I had a scare today. We were out playing with friends and Maximilien disappeared from my line of sight. He and I have an agreement that when we are playing outside that he must stay within my line of sight. If he can't see me that means I can't see him. This is a constant stress for me living in a city where we often are in the midst of large crowds.
This afternoon Maximilien was playing with a friend and he went around the corner of the building to chase after his paper airplane but then he did not re-appear right away. I waited three heart beats before going after him. I turned the corner and he wasn't there. Then I turned the next corner and there he was him talking to a stranger. A man who was crouched down near Max with his hand on his shoulder. I can't explain the feelings I felt in that moment before I knew I was yelling his name louder than I ever had. Everyone who happened to be around me within a 100 foot radius turned to look right at me. Maximilien ran over to me leaving the man behind.
The moment he reached me I was upset. Angry. Scared. We quickly packed up our things and left our friends to go home. On the way, we stopped and sat on a bench and talked about what happened. I asked Max if he understood why I was upset? He said it was because I couldn't see him. True in part and then I explained to him about talking to the stranger. I told him I was upset because I found him taking to a man that neither of us knew. A stranger. He asked me what I stranger was not knowing what this word was in English. I know that I didn't explain it very well. I told him that a stranger is someone that we don't know and that they could possibly hurt you. He is four and I wanted to keep it simple. In this case I used the example that a stranger can start talking to you and take you away from Mommy and Daddy so that he would never see us again. Saying this, he started to cry. It broke my heart. He collapsed into my arms and I held him why he cried. He pulled away from him and said in a tear filled voice that the man was nice and that he was just explaining that he was picking up the chewing gum off the boardwalk. And that it was actually he who approached the man and asked him what he was doing. Thinking back now to the moment now that I am calm I can see that he was some sort of janitor and I now see off to the side his cleaning buckets and broom. But still... janitors can be bad people too.
Maximilien is not afraid of strangers. He has always had a certain ease talking to anyone. And I admit that when he's with me we will strike up conversations with people on the bus or on the street if he's curious about something. This is with me. I am okay with this. But him alone, I am not ok with this.
I don't think I explained very well the whole stranger danger concept to Maximilien. Julien and I agree that he now has experienced the fear that strangers can cause. This is definitely something that Maximilien has never really experienced. This is not enough for him to really understand. I want to be able to talk to him openly about this but I am at a loss at how to tackle this subject.
Growing up in Olathe, Kansas, I feel like I never really encountered many strangers. Paris is so big and there are so many people. The walk from our apartment to Maximilien's school alone we pass many busy streets full of people. So many potential dangers but I don't want to fill my kids with utter fear of people in general.
Explaining what to do I understand but explaining the concept of strangers and the danger they can cause is what I am at a loss at. Even the fact that nice strangers, even janitors or the nice guy who lives on the first floor can be the most dangerous ones of all. How would you explain to your kids about strangers?