A couple of weeks ago I took Marley and her friend to the California Science Center. We’ve been there countless times, but Marley loves it and wanted to go. And when your fourteen year old daughter requests a visit to the science museum over the weekend, you take her. (Especially when the request comes in on a Monday and not Friday night when your weekend is already planned.)
I had considered bringing my book and hanging out in the cafe while we were there (me, my book and a cup of coffee for three hours – heaven!) but instead I walked around with the girls. I can’t imagine she’ll let me hang out with her much longer.
We had a great time. I enjoyed watching the girls getting all science-y with the exhibits. They got their hands dirty as they sifted through sand and made dams and changed river courses in the river zone. They challenged each other to see who could keep their hand on the ice wall the longest. (I think it was a draw.) And they both liked the drunk driving simulator. (FYI, they didn’t do very well driving sober or drunk!)
We were almost ready to go and the girls were doing something on a computer screen in the communication room when three guys in their twenties surrounded them and started talking to them. I was standing a couple of screens over and decided to watch to see what the guys were up to (no good) and what the girls would do. My first instinct was to tell the guys to get lost right away, but I wanted to see how the girls would handle themselves. The guys were definitely standing a bit too close and one of them lured Marley a few feet away from her computer and asked what she thought about his friend’s mustache. After about two minutes the girls walked away.
I followed close behind and Marley turned to me and said, “Mom, help.”
“I want you to know I had my eye on those guys the whole time,” I said. “I would have stepped in if they touched you or if they hung around too long, but I wanted to see how you’d handle yourselves. You were right to walk away.”
I asked them how they felt when the guys surrounded them and they said they didn’t like it. They felt boxed in but they didn’t want to be rude. I told them that it was okay to be rude if they felt unsafe. I said that if I hadn’t been there they could have told a guard that the guys were making them feel uncomfortable. The museum is not going to put up with that business.
As we were walking toward the exit we noticed the guys heading out too. I think it was a coincidence rather than them following us, but they looked at the girls in a way no men should look at fourteen year old girls and I’d had enough.
“You know these girls are children, right?” I said to them. “Children!”
One of them looked at me, “Well, I’m a child at heart.”
“But not legally,” I said.
“You have beautiful children,” he said.
“Yes, I do. But you need to move along. Now.”
And they did. Thankfully.
On our way home we talked about the situation some more. The girls said if they were leaving the museum and I wasn’t there they would have gone into the gift shop. If they men followed them in they would have told an employee. We talked about different scenarios in different locations.
I told them they needed to trust their instincts and if they ever felt uncomfortable in a situation they needed to find a way out of it.
I told Dave what happened later that night. I still wasn’t sure I handled the situation properly. Maybe I should have jumped in right away. I told the girls to trust their instinct, yet I hadn’t followed mine. When those guys first approached Marley and her friend, Mama Bear wanted to jump in and slash them with her claws. Dave told me he thought I handled it just right.
I wish that all Marley and her friend learned that day was about ecosystems and rivers and brain chemistry instead of how to trust your gut when you’re in an uncomfortable and potentially dangerous situation.
I wish that wasn’t a lesson that needed to be taught to my daughter. To anyone’s daughter. But we all know that’s not the world we live in. And sometimes the lessons we don’t want to teach our kids are the most important lessons of all.