You just never know!
We were at Kmart this week. We were walking kind of stretched out with hubby a few aisles ahead and Lian dragging his feet behind getting distracted by the toy section. I knew where he was but I let him wander a bit, calling him a few times to come to me. Standing near the end of the section was this guy. I noticed him in passing and didn't really give him a second thought, at the time. I waited for the boy to catch up with me and we caught up with dad. All the while Lian was complaining because he couldn't find the $5 iron man toys. Hubby wanted to look at posters, (I don't know why, we haven't bought a poster in twenty years), so I finally gave in and let Lian go back to the Iron Man section. He took off and I let hubby know we were going. I turned the corner into the aisle a few steps behind him and see that guy coming to a stop just at the Iron Man section. He looked up at me then kept walking out of the aisle to stand by the end cap facing away from it. Passing strange.
We found the elusive toys, which were $7 now and walked back to dad. Meanwhile this guy is still just standing there not really looking at anything. Though according to hubby, later, he kept glancing at us as we walked away.
So I tell Morgan this guy is creeping me out, the way he just appeared there where my son said he wanted to go. We hadn't passed him again on the way back to the toys, so he had to have come from the other end of the aisles. I kept the boy close as we moved on to the food section and just let him worry over the creepy guy. That is his job.
We shopped some more and then the boy asked if he could go get cheese crackers. I left him with his dad discussing soup flavors and went two aisles overs to get the crackers and guess who is right next to the exact brand we were talking about. He turned and walked out of the aisle and back in the direction I had just come from. So now I was really freaked out.
I got back to the cart and hubby was showing some serious signs of stress. He motioned for me to take hold of the kid and then took off around the corner. He was back in just a moment. Apparently this guy had turned to come down the aisle where they were, then stopped, backed out and continued down the action aisle. By the time hubby went after him he had disappeared again.
I can think of a hundred legit reasons why this could happened. Yes it was strange that I never saw him actually looking at or holding merchandise. He could have just been killing time while his wife was shopping and he just didn't like hanging around others and we just kept getting in his way. He didn't have to be a child predator who noticed a child unaware of his surroundings and parents who seemed distracted by shopping. We still mentioned it to the customer service desk. They said they would keep an eye out for him.
What scares me is that Lian never noticed him. Never even knew he was there, had no idea who we were talking about. He passed him twice and shared an aisle with him twice and he never realized there was anybody else there. A long time ago I wrote a post about when he unlocked our deadbolt and actually left the safety of our apartment to go be with an interesting stranger he saw in our courtyard. He has come a long way from the toddler who would wander off with anyone who smiled at him. Still, with his social delays he is far too trusting when someone shows him attention.
I realized that in those few moments a predator would have been able to glean his name, maybe ours as well, his interests and his favorite snack. Would my son, unaware of his presence in the first place, be savvy enough to protect himself against a stranger who "knew" so many little things you don't expect a stranger to know? It takes just a moment of hesitation to change a life forever.
Whether or not this guy was actually doing anything sinister, it was a great opportunity for a teaching moment. We were able to show Lian how his pushing at the rules we lay down for him, can put him in danger and that mom and dad are NOT the enemy for having so many rules. I know as he gets older he is wanting more freedom from his mom's constant hovering. Especially when he sees other kids his age being so independent. He says he understands it's to keep him safe from a danger he isn't even aware of. I can only hope he believes it. I do want to give him kudos for responding to the possible-threat codeword I gave him and sticking close by until he got the all clear. He handled it well even though he never saw anything that seemed threatening to him.
I get the all over chills thinking what could have happened if I had let those apron strings out just bit more.