Checked By A Toddler: A Street Harassment Tale

3 years ago

teddy bearYep. You read that right.

My son...my Lil' Man...dude who's got me by at least 4 inches now...checked a slimeball at the tender age of 4 on a midtown Manhattan street corner, during a busy morning commute.

See, street harassment can happen anywhere, at any time of day, no matter what you're wearing or who you're with. Worst of all, it's ALWAYS jarring and unexpected. Who is ever prepared to be regarded like a juicy steak on legs, a la hunger induced cartoon hallucinations? No one.

But my 4 year old son was ready to handle sucker-ass grown-ups, one bright morning in 2004. Peep game.

It was a routine morning of taking 2 trains from Queens into Manhattan, dropping my son at his fancy ass preschool, and doing the single-mom-dash to my desk.  We hopped out of the 6 train station at 60th and Lexington Avenue at about 8:15 a.m. one morning in August, one block from his preschool on Park Avenue.  The subway was a hot, sweaty, crowded mess, and my hands were full. Clad in my finance industry armor of a tailored suit, heels, pearls, and shoulder bag, I was also carrying my son's kiddie backpack and lunch bag for a busy day at preschool.

Chanel bag? ::chuckles:: No, mere Saks shopper, THIS is Buzz Lightyear - Star Command couture.

I held his hand at the corner as we waited at the light to cross Lexington Avenue. His free arm was wrapped around a teddy bear that went everywhere with him that summer. It was half his size and cumbersome on a crowded subway, but he didn't care.

And then it happened.

As I stared at the walk sign across the street, a sweaty, 40-something-year-old Latino man took a break from his task of passing out free Metro newspapers on the corner...leaned OVER my son's head...close to my ear...and said "Dayyyym. Gah BLESS ju mami."

Startled, I snapped my head in his direction and pulled my son closer by reflex.

Before *I* could speak, just as my frown was forming, a loud little voice said from my side:

"She's MY Mommy...and she DIDN'T sneeze!"

Teddy looked on in silent, beady eyed judgement as he and my son stared up at the offender.

Just then, the white man said to walk crossing signal changed and I quickly took off across Lexington Avenue, my angry son scurrying to keep up. When we hit the opposite sidewalk, I leaned down and reminded him he is NOT to talk to strangers.

"We have rules! People are crazy! A stranger could snatch you and be gone, all because you replied to a simple thing they said!"

And then I thanked him.

"You're not a man yet, but what you did in defending me was very sweet and brave. Thank you. You don't worry about defending me though, honey; I take care of you. Just promise me that you'll always be a gentleman to ladies, ok?"

My son replied, "He could've snatched you, too. And you didn't even sneeze! But ok, Mama. I promise."

He nailed it. When men street harass a woman, they make her feel unsafe. They make her feel like she could be snatched, tossed in a van, and never heard from again. They become the Boogey Man our parents warned us about; the pedophile lurking under the slide; the man-in-a-car with a puppy he wants us to pet.

The slimy familiar tones used, the uninvited physical proximity, the fake-compliments that quickly turn to insults when the giver isn't thanked or responded to - it clicks in us that we have to fight and get away because we're in danger - STRANGER DANGER!

Applying his known rules of manners and personal safety, my 4 year old recognized it. Now tell me why "grown" men can't?

Not a priest? Don't "bless" me. I didn't sneeze? Don't "bless" me. Bottom line: I don't need your "blessing".

#YouOkSis? #MyMommyDidntSneeze #TeddySeesYou

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