Who is watching your child?Posted: 27/05/2014
I am smiling at ToddlerGirl, watching her clambering over some seats/street art that we have in our city centre. She’s made a friend, a little boy who is joining her in climbing, sitting, jumping and standing on the objects. A couple of older ladies are also watching and we laugh together at the simple things that please toddlers. I’m keeping a watchful eye on her as I know her tendency to leg it. I don’t let her more than an arm’s length or so away from me and am poised to run after her if I need to.
Suddenly, a strange man in a grey t-shirt with a huge sweat patch on the back is right in front of her and the boy. As I clock this and wonder if he is with the boy, he raises his mobile phone towards them. I am instantly bristling, all the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end. I am thinking several things at once:
“Who is this man? Does he belong with the boy?”
“That man is taking a picture of my little girl.”
“I need to ask him what the hell he thinks he is doing…”
“I need to move ToddlerGirl out of the way.”
“Is it innocent – could he be doing something else?”
“Perhaps he belongs with the boy and is taking a picture of him?”
“That man is taking a picture of my little girl and I really don’t like this and I need to do something.”
Just as I’m thinking that final thought, the man puts his phone down and walks away. I realise that he has nothing to do with the boy and frown as I watch him stop nearby, pull out his phone again and seemingly take a look at the picture he has just taken.
This has all happened in a matter of seconds, almost too quickly to register – except I have registered it.
I keep watching him, thinking several other thoughts all at once:
“I’m sure he just took a picture of my little girl.”
“Why didn’t I stop him? Why didn’t I move straight away as soon as I noticed?”
“I could catch up with him and ask why the hell he was taking a picture of my daughter.”
“I could run into him, shove him and stamp on his phone.” (it is scary how much I want to do this…)
“I can’t leave ToddlerGirl…”
“I’m pregnant – I probably shouldn’t waddle over and have a confrontation with somebody…”
“Could it have all been an innocent mistake? What else could he have been doing?”
“He took a picture of my little girl, what the hell…?”
I have a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach as I stand there, impotent and watching this strange man who, despite me trying to come up with another explanation, I am absolutely convinced just randomly took a picture of my little girl and/or the little boy she is with. Why would somebody do that? Not for any pure, above board motives I am sure. I feel physically ill wondering what somebody would do with a picture of a child they have snapped in the street.
We have had a lovely morning but the incident has unsettled me. I round ToddlerGirl up into her pushchair and we walk back to the car, through the shopping centre. She is talking away to me but I am distracted, keeping a look out for the guy with the grey, sweaty t-shirt. What would I do if I saw him? March up to him and say: “Oi! You took a picture of my child!”
I’m still thinking about the whole thing as we drive home. I am mainly cross with myself for ignoring my instincts in that first split second.
I had an instant, skin prickling reaction when he stopped in front of ToddlerGirl and got his phone out, and I didn’t act on it.
I am berating myself for this all the way home, feeling that I’ve let my daughter down somehow. I try to rationalise with myself. It may have been completely innocent, of course. (Although what else could he have been taking a picture of really? There wasn’t anything of interest that I can think of behind the children.) Even if he did take her picture, he doesn’t know who ToddlerGirl is, it’s just one photograph on his phone. (But I feel sick thinking that he could have even one photo of my girl on his phone and why.)
Later, I talk to the husband about it. He doesn’t share my anger at myself for not acting immediately and is glad that I didn’t have a confrontation with the man – on my own, pregnant and solely responsible for ToddlerGirl. He tries to find an innocent explanation for it to make me feel better. We realise that anybody who wants to take a pictures of children in public could do so quite easily and unobtrusively with a long lens camera. This thought is cold comfort but helps me to realise that I need to forget about this incident. As disturbed as I am by it, there is absolutely nothing I can do. I had a very short window of opportunity to react and my split second of hesitation – am I really seeing what I’m seeing? Is he with the boy? – meant that I lost that opportunity.
Still, I can’t quite just forget about it, hence this blog post; an attempt to ‘write it out’ and be rid of the lingering unsettled feeling. Whatever the reality of the situation, my reaction and concerns are a reminder that the world isn’t always a nice place, that there are some nasty people out there who will take and look at pictures of children – and worse. The mother bear inside me is growling, hackles raised, at even the slightest threat to my cub, and it’s a hard feeling to shake off.
Since ToddlerGirl has been on the move, one of my biggest fears has been that she will disappear from my sight for a second and I then won’t be able to find her. She is so fast and so adventurous that I am constantly aware when we are out and about that it would only take a moment for me to loose her, a thought that sends a cold chill washing over me. I school myself to keep my eyes on her at all times, to ignore other distractions, as I am terrified that I won’t be vigilant enough.
I don’t always want to be thinking of the worst of the world, to be paranoid with worry and fear, and to pass this onto ToddlerGirl. Yet, I am also intensely aware that it’s my job to protect this precious little person, and to teach her how to protect herself as she gets older and more independent. It is a balancing act, this need to give her the freedom to explore and be, all the while safeguarding her and delivering her into adulthood fully intact.
We can’t live our lives in a constant state of high alert by any means but my days of ambling along completely relaxed and carefree were over once I became a mum.
Whatever the truth of the situation with that man today, whether he was innocently photographing something behind ToddlerGirl or had a darker motive, I didn’t like it. I didn’t like it one bit. Moreover, it has brought home to me in a very tangible way that we don’t always know who is watching our children; or, god forbid, even waiting for an unguarded moment. And that’s a sobering thought.