My first memory as a child was my mom telling me to go back to bed. I was 3 years old. I was standing in the dark hallway with my blankie squeezed up to my face, and my mom looked very nervous. I heard a knock on the door. I realized this is what woke me in the first place. Then I saw a shadow pass by our window. We had a large window next to the front door that overlooked the front yard. Anyone coming from the driveway would have to walk by that window to get to our front door. My mom saw that I was still standing there and she said it again.
“Marla, go back to bed, please.”
I didn’t. I just watched her. She was on the phone with my older sister, 22 years my senior. I didn’t move from my spot in the hallway. At first, I didn’t know how my mom knew I had woken up and come down the hall. I guess she had heard the floorboards creaking. A sound she had heard a thousand nights before as I made my way to their bedroom.
My dad worked nights. Swing shift. 4pm – Midnight. He usually arrived home around 1AM. I didn’t know what time it was, but I knew we were alone or she wouldn’t have been on the phone with my sister. We lived in Elk Grove, at that time, back in 1972 it was basically farmland. There was a lot of space between the neighbors. We really were all alone. I was scared. My mom was standing in the shadows of the living room—where she could easily hide. They kept knocking.
The next day, I remember my mom talking about it with a lot of people … friends, family. She was on the phone all day, or at least it seemed that way. Anyway I heard that a man and a pregnant woman had come to our front door. They told my mom they had a flat tire and asked if they could call someone. There were no cell phones back then. It was 1970. My mom said nothing and eventually they went away. That’s why she wanted me to be quiet. I found out later that they slashed the tires on our car when they left. My mom was right not to open the door.
Today, I tell my kids to NEVER open the door to a stranger. Well, actually, to ANYONE. If they are home alone they shouldn’t open the door to an acquaintance or a stranger. In fact, even if I am home, I tell them NOT to open the door. Even though 75% of child abductions are by acquaintances, parents or caregivers, I just feel safer with the door closed. Maybe it was because of that incident I experienced as a child. But, I know I don’t like to fling the door open. I prefer to take a minute and see who it is. Decide if I want to open the door. But my kids! Even though I tell my kids to not open the door ALL THE TIME, they still open the door every time the bell rings. I think about that.
When I was a kid, I believed my parents. At least until about 12 or 13, then I might have rebelled. But, up until then, when my parents told me don’t ever open the door to anyone other than your aunts, uncles, or relatives. That’s it. I listened. Why? Because I genuinely thought they knew more than I did. The problem with my children and perhaps most children today is they don’t scare easily. This concerns me, as I’m really not sure what my children would do if a stranger or acquaintance came to the door when they are alone at home. I don’t know if they would be scared like I was when I was home alone as a kid (latchkey kid) and someone knocked on the door. I used to hide. I never went near the door.
I do know that when we are home my kids open the front door freely, even when I’ve told them not to. Just the other day my daughter heard the door. She is eight. Before I could stop her, she opened it. It was a neighbor (we don’t know), who was delivering a package that the post office had wrongly delivered to her house. I talked to my daughter about it, she rolled her eyes and said “OK mommy,” and walked into her room. She’s a precocious little thing.
Looks like I still have some work to do. More talks, more scenarios, more. Hopefully, one day it will sink in, and they will realize that opening the door takes away the little control they have and makes them vulnerable to becoming a victim. Street smarts are something I was taught from a young age. I don’t even think about. It was drilled into me so much as a child that it’s my nature to always be observant of my surroundings. Always be suspicious in situations where I could be vulnerable. Always lock the doors and windows. Always be prepared. It’s in my nature. Many of my friends thought I was crazy as a teen. They thought I was paranoid. I wasn’t at all. I just was raised to be aware. To know that some people want to hurt you. To be proactive. It was a game to me, scanning the streets as I walked. It was a game. That game has served me well. When I was traveling throughout the world at the early age of 18, it served me well. I avoided a lot of bad situations. Other girls didn’t. I haven’t told that to my daughter yet, I will when she gets a little older.
In the meantime, I will stick with teaching them about house safety. I will remind them to lock their windows at night. I will check to make sure the windows are locked after they are asleep. I will remind them to lock the front door behind them whenever they enter the house. I will remind them to never answer the door when they are home alone. I will remind them again and again. I hope it sinks in. I hope if I repeat it enough, my words will sink in. I hope if I try and make it a game, maybe, just maybe, they will remember and do it!