We live within walking distance of downtown Webster Groves, a perfect place to get coffee or groceries or a smoothie or a haircut (even sushi!) We even pass the fire station where firemen wave to the girls and occasionally let them ring the bells on the fire truck - it's a bit like Mayberry. On mornings like this morning, when the humidity hasn't yet covered St. Louis like a double thick wool blanket, I like to take the girls down to St. Louis Bread Company for their favorite pumpkins muffies - muffins without the stump. The ladies behind the counter know Clara and Kate by now and usually find something cool to give them, like giant purple straws or little cookie treats. Needless to say, any suggestion from me that we walk downtown is met with a race to the back door.
This morning I put Kate in her umbrella stroller and Clara hopped on her tricycle for the walk downtown. The sidewalks downtown are decorated with benches and plenty of trees, and often I get looks from people who see a little girl riding her tricycle down such a street as the height of Americana. I'm used to plenty of smiles. This morning was a little different.
Occasionally along the sidewalks a curb cut will lead to a parking lot set behind the storefronts. As we approached one such curb cut I saw a man was waiting to turn left across traffic into it. Clara was riding her tricycle just ahead of me and I considered having her stop and wait with me, but made the decision that the best thing was for her to continue through it. There were plenty of cars coming in the opposite direction that blocked the man from turning left. Plus, I looked at the man and made eye contact, the unspoken "I see you and you see me and my daughter" message. So we continued down the sidewalk and lived happily ever after. Good story, eh?
A minute later, a woman of advanced years stopped her car in the middle of the road to tell me what she thought of my parenting: "You have got to teach that girl to stop for every driveway! There was a man back there who was going to turn into that driveway. He could have hit her!" She continued to admonish me but by the point I was just looking at the line of cars gathering behind her. I might have even defended myself if the woman stopped talking long enough. Instead I just shook my head slowly in the way that Megan hates - as if I'm completely dismissing everything this woman has to say. There were some honks and I gave the woman a law-enforcement "move-along" wave and simply said, "Keep driving, lady. Keep driving." She drove off, having said what she wanted to say.
Now I've been around enough grandparents who see mortal danger in every little thing a kid goes near, so I understand where this woman was coming from. But I'm not the type of parent who has his children fear anything and everything around them until they are too skittish to do anything.
I'm wondering what it was about me that made this woman think, here's a parent who clearly needs help and advice. I'm a clean-cut, fairly well dressed guy. I didn't have a bong hanging out my back pocket and my extensive tattoos were covered up. She couldn't have known that I'm the editor of Let Your Kids Ride Tricycles on Dangerous Streets quarterly. So what was it about me that made this lady think I had no clue about keeping my kids safe? What about me screamed, "this parent needs your help and advice desperately!" hmmmmmmm... I wonder...
I'm guessing it's my boy parts that preclude me from being a good and responsible parent.