Little humans. We teach them to be polite and compassionate. We teach them to use their words instead of their fists. We teach them to be active listeners and respectful of others. I watch my daughter learning how to be kind and thoughtful, and experience both relief and dread. Yes, I want my daughter to be sweet, but not too sweet. I don’t want her to become a doormat, because she’s afraid it’s rude to stick up for herself. I don’t want her to silence her voice, because someone else’s opinions are louder. I don’t want her to equate kindness with passiveness. I pray that she is both gentle and strong, wise and assertive, and both considerate and confident. I pray that in the moments she uses her voice, it is loud and clear.
We’re living in a world where predators are attempting to snatch children from their parents in grocery stores and public libraries. A world in which clowns now symbolize the evil parents fear. Stranger danger feels more real than ever, whether or not it actually is. How do we teach our little ones to be aware of these risks without scaring them? This is a question for which I understand I will never have a satisfying answer.
As clown hysteria built up in Austin this week, I realized I needed to say something to my daughter. I found myself worrying back and forth about the most politically correct, least frightening way to broach the subject, and then on our drive home from school she brought it up. In school, they had discussed what to do if they see a clown, which was obviously to not talk to it and to tell a teacher. I was grateful that her school had taken this initiative, but the momma bear in me, the one who would die for the green-eyed girl in the backseat, the one who would protect that precious life at all costs, took over the woman who worries about saying and doing the politically correct thing.
So then I told her that all clowns are now officially bad. She started giggling, but she was on board, asking me questions about friendly clowns she’d interacted with in the past. We decided that the one who gave her candy last year was in fact good, but that he’s probably not a clown anymore, because now all clowns are bad. The nice ones quit their jobs.
Then she asked, “Momma, what if they talk to me?”
Good question. If you see a clown, you turn and run away. If a clown or any stranger tries to talk to you, you scream as loudly as you can, and run away. I was beyond thankful that she found this comical and serious at the same time.
I went on to tell her that if a clown or stranger tries to give her candy or touch her, that she should kick, hit, scratch and bite as hard as she could, and that she shouldn’t worry about being nice. It’s the one time she could be as mean as possible.
She loved this. “Momma. Can I say bad words? Can I say the f-word?”
Absolutely. You can absolutely say the f-word to any stranger or clown that tries to grab you. YES. At this point, she was in full-blown, hysterical laughter mode, pretending to be a little ninja warrior in the backseat.
When we quieted down, she asked, “But then you’re going to be there, right momma?” My heart wrenched with the dreadful knowledge that too many children are abused, trafficked, and murdered, despite loved ones desperately searching for them.
Yes, I promised. I assured her that she was not actually going to see a clown or stranger, and that we were just practicing so that we would know what to do, just in case.
She giggled again. “Yeah. But momma. You’ll get the clown and you’ll get him dead!”
Yes, momma will hunt him down. I suddenly had quite the little Rambo on my hands.
Then we got a little more serious and I reminded her that God is always with her, and that she has family and friends who love and pray for her every day. That our faith in God means we do not have to live in fear. That God is always with us, and that we are never alone. As we pulled into the garage, I silently prayed for Jesus to lay his protective arms over our children, our schools, and our communities, shielding us from those who seek to do harm. And as I followed my little human into the house, listening to her chat away about mermaids, baking pumpkin pies, and the sunflowers blooming in our backyard, I thanked God for her sweet heart and her feisty spirit, and that while the f-word will never be enough, HE most certainly is.