My feelings regarding personal safety changed when I became a mother. The instinctual “mother bear” emotions came to life, but at the same time my easy-going personality was challenged to decide whether I was overreacting or dutifully protecting my children. Even more interesting, my awareness of my surroundings seemed to lessen when I was alone. Until recently, whenever alone, I’ve tended to relax and let my guard down.
An early morning encounter with a stranger however, reminded me that whether alone or with children, there are certain precautions I must take as a woman.
A few weeks ago the stars aligned and my husband was off work on a Friday and my two teenage nieces were staying with us. That meant there were plenty of responsible bodies to care for my children while I woke up early to complete a run before daycare drop-off. I slapped on my headphones, cranked up my favorite Spotify playlist, and headed out to run alongside a highly trafficked street. Towards the end of my run I decided to walk into a church parking lot — highly visible from the road — for my cool down walk. As my back was turned, I heard a vehicle turn into the parking lot (thankfully, I had already taken one earbud out). I first thought it was a church van, until I noticed scratched off, faded logos on its side. A gentleman leaned out of the van window and tried to get me to catch a ride with him because, in his words, “I looked stranded.”
Every fiber in my body was telling me to RUN.
He eventually drove away after I declined his offer and started walking quickly to the sidewalk. I like to think that I’m a pretty smart individual, but instead of trying to get a photo of his tags or calling the police, I simply hurried home to share what had happened with my husband and then with my Facebook friends. It wasn’t until our city’s police chief commented and asked me to send him information, that I realized how terribly my situation could have ended.
Since then, I’ve become more aware of my personal safety at all times; my hope is to prevent or deter similar situations from occurring. Here’s what I do now:
- Have a plan. Life is chaotic when you add children to the mix. Having a plan for different situations not only gives you peace of mind, but also will help you react more quickly if something bad were to arise. Your family should know what to do if you get separated in public, if the house were to catch on fire, or if someone were to try to abduct you while you are out.
- Brush up on safety skills. It’s never too late to take a class that will help you in an emergency situation. I will be taking a self-defense class soon, along with a CPR class. Sadly, as a mother of two children I’m long overdue. Both classes will give me the knowledge and practice I need to understand stressful situations.
- Always let someone know where you are. I could have easily slipped out of bed when my husband was asleep to go running. Instead, I woke him up to let him know my plans, which prompted him to text me while I was doing my cool down walk when the van pulled up. As soon as the van left, I texted my husband asking him to unlock the door and be waiting for me. With my children, I’m normally solo in the mornings while getting them ready and to school. I always text my husband during that time to let him know we are awake and when I arrive to work. He knows that if he doesn’t hear from me, he needs to start calling work and daycare to double check we made it.
- Alert someone. I can’t believe I didn’t call 911 or the police as soon as the van drove away. I was thinking that nothing major had happened so there was no reason to report it. I eventually sent a recap of the incident to our police chief who shared it with our city’s police department and the neighboring town’s police chief. Within a week, the news reported that a similar incident had occurred to another jogger. Speaking up allowed the media to share the story, description of the man, and warn other joggers. If something feels off, report it to the correct authorities. This might be security at a store, your local police department, or HR at your work. As a public servant I can attest that sometimes we get calls with no merit. However, there have also been many times where one person’s call to report something odd has helped prevent a bad situation from happening.
- Get rid of the distractions. I keep beating myself up for having my headphones in blaring music; this took away my sense of hearing and made me numb to what was going on around me. Whether alone or with your children, get rid of distractions so you are always aware of your surroundings. Take the headphones out and put your phone away. Situations can escalate quickly.
- Don’t be a bystander. If you notice something isn’t right, say something or do something. I’ve noticed two domestic situations in the past and immediately called the police to give them details. I could have easily driven away and chalked it up to a matter that was none of my business, but it was just as easy to pick up my phone and make a call. Your intervening could save someone’s life.
- Don’t let fear consume you. It’s difficult to ignore the constant flow of news stories and social media posts that remind you of every horrible thing that could happen to you and your family. Honestly, sometimes I don’t even want to get in the car and drop my children off at daycare because so many things can happen between point A to B. However, life is short and time with your family is short. I like to use those stories as learning tools and then go on to enjoy my day-to-day.