reading a post over at Get On the Bus in which Scott talks about walking his 5- and 7-year-old daughters to school less than a mile away. He then fondly remembers walking to school by himself and contemplates this kind of freedom for his own kids (until his wife comments immediately, which was rather amusing).

Let me take you back over 30 years ago (how much over is none of your beeswax), when Ms. Cornelius was just a wee ape. Tiny, in fact, which just goes to show that from a tiny acorn a mighty (wide) oak can grow. Cornsilk hair, and a good wind could blow her over-- and since this was Oklahoma, that did happen on occasion. Mom was home with my younger brother and baby sister. So I walked home from kindergarten every day. It was through the neighborhood, after all, so what could be safer?

Until one day when it wasn't. The man pulled his car over just slightly ahead of me and got out. He asked me if I had seen his puppy, and asked if I would come with him-- he had candy-- to help him find it. I had stayed about 15 feet away from him, and to this day I still remember the T-shirt stretched over his gut, gray from being washed too much, the stubble, the thin greasy hair, the chinos. It was the middle of the day, I was three blocks from home, and I knew NO ONE on this street.

The house I was in front of had a chain link fence around the back yard. He took a step closer to me with his hand outstretched, and I ran for that fence. Cleared it in two steps and as I went over the top I caught the hem of my pantsleg on the tines on the top so I temporarily hung upside down on the other side. I could see my papers fluttering to the ground, and the man was running toward me. My hand hit the ground, and I kicked my trapped foot free and cartwheeled away from the fence. A dog next door started barking at the man and charging toward the gate. I ran to the back of the yard and climbed over into the next yard. When I looked back the man was gone.

I wanted my mama, and I wanted her BAD, so I decided to keep going. I ended up crossing two more streets and climbing through four more backyards until I got to my street, and then I ran down that until I got home, where I pounded on the door for what seemed like forever until my mom let me in. The police never found that man, and for weeks afterward, I would get scared when I heard a car pull up and stop outside our house, because I was afraid I had led him to my house.

I didn't walk to school again until we moved to east Tulsa a couple of years later, after the neighborhood started going a little more S.E. Hinton on us (particularly The Outsiders and That Was Then, This is Now).

And that was then, and this is now. It's not like molesters and creeps haven't been around forever. I am immensely glad that I was enough of a tomboy that I could climb those fences.

But I woudn't let my kids walk to school in my neighborhood, and it's much nicer than where we lived when I was in kindergarten. This experience did not turn me into a white-knuckle parent, but if the world had predators like that 30 years ago, you can't be too careful now.

And that's all I've got to say about that.

14 Comments:

At 9/2/06, 5:14 PM, Blogger ms-teacher said...

I agree - there has always been predators. I think that what has happened over time is that because of the impact of mass media, we are much more aware of what's happening, all over.

Your incident probably only played out locally, whereas today, it may very well have made headlines nationally. This makes it seem like this kind of thing is much more prevalent.

 
At 9/2/06, 5:56 PM, Blogger CaliforniaTeacherGuy said...

Your story of almost becoming prey reminded me that I was approached by a predator when in high school. I will write and post the story as soon as I return to California from Arizona. Thanks for jogging my memory (sordid though it may be).

 
At 9/2/06, 8:08 PM, Blogger happychyck said...

Thanks for freaking me out even more! We live within walking distance of the kids' school, but there is NO WAY I will let them walk. In fact, I'm not so crazy about walking alone myself! And can I just say that I adore the kindergarten teacher at my stepson's school who will not allow the kids to leave her room after school without an authorized parent.

Lately I've been thinking a lot about freedom I had as a kid compared to the freedom (very little) our children have. A lot of it has to do with the fact I grew up in a much smaller town, but maybe a lot of it is also all the child crimes we hear about.

 
At 9/2/06, 10:08 PM, Anonymous blue girl said...

I'm sorry for your experience, but boy am I glad you made it over that fence.

Not to freak you or your readers out even more, but have you seen that website that you can enter your zip code and see a map of all convicted sex crime offenders in your area?

When I entered my zip code and the zip codes I travel to for work, I was amazed.

It's a scary world. For so many reasons.

 
At 9/3/06, 9:35 AM, Blogger mr. e said...

I had similiar experiences when I was growing up. There was this lady that always dressed in white. She pushed around one of those metal carts that old ladies used to push around, but whatever was in it was covered in a white cloth. I always thought she was just a street crazy, but one day she pulled over in her car (yes, it was white) and started making signs to me with her hands like she was cursing me. I was playing with younger kids and right in front of my house, so when I went to grab the younger kids, they were already half way down the block on their way home.

I'm not sure how I feel about kids walking home alone, but reeeally bothers me is seeing kids under 7 yrs old walking home or playing with out an adult. Forget about pervs, what about simply walking out into the street?

 
At 9/3/06, 10:05 AM, Anonymous NYC Educator said...

That's really disturbing. I suppose if kids have to walk to school, you could at least have them do so in groups.

So much for the "good old days."

 
At 9/3/06, 7:45 PM, Blogger Laura(southernxyl) said...

Scary story.

We had the "Walk With Me Rapist" here in Memphis a few years back. He would grab girls on their way to school, drag them into the bushes, and rape them. Amazingly, this went on for some time because even though the police knew about it, they didn't warn the residents. He was eventually caught. But even after this, it is forbidden for students to take cell phones with them to school.

 
At 9/3/06, 11:13 PM, Blogger elementaryhistoryteacher said...

The rule at my house is no walking and no riding the bus either. I've been in the principal's office when they have played the video tapes. No way, no how.

 
At 9/4/06, 8:40 AM, Blogger Deb S. said...

You're right. It is a different time, yet molesters have always been with us.

I, too, remember walking to and from kindergarten alone. We lived about a half-mile from school.

My scariest moments, however, came when I was in 7th and 8th grade. Strange men would stop and try to pick me up. One man seemed to drive past every time I walked to and from the store or to the library - both of which were almost a mile away. I will never forget his pick-up. I should add that THIS happened after my parents moved us into a "better" neighborhood.

 
At 9/4/06, 9:17 AM, Blogger ms. whatsit said...

Yikes! Close calls like that stick with us forever. Mind you, I have my own tales to tell.

I suppose one strategy we can teach our kids is to walk everywhere in groups to take advantage of the safety in numbers premise. At some point, we want our children to venture out into the world.

 
At 9/4/06, 11:20 AM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Well, I'll be honest. I kind of DID mean to make people think, a bit-- but not scare you. Predators now receive more media attention. I can't remember if the police really took me seriously, either.

There were other incidents-- a couple of older boys in the neighborhood tried (very unsuccessfully-- my Dad taught me how to throw a punch after the kindergarten incident) to molest me, and then they cut down our Christmas lights after we contacted the police.

That's when we moved.

 
At 9/6/06, 10:21 PM, Anonymous MellowOut said...

I was threatened with a knife on my way home from first grade. (Six blocks.) However, it was no adult predator who threatened me--it was two boys from my class. They were walking in front of me, whispering about something. They started to go slower and slower so that I caught up to them and could see them playing around with something. Suddenly, one of the boys turned around and showed me the shiny, odd-shaped switchblade he was playing with, and he told me to get the "f" off the sidewalk.

I froze momentarily, crossed the street, and stood there until they were up the hill and out of sight. I walked all the way home in tears, and when my mother saw me and heard the story, she immediately called the school principal and told him what happened. He confronted the boys the next day, and they claimed it was a rubber knife (rubber doesn't gleam like that). He believed them. The principal actually blamed me for not walking back to the school when it happened. As if he would have run after the boys to see what kind of knife they had.

Mom walked me to and from school for the rest of the year, and by the next, my sister and I walked together. Personally, I think children should be walking more, but I think more parents and schools need to get together to work out some safety issues and start walking groups without any animosity among the participants.

 
At 9/8/06, 3:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lately I've been thinking a lot about freedom I had as a kid compared to the freedom (very little) our children have. A lot of it has to do with the fact I grew up in a much smaller town, but maybe a lot of it is also all the child crimes we hear about.

Despite the fact that we hear about such crimes more than ever, they're happening less frequently than they were in the 1970s and 1980s when many of us remember walking to school. Violent crime peaked in the US in 1991 and has plummeted since then, but the time spent reporting such crimes on TV news and the like is up.

We're sold a diet of fear by our media and government (your chances of being attacked by a terrorist are higher than your chance of being struck by lightning), making us much too afraid of the world outside our doors. However, that fear imposes other risks: obesity and pollution because we're too afraid to walk. If more of us would walk, we'd feel and be safer and healthier.

 
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