This week’s A Year in the Life prompt asked me to reflect upon an admonition I remember hearing in my life.
From my mom:
“Don’t open the door for or go with anyone except Grandma, Amy, or Susan–even if they say I’m hurt or dead.”
This is the admonition I remember most vividly from my life, perhaps because I heard it so many times. I particularly remember Mom saying it before she left us home alone, or before she left us in the car while she ran into the store to grab something. I have an image of being in the old Buick, that red upholstery, in the Hy-Vee parking lot.
It’s not at all unusual that my mom warned us about “stranger danger”–what strikes me is the specificity of it. Her list of who we were “allowed” to trust was very, very short, and says something about who she most trusted in the world outside our immediate family. It also implies that she had some sort of plan–if there ever was an emergency and she couldn’t come to us, she would send her mother or one of her sisters. They were the only person in the world she would trust with her children–and by association, these were the people I was instructed to trust. When I remember my early childhood, I remember the blessing of knowing these trusted adults existed, that there were people besides our parents who loved us and would look after us. Grandma’s and Amy’s phone numbers were taped next to the phone, and Grandma’s was the first phone number I ever memorized. I still remember it. We used them, too–in particular, I remember calling Amy once when Jessica and I had a fight and sprayed perfume in each other’s eyes–she came over to take a look even though I think the damage was pretty mitigated by tears by the time she arrived. But what mattered was that she did arrive.
I can’t even count all the times Grandma came to the rescue, especially after Mom started working outside the home. She drove us to school the many times we missed the bus and never told on us to our mom. And she picked me up from school on an almost monthly basis when my cramps were too bad for me to stay.
In the time before cell phones, these networks were our fall-back plans. We couldn’t get a hold of Mom when she was away, so we tried our luck with others who might be at their homes–and thus, their phones, instead. I’m very grateful for all the time these “stand-by” parents came through for me, and I can see why Mom put her trust in them and them alone.
The other thing about the admonition that strikes me is the “even if …” part. It wasn’t “even if they offer you great candy,” or “even if they have a new My Little Pony.” It was like she knew we were better than to fall for something like that; she thought we were smart enough or good enough to resist the temptation of things. But she warned us against the panic of devastating news–that’s what she feared we’d fall for. In the midst of tragic news about our parents, that’s when she thought we’d be most vulnerable. And I guess she assumed that predators would think the same thing. But we were not to believe, because she had plan if an emergency did occur–Grandma, Amy, or Susan.
I don’t remember being able to process all of this at the time. I only had the mental capacity to understand her instruction and obey it, not to fully comprehend its implications about her priorities and state of ind as a parent. I did get a hint, just a peek into the fact that some adults were deceptive, deceptive because they wanted to get little kids to go away with them. But to what end? That I didn’t really know, although I took the threat seriously enough. And when you’re five years old being left alone in the car for five minutes, that’s probably as much as you need to know. My mom didn’t make me overly frightened or distrustful of the world with these warnings, but I remember feeling slightly empowered simply by knowing such dangers existed, and that I had been prepared exactly for how to respond to them. Just as, apparently, had Grandma, Susan, and Amy.