Last night I attended a parent meeting at Jillson's preschool, so I could learn about the Happy Bear program. This is an age-appropriate way of teaching our children about welcome and unwelcome touches, personal space, and what to do if someone touches you in a way you do not like. I was glad I went so that we in the Gutsy household could all be on the same page methodologically. (Wow, that was a long word to type.) I liked the way they handled the topic, introducing things without suggesting anything scary. But I just about lost it at the end of the presentation when they told the parents to remember to say, if a child comes to you to report an unwelcome touch, "it was not your fault." We are to reassure the children that it is not their fault, even if they forgot to say no to the person or forgot to move away from him or her.
And that is when my heart leapt up into my throat and I lost my breath. I was flooded with feelings--probably a mere approximation of what I might feel if either of my daughters actually came to tell me about unwelcome touches. I pray, probably more deeply than I pray about anything, that I never have to have this sort of conversation. How will I contain my rage? The thought of someone abusing them makes me feel sick to my stomach. The idea that they then might think it was their fault, this is just beyond heartbreaking.
How can I protect them as they grow up? How, as they grow up in this world that must teach four-year-olds about unwelcome touches? I want to keep them in the umbrella of my arms, my home, my love forever. When do I acquire the skills to let them out from under the umbrella and into the world? Does that come with maturity (theirs and mine)? How did my parents ever let any of us go?
Suddenly I think of an oft-told story in our family. After my parents dropped one of us off at school (I think it was my oldest brother), they began the four-hour drive home. Perhaps feeling a little doubtful about letting a chickie leave the nest, my mother, upon seeing a sign for a roadside farm stand, insisted that my father pull over the car. She then, in order not to cry, or perhaps while also crying, proceeded to fill every nook and cranny of that car with mums. "More mums than we'd ever planted in one fall," my Dad likes to say.
I think I can understand why. And I think I am going to be buying a lot of mums in the coming years.