July 20, 2005

And we were all changed

I went to a meeting last night at the private beach club I belong to out in Westchester. It shall remain without name here for a very good reason, as you will see.

The club is old, about 100 years, and filled with members who grew up there as kids and now are raising their kids there. I have described it before, I think, as idyllic. It is a special and wonderful place, by the water, where kids can be kids and where the older kids are actually nice to the little kids. The Girl Child is at camp there this summer and appears to be having a wonderful time. In short, the place feels like a protected throw back to a more innocent and happier time. I am often soothed just by being there. Seriously. I think it may be a combination of the light, the water, the breeze, and just something in the air. I really do love the place.

Last night, there was a special meeting. It transpired that a child, under the age of six, has alleged that she was assaulted on Sunday night at the club. Now, go back and re-read that sentence very carefully. An allegation was made of an assault.

I think that we all assumed that the assault was sexual in nature, although the police chief who addressed the meeting last night declined any opportunity to confirm that. In fact, and what I thought was particularly interesting, was that the police chief seemed to stress that while they were fully committed to the investigation, they still didn’t necessarily know whether an assault had even been committed.

Kids lie. Little kids lie all the time. They may not mean to, but they do. Our pediatrician says that they simply don’t know the difference between reality and their own thoughts. I don’t envy the police chief his job in sorting out whether an assault actually took place. Either way, it will be a horrible task and everyone who comes into contact with the investigation will be changed in some way. I’m just glad we weren’t there on Sunday night.

I hope that no assault took place. I hope that this turns out to be a huge waste of time and that the child never experienced anything that will change her life. I hope this with a yearning so strong. I hope that if she did tell her story from reality, that the adult who assaulted her is caught swiftly and punished.

I sat in this meeting for over an hour. There was scant information proffered. There was a lot of parental anxiety in the room and some hostile questions for the board of the club and for the police chief. I think that by the end, everyone had calmed down a lot. Both the police and the board seem to be on top of things.

Still, for me at least, something died in that room. No matter how this investigation turns out, it will never be the same for anyone. For me, no longer will I be so quick to pick up a child who has fallen and is crying. I will no longer throw other people’s children around in the kiddy pool when they ask me to after they see me sling my daughter around in the water. I won’t take that risk that an innocent touch, an innocent contact, can be misconstrued or misunderstood. That makes me very sad.

Another thing at the meeting. A woman made the suggestion that the police come and talk to the children at the club about, well, sexual predators. I would not want my child to be included in that discussion. She’s only 4.5 years old and would have way too many questions about things she doesn’t have to know about. She doesn’t have to take responsibility at her age for her own security. That’s my job. That’s why my wife and I do not let her or her brother out of our sight anywhere at any time. We may let them run ahead, but we can always see them. That’s called parenting. When I asked the chief at the meeting what I should tell my daughter about this, since I thought she was too young to have a conversation about sexual predators, there was a small chorus of dissenting voices. That’s fine. They can raise their children and I will raise mine. Right now, I choose that my daughter and my son stay innocent a little bit longer. Right now, my vigilance preserves their idyll. My daughter knows vaguely to be skeptical about strangers. More than that, she’s too young to have to deal with.

I wonder if everyone in the room looked around and wondered if that assault took place, was the assailant in the room with them?

In any event, given the age of the girl, odds are that I know her and her family. I kind of hope I don’t. Either way, my thoughts are with them.

Posted by Random Penseur at July 20, 2005 10:16 AM | TrackBack

We live in a scary world.....

Posted by: Wicked H at July 20, 2005 01:10 PM

I'm so sorry...

I remember when my oldest daughter was in kindergarten and they were offering a special... what to call it? seminar? to the kids about Good Touch and Bad Touch. It was taught by grad students from the local college (with puppets!) and it introduced the idea that bad touches can come from relatives too, including parents, and it was up to a child to decide what was a good or bad touch and then tell a "trusted" adult... like a teacher!

My husband and I were one of 2 sets of parents who opted their kids out of this program, for the same reasons you write of... mostly that it's the grownups job (esp parents) to keep their kids safe, and kids can't understand this stuff anyway (except to give them nightmares, or give them ideas they never had). But we felt like overzealous control freaks (not to mention abuse suspects) when she had to go sit in the library while the other kids watched a puppet show.

I spoke with the principal about this. I said (in a nicer way) that I felt she was destroying the innocence of the kids. She said, well, there is a remote chance one of the kids has experienced "bad touch" and if we can identify and help this one kid, it's worth it.

Posted by: Amy at July 20, 2005 05:54 PM

I misread the post early on and thought that it was the Girl Child who made the allegation. I read the rest of the post in that light, until I got to "I probably know her and her family". I was happy for a moment that I was mistaken until I realized, a moment later, that it's just someone else's nightmare right now. Here's hoping they're dealing with it the best way possible.

Posted by: Tuning Spork at July 20, 2005 08:49 PM

I agree with you completely; (if I had a child) I would not want him or her to be included in such a discussion.

The innocence of children is robbed from them earlier and earlier every year it seems. When friends of mine and I drive around town, there is unanimity among the ladies when they see ever-younger girls dressing in even-less. "I would not have worn those kinds of clothes when I was there age!" they say (though they fail, I think, to realise the hypocrisy that they wear such immodest attire at their current age).

Let us therefore pray that adults will be civil, children innocent, and all people good.

Posted by: Andrew Cusack at July 21, 2005 06:27 PM

My Grandmother in Arizona reminded me today that when she thought I was lying she would ask to see my tongue. She told me that it would be green if I was lying. That would force me to either show my tongue or hide it.. Then she knew the answer...

See? I just improved your lawyernessness.. Your welcome...

Posted by: Dr pants at July 22, 2005 05:26 PM

While I certainly understand your reluctance to have a conversation about good touching/bad touching and the like with your young daughter, it could be important. The vast majority of molestations occur not by a stranger, but someone a child knows and someone a parent trusts. My husband and I had to recently face this issue when a family member that my two young children (4.5 and 2.5) spend time with was accused by his grown children of molesting them when they were young children (like under 5 or 6). It upended our world and forced us to make sure our daughter at 4.5 had enough of a sense of "good touching" vs. "bad touching" to come to us if something made her feel strange. We tried to give enough information without making everyone seem scary--it is probably a bit of a fine line. It truly broke our hearts because it does take away a certain innocence, but we felt it was necessary in order to possibly avoid a lifetime trauma. I'm not telling you how to parent. Just know that it is not usually the stranger that you have to be worried about and you are not there every second as much as all of us would like to be. Part of parenting has to be giving your kids tools to protect themselves as well I think.

Posted by: lawmom at July 25, 2005 03:54 PM
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