He was standing, looking perplexed. As I rolled by, he called out to me. I was in my powerchair, so I slowed, turned to face him, and stopped. Joe had been caught short and it took his legs longer to register the change of direction and destination than it did the tires on my chair. I waited to hear what the fellow had to say. He was in his early thirties, he wore black pants, a black fall jacket and white ear phones. He pulled the buds out of his ears and said, "I'm a bit lost. I need some help."
I had recognized, right off, that he had Down Syndrome, and I wondered then how long he had been waiting to ask for help. I simply said, "OK, where are you going?" As it turned out he as on the wrong side, heading the wrong way. It was an easy fix. He thanked us. I asked him, "How did you choose me to call?"
You see, these situations interest me, I want to learn what strategies that people use in situations like this so that I can teach them or incorporate them into my writing. Nothing beats success, and while I learn a lot from my own mistakes, I also learn a lot from the successes of others. He said, "My mother taught me that if I got lost, to wait, even if it's for a long time, for someone who I think would be safe to ask." I will admit to a feeling of instant pride to have been put into that category. I asked him further, "What about me made me safe." He said, "You are in a wheelchair, you know what it's like to need help, you know what it's like to be afraid some times." OK, I thought, isn't universally true of wheelchair users, but probably a good percentage. Then, I asked, "If I hadn't come along, who then?" He said, without hesitation, "An older woman carrying bags." Wow. Specific.
I asked him if there were any people he wouldn't ask, "Mom says to be careful of people who are too friendly. A little friendly is OK. But not too friendly. Like if they touch me all the time like some people do. Patting my arm or my shoulder or rubbing my hair, those people are people who might be nice, might be dangerous, I can't trust any of them because I don't know which they are." I saw that he was anxious to get on his way, I also saw I was in danger of falling into the 'too friendly' category, not because I'd touched him at all but because my questions took so much time and effort to answer. I seemed nosy. We wished him well. Watched him change sides and directions. His subway train came before ours did.
He was gone.
And I had lots to think about.
Wow, wise mother to be so specific in her explanations--not building fear but competence in self protection. I could have used her advice to good effect if I had it "back then." It's so much better to teach someone to choose well than to simply be afraid of all strangers.
It's fabulous that his mother taught him so well. It's also great that you were able to get some insight into the thought process before the young man got too uncomfortable.
Lots to think about for sure. I agree with Belinda - wise mother.
i should be making a book with such good advice so i'll remember to share such things with my daughter. thanks.
"Patting my arm or my shoulder or rubbing my hair..."
This is the part that stood out, maybe because unsolicited touching pushes a button with me. Strangers rub his hair? Ughhh.
Wise mom, and a smart young man too. It sounds like his mother taught him to recognize types of people who would be more empathetic, and also dangerous behavior.
When my children were young, and I was afraid they might get lost in a big store or shopping mall, I told them to either find a security guard at the mall, or find another Mom who had kids with her. I was hoping that the natural protective instincts of another mother would kick in. If they could not find another mom, then to look for someone who was a grandmother type. Luckily, they did not have to do this.
I recommend the book, "Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe (And Parents Sane)" by Gavin De Becker. A lot of really concrete, good advice!!! Also, if you haven't already read it, "The Gift of Fear" by the same author!
Wow. What a brilliant mom. I hope I can grow up to be her someday! Sure beats my advice to my daughter (see http://dsbutterfly.blogspot.com/2011/10/street-proofing-or-forget-what-jesus.html for a good example of how NOT to parent!) this week. Now I am also going to go get the books listed.
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