The girls are growing up, and that’s not always easy for me Ryan and me. Or for them.
Recently S and H each lost a tooth. Actually, S didn’t lose her tooth; she pulled it out herself on Sunday afternoon. While we were at the swimming pool. And she was in the water. (Thankfully our neighborhood pool is chlorinated.)
H lost her tooth with considerably less drama than usual. There was no crying or screaming, and the blood loss was minimal. The worst part was when she handed me the paper napkin she had used to stop the bleeding. The best part was reading the note she wrote to the Tooth Fairy: “To the Tooth Fairy from H,” read the front. On the back: “I like you ” (and a big heart).
On Wednesday afternoon, S informed H that she had seen the Tooth Fairy in their room. It seems that someone–me, I mean–had forgotten to retrieve the teeth and leave dollar bills under the girls’ pillows during the night; we have a very absent-minded Tooth Fairy. The Tooth Fairy’s husband realized the mistake and thought he had safely escaped detection before leaving for work. Nope. S took great delight in sharing this information with H.
What’s surprising/irritating is that S figured out the Tooth Fairy’s identity two years ago, but we explained the deal we had made with big sister G two years previous to that. If no one rats out the Tooth Fairy, then the Tooth Fairy will continue to bring a crisp dollar bill every time someone puts a tooth under her pillow. Apparently S was tired of earning dollar bills for missing teeth. Or perhaps she was tired of H’s tendency to tattle and wanted to even the score. I’m guessing it was the latter reason.
On that same visit to the pool, something else much more serious than the loss of a tooth happened. I’ve hesitated to write about it, but I think it’s important to share this story.
Summer came very late to southern Maryland. I only remember the thermometer reaching 100° once this summer, and we’ve turned off the AC at least four times to open the windows. So when summer finally decided to make her appearance, there were only three days left to visit our neighborhood swimming pool, and we were determined to be there all three days.
This is the same pool that we’ve been patronizing for the past four summers, and we spend an immeasurable number of hours there during swim team season. While I wish the lifeguards were more observant, the girls and I are very comfortable at our pool. Perhaps that sense of comfort–or complacency–is why it took me several minutes to realize that a strange man was swimming in the lap lane with two of my daughters and two of their friends.
As I approached the lap lanes, I watched this stranger race one of the girls to the other end of the pool. I then asked my girls if he was a friend’s father. No, they replied, we don’t know who he is. Why was he in their lane? (We don’t know.) Who was he? (We don’t know.) Had he asked to swim with them? (No, Mom!) And why did he need to be in a lane with three 11-year-old girls and a younger sister?!
I sat down at one end of the lap lane, watched the girls, and tried to establish eye contact with this stranger. He didn’t meet my steady gaze, but he did get out of the pool and walk to another area. I talked to the girls to establish what had happened, and I came away quite confused. No one knew who he was, and he hadn’t asked to swim in their lane.
I thought things were okay so I returned to my chair and continued to watch. Within five minutes, the stranger was back. In the girls’ lap lane again. Unfortunately there was no pool manager to contact, and I didn’t want to leave the girls. Instead I got in at one end of the lane again and specifically told the girls not to talk to him or to swim next to him. Except that one girl had already given him her name, age, and school. Again I stayed with them until he saw me and left the lane. At that point I found one of the girl’s mothers and shared my concerns. She kept an eye on the creepy stranger, and I watched over the girls for the rest of our visit.
Later after we returned home, I phoned another mother to let her know what had happened in case her daughter mentioned the incident. She was livid at the man’s boldness, thanked me for calling her, and headed to the pool herself. Within 24 hours, we were both giving statements to a deputy sheriff and trying to identify the creep.
The parts that I’ve left out are the conversations we had with our daughters in those 24 hours. While I instinctually knew something was amiss at the pool, I didn’t know what it was specifically. Call it a mother’s intuition or the Holy Spirit’s prompting. It was what the girls told us, what this pervert told the girls, what other lifeguards had noticed, and that he had tried something similar earlier this summer. (Sorry. I just can’t think of anything nicer to call him than creep or pervert.)
No crime was actually committed, but this 34-year-old man thought it was acceptable to join a bunch of pre-teen children for a swim without asking their parents; he also thought it was okay to bump into them as they swam.
What happened wasn’t okay with me or Ryan. Or the pool manager. Or the other parents. The girls know that they aren’t at fault, and they also know that it’s never rude to walk away from an adult who asks for their personal information. We brainstormed a list of safe adults that they can ask for help, and we were very specific when we explained to G why we were so concerned.
I’m angry, and so is Ryan. We work hard to protect our girls, but we’ve also taken specific steps to allow them some independence from our constant supervision. We can’t simply lock them up until they’re all 18 years old, and I’m angry that one of the safe places we enjoy visiting is no longer safe.