Every parent wants to street proof their child and I'm no exception, but when your child is a 6'1", 220 pound football player, you no longer worry about the obvious societal threats. Now you worry about the obscure (which, to most of us, is the obvious).
You should be.
When my son was little, I would worry about him being abducted while we ambled along the sidewalks of Manhattan. I wasn't worried about anything bad happening to him; I was worried, yet delighted, because he had no innate fear of strangers. He would chat up anyone about anything. One time on a New York City bus a woman sat next to him, he turned to her and asked, "what do you like to eat for breakfast?" She replied "raisin bran." That was the end of the conversation for my four year old.
Later during that same New York visit, while strolling without purpose through Macy's, I let go of his hand while trying on a deeply discounted new shirt. I looked down in utter horror, the sleeves of the new shirt were too short for my long arms. It happens all the time. My son was standing nearby wondering why the pained look on my face, naively never really understanding the intricacies of shopping. We carried on and I was once again thinking how easy it would be to lose him in the endless maze of merchandise. I could turn my back for a few seconds, and he could be on a one way escalator ride to Brooklyn. Only years later I would find out that he had met up with some pancake eating family with whom he had integrated seamlessly.
Fast forward to 2009. My son is now seventeen and still doesn't understand the intricacies of shopping. In five months he'll be off to university and not particularly well versed in the tactics of urban survival. So I do what any good father would do, I hand him $200 and ask him to go buy the family groceries for the week. I don't hand him a list of every single item that I want, a dumbed-down monkey could carry out that task. Instead, I say, "buy what you think we need for the week." I head into my yoga class and we reconvene in one hour and fifteen minutes.
For the 'little guy', it was an education. He's taught algebra and studies mitochondria at school, but that doesn't help him extricate a shopping cart from the grocery store pile. He tugged and tugged at the shopping carts, examining the carts closely to see if some grocery store Beelzebub had welded them together as part of some belated April Fool's joke.
Smile, you're on Candid Camera!
He stood back and weighed his options. He could use one of the smaller granny carts, but that was simply unacceptable. He bided his time until some cart savvy adult came along and separated them. Now safely inside the store with a liberated cart, he headed to the produce department.
That would be something important to buy. Let's see. I'll just have to get one of these clear plastic bags from the dispenser. As seasoned shoppers, we've all had our tussles with the produce bags. Personally, I pull violently on the roll in hope of separating one bag. As often as not, I end up with four bags and am guilted into buying four times the produce that I actually need. I still have kumquats in the fridge from 2004, don't know what to do with them. My son managed to get one bag from the roll, but he tore a cantaloupe sized hole in the side while doing so. Back to the roll. Second time, no problem. Now let's see, I'll just open up the bag to put the pears in. Hmmm. It doesn't seem to want to open. Grrrr. Ack. Aha. Voila! The tissue-thin bag is finally unlocked and the pears fall happily inside.
This is all part of my street-proofing plan. It was a Wednesday evening when he got the groceries so I introduced him to shopping during non-prime time. I won't be so generous in the future. The streets are a mean place...the malls are even worse. My next plan is to drop him into Wal-Mart on the day that government welfare cheques are issued. I fear for his safety, after all it was the Fredericton Wal-Mart where a hapless employee was rolled back, then trampled by crazed Tickle-Me-Elmo shoppers in 1996.
So what will I do to protect my son while shopping at Wal-Mart? I'm not going to tell you, but let's just say don't be surprised if you see someone in football gear pushing a granny cart.
But wait, there's more....
....I wouldn't want you to think that I'm a bad father. Of course I'd never leave him alone in a Wal-Mart! What kind of a monster do you think I am? I'll be shadowing him the whole time, a ghostly cheesehead wearing figure, always looking out for his son's best interests.