After years of being left behind by the adults, my daughter had finally been invited to a wedding right along with her parents. It was supposed to be a fairy tale night. And then the child predator showed up.
He wasn't invited. Or, I should say, the bride and groom didn't specifically invite kids and a pedophile to the same wedding. The pervert was a "plus one," a guest of a guest, and moms like me had no warning that he was coming, or even that he was there for quite some time.
In fact, it wasn't until my daughter and a friend's had met and become instant besties, running off to challenge one another in an age-old game of "chase," that my friend's mother motioned me over. I always wondered what they meant in books when they said that a character's stomach dropped.
It sounds so dramatic, doesn't it?
It's exactly what happened when she said the words "child predator." I felt like an extra dose of gravity had just landed on my chest and was pushing things down toward my feet. I was scared. And then I was angry. I wanted to know who. I wanted to know why. I wanted to know how.
And I wanted to know where my daughter was. NOW.
She was fine. Is fine. I should tell you that right now, because I know you're worried. No, the sicko never got near her because for the rest of the night, the little girls were tag-teamed by caring adults, my husband and I among them.
We kept our eyes rapt on the girls as they boogied on the dance floor. We assigned one parent to take them outside to blow off some kid steam without bothering the adults. And we clenched our hands in tight fists as we watched the man sit just one table away from where our daughters danced, enjoying his dinner, enjoying his company, enjoying his freedom.
Every time he looked at the dance floor, I cringed. Was he staring at my daughter? He was, wasn't he? What was he thinking? He'd better NOT be thinking!
It went on and on.
I don't think I took a full breath of air until he left that night. I was torn between a desire to grab my child and run with her straight to our car and drive as fast as I could away from that man and the desire to let her live out a little girl's fairytale. She had already told me the bride looked like a princess in a tone so reverential it was as though she worried speaking louder would pop the bubble of magic floating through the air. If I took her out of there, I reasoned, I would be letting the creep win. I would ruin her night, and for what? There was no way we were going to let him touch her anyway.
I'm glad the reasonable side of me won out, but I won't say the experience hasn't changed my parenting.
I have always had a fear of pedophiles; the same fear I think any parent has. I check the sex offender registry, and I know where the predators in our general area are located. But this was the first time I had to face how helpless we are as parents. Five seconds before someone told me there was danger in our midst, I'd been oblivious. All it took were the words child predator, and I was suddenly on high alert. My whole day had changed on a dime.
We are conditioned to freak when we hear those words, when we find a new face on the registry. But it isn't the predators we know about who represent the danger to our kids. Those we can watch out for. It's the predators we don't know about who are truly terrifying.
What would you do if you encountered a child predator in public?
Image via quapan/Flickr