An Awkward and Truly Uncomfortable Conversation

Some conversations with kids are awkward and truly uncomfortable.

But I swore that wouldn’t stop me from having them.

The most surprising thing to me about all this BDSM stuff is what I thought I was going to educate myself on (and did) was not all I wound up being educated on.

To recap, a year or so ago, I finally admitted I enjoyed many aspects of masochism and wanted to safely and responsibly integrate them into my life. My motivation was, essentially, I wanted to do freaky things with people and have them do freaky things to me. In truth, I felt rather guilty about it. With so much to do and so little time as it was, it seemed rather self-indulgent to put time into something purely sex related and that was just for me.

I did figure out the freaky part. But what surprises me the most is how it made so many things I struggled with more clear.

Like for example, I’m pretty sure I can say “No. I don’t like this. Stop now” and stand by it with conviction.

Pathetic, maybe. But that’s not time spent self-indulgently. It’s rather important.

It confounds and angers me that at my age, I had to come here of all places to fully grasp that concept in crystal clear terms.

Though it’s unfortunate to learn it later in life, I’ve found it to be a timely lesson in raising a nine-year-old girl.

A few weeks ago, Little Bill and I were waiting to be seated at Steak and Shake. It was peak dinner rush hour. An older man walked by us to grab a menu from the hostess stand. Though there was a wide berth around us, he walked close enough that he brushed against Little Bill. Instinctively, I put my arm around her and pulled her close into my side.

It’s one of those split-second happenings that, on some level, feels off but your mind doesn’t fully register or go there.

Once we were seated and put our order in, we started to work on her homework. We were engrossed in long division, so I didn’t notice the man again until our food came and I looked up. He was seated in the booth on the other side of us.

If you’ve been to Steak and Shake, you know they have that old-fashioned diner motif going where glass panes separate the booths.

He was staring at her through the glass.

My creeper radar instantly went off.

When she felt his stare, she looked up, smiled back shyly, and looked away. When she looked back again and saw he was still staring, she smiled again, fidgeted in her seat, and moved closer to me.

While this was going on, I stared at him intensely enough that he would feel my eyes boring holes through his skull. When he noticed, he flashed a friendly smile. I smiled tightly; though it didn’t reach my eyes.

He looked away.

After what he considered was a safe amount of time, he looked at her again.

Again, I glared at him.

Again, he gave me the friendly smile.

I didn’t smile back.

He looked away.

When our food came, he got up to use the bathroom and attempted to make conversation; something about how the onion rings were his favorite, too, blah, blah, blah; all the while, looking at Little Bill. Asking her what homework she was working on. How he always hated school.

Nervously, she giggled and smiled shyly.

Seriously, Mother Fucker? You don’t think I don’t see you for what you are?

I stared at him unsmiling and unreceptive to conversation.

He finally gave up and slunk away.

In the car on our way home, I asked, “What did you think about that man in the restaurant?”

She hesitated, “Oh, I don’t know. He was nice, I guess.”

“Really?” I commented mildly. “How was he nice?”

Unsure where I was going with the conversation, she said, “Well, he was smiling and trying to joke with us.”

“How did he make you feel?”

With a shrug, she laughed, “What do you mean? I don’t know. Okay, I guess.”

“Did he make you feel comfortable or uncomfortable?”

“Uncomfortable.”

I nodded. “Me too. What about him made you uncomfortable?”

“The way he kept staring at me,” she conceded.

“A little too long, right? I mean, it’s ok to smile at someone. But especially if you don’t know someone and you just stare, it’s creepy. He wasn’t a little kid. He knows better.”

“Yes,” she nodded. “He was weird.”

“I’m glad you noticed that,” I told her. “When something feels wrong, that’s your gut warning you to be on guard. That nagging feeling is there to keep you safe. You should always listen to it.”

“You looked sort of mad at him in there,” she said.

“I was. His staring was inappropriate. I was letting him know I didn’t appreciate it and he should stop. We don’t have to be nice to someone who makes us uncomfortable just because they smile and act friendly. I don’t want you to ever think you have to be nice to someone who makes you uncomfortable or who scares you.”

“Even if they’re an adult?”

“Yep. Even if they’re an adult.”

We’ve discussed sex before. I’ve been open about the basic technicalities since she was young. Body parts have never had cutesy names; girls have vaginas and boys have penises. We talked about what’s inappropriate touching from another person. I’ve told her that no one has a right to touch her in a way that feels wrong or hurts her; not even me.

But this was new ground. I couldn’t have had this conversation a year ago.

We talked about the expectations you have as a family member, student, friend, and citizen. In summary, we do our best to be kind, helpful, and hard-working. But on the flip side of that, there are people who may attempt to draw on and manipulate our kindness, politeness, and willingness to be helpful. They cross the boundaries that make us uncomfortable; that have our gut telling us something doesn’t feel right about them. When they push us and make us uncomfortable, they are not entitled to our smiles or chit chat. We have the right to ignore them, walk away, and remove ourselves because our safety comes first. We keep ourselves safe by being firm. Is that isn’t enough, we go for help.

At one point, she asked uncertainly, “Mommy, is this all tied to . . . sex? Did that man stare and smile because he was thinking about sex?”

I don’t want her to think behind every stranger who talks to her, there’s a rapist.

I don’t want her to be afraid and think the worst of people.

But there is a reality. Denying it won’t make it any less true. Denying it won’t keep her safe.

“Maybe,” I answered. “He gave me a bad feeling.”

“Did anyone ever make you feel uncomfortable when you were young?”

“Yes. I want us to always be able to talk. No matter how weird and hard it might feel. I swear I’ll try to make it as unweird as I can. I just want you to be safe.”

She nodded and turned the radio up.

It was an uncomfortable and horribly awkward conversation. But in the end, I think we both did OK.

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