My three year old son was playing in the sand with a friend, while my five year old daughter was on the playground equipment - asking me to watch her various feats of athleticism. I was doing my best to watch both kids, bounce my infant in my arms and chat it up with the moms.
A mom friend that was there, who by all means of the definition is a Mama Bear - and we often hang out together watching our, combined five children, called over to me to check on my son. I turn to look over my shoulder to see that he's no longer where he was in the sand - and instead at a nearby bench towards the back end of the park, sitting next to a clean cut, middle aged man, wearing black pants and a black polo shirt. His body language immediately sent off red flags - his arm was draped across the bench with one leg crossed 90 degrees with his foot resting on the opposite knee. Very casual, relaxed, and open. My son, being the social butterfly he is, had climbed up on the bench to sit, apparently, wanting to get some sand out of his sneaker - with the man's arm still on the bench, behind my son's back. In description, it may seem normal and natural - but at that moment, in my eyes - I did not feel good about this man - and I'm not, generally, on alert when people talk to my kids. There was just 'something.'
I walk over with a "hey bud, need me to help you get that sand out of your shoe?" The man tells me that my son had picked up a loose plastic bag and handed it to him, complimenting him on how he's a good "cleaner" and then proceeds to tell me, "you look like you've got your hands full." (Which the way he said it not only creeped me out, but I get that all the time, and secretly despise that phrase- still trying to figure out the best comeback to that.) As usual, I smiled and forced a laugh, and proceeded to ask the man, which child was his. "None," he replies (which I pretty much knew), "I'm just waiting for someone - there they are," as he points to a few people in the distance walking toward us. I then proceed to direct my son back to where he was playing.
The only thing was - no one ever came to "meet" him, like he said.
We watched him, occasionally making eye contact - until 5-10 minutes later he a casually sauntered out of the park - the opposite direction from where he originally came in.
What set me off most, was not just that he was a man, sitting on a bench, by himself, in a park with children playing nearby - but his body language, and most importantly - my gut. I just felt uneasy around this man.
I was also glad to have my friend with me - who felt the same way and wasn't afraid to let this man know that she was watching him.
There were plenty other children playing there - with some parents or caretakers busy with their phones. This was a busy park and it was not fenced in - it was tough for us all to keep an eye on our children and there were various people in the area, with their dogs, walking to play tennis or basketball, or run around the track.
Do I think this man intended on kidnapping a child? I don't know. If anything, it felt like he was scoping out the scene - I felt like he was trying to gain a sense from me, what kind of mother I was - if I was attentive, if I felt intimidated by him, or if I was happy to have him take interest in my son.
Do I know if my feelings were right? No. I probably never will. But I know one thing - my gut was telling me to protect my children, and I can never do wrong trusting that feeling.
But what I want people to realize, is that the typical "man on the bench" is not the only predator we need to be vigilant for. Over 90% of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by people we know and trust - this is more about listening to our gut and keeping our kids safe - not just away from people we don't know. When we exercise those gut feelings with people we know and accept that the very people we like, respect, and even love, are capable of sexually abusing a child - that is when we will be most effective at protecting our children.
For more information on abuse prevention please visit the rest of this website, to learn more about how abuse happens, how often, how totalk to our children, and how to raise awareness.
I spoke with the Concord Police department to file the incident, and they informed me, that in a situation like that - they would recommend calling the station and having an office come down, hopefully while the person is still there - which will give them a better opportunity to determine if the person has a record and also give them a chance to identify the person if he/she is later reported for any other suspicious or criminal acts.