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Not So Happy Meal

Earlier today (or rather, yesterday –  I’m having trouble sleeping), I failed my family.  I did not fail them by doing something that I should not have done.  Quite the opposite.  I did not act when I should have and I put not only my own safety at risk, but also that of my children.

A long and complicated series of events resulted in the necessity for me to travel by public transportation with my 3 year old daughter and 8 year old son to downtown Chicago to meet up with my husband.  If you have never had the opportunity to do this with your own children, count your lucky stars.  It took a considerable amount of time to pack a backpack with a change of clothes for each of the kids (in case we had the chance to play in the fountain at Millennium Park), light jackets for each of us (it’s cooler by the lake), proper first aid supplies (I like to be prepared), things to entertain them on the train so they wouldn’t behave like animals (didn’t work),  sunblock, a hat for me (hey, lots of women have thinning hair and run the risk of a sunburned scalp), water and the essentials from my purse (wallet, aspirin, etc.) so I would only have one (very heavy) item to lug around.  I also had to make sure each child was dressed, fed, and had empty bladders prior to hitching a ride from my neighbor to the train station.

Upon reaching our destination downtown, I wanted to find a place to let the kids unwind and have something to eat (my daughter had been whining about being hungry for the last hour) while I got my bearings on my Smartphone Overlord and verified the correct route to the art festival where I would meet my husband.  Finding the Golden Arches in close proximity, we headed inside for a couple of Happy Meals.

Not 10 minutes into our meal, a stranger approached our table and began talking to us.  We were seated next to a half wall separating the eating area from the path leading to the restrooms and this man stood on the other side of the waist high wall talking to us as if he were sitting at our table.  Even my son could tell that there was something not quite right about him.  In between whatever he was trying (mostly incoherently) to communicate to me, he would lecture my son to “always respect his mother” and “there’s nothing like a mother’s love.”  Then he told my daughter (in case you missed it, she’s 3) that when she was old enough, he was going to marry her.

And what did I do?  Nothing.  Not a damn thing.

I thought about going to get some help, but I certainly couldn’t leave the children there.  I thought about ways I could tell him to go away because he was scaring us, but I was afraid that whatever I said would set him off.  I thought about just packing up the kids and leaving, but I was concerned that he would follow us.  I simply did not know what to do.

Had I been alone, this would not have been an issue.  I could have gotten up and moved or asked for help from an employee or even risked his anger by telling  him to leave.  But the presence of my children somehow stifled my ability to act until ultimately, an employee noticed my plight and sent a security guard to our rescue.  When we left the restaurant, we had to walk past the man who was now shouting at me about how I shouldn’t have called the cops on him.  I conducted my children down the street as quickly as possible and made sure to check several times that he wasn’t following us.

What kind of example did I set for my son, who has been on the receiving end of plenty of “stranger danger” lectures?  What should I tell my daughter to do should she ever find herself in a similar situation?  What if that security guard hadn’t been there to help us?

As a woman who has done a lot of traveling, I know how important it is to be aware of your surroundings and mentally ready to defend yourself should the need arise.  But it never even remotely occurred to me that I might not be alone if trouble should come my way and I honestly still don’t know what I should have done to ensure our safety.

I clearly recognize this experience as a teachable moment.  So will you please tell me what you would have done so that I will know what to do in the future?  Besides getting Happy Meals only through the drive through, I mean.  That’s a given.

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