Donut Dilemma

When a baby is born the mother in particular enters into a new larger relationship with the world. She has become connected to all people. She is part of keeping us on earth, not the “us” comprised of individuals but the species itself. By protecting this one baby this gift a mother accepts life’s clearest responsibility.
~Gavin de Becker

Last week, Monkey Boy and I went to get donuts before school. He was pretty excited about it. When we pulled into the parking lot, he froze. I went around to open his door and he said, “I don’t want donuts anymore.” His eyes were glued to the front door of the donut shop. That’s when I noticed what he saw.

There is a man in town who I’ve seen many times. He sells brooms and mops. He is legally blind. The story I’ve heard more than once is he put two kids through college selling mops and brooms. I have no idea if that’s actually true. He shuffles around Hillcrest and the Heights, sometimes making his way over to midtown.

He’s usually dressed shabbily. He wears extremely thick glasses. He’s African-American with particularly dark skin that sags with age. I’ve seen and interacted with him enough to know he is kind man, just trying to make a living. I don’t find him scary at all. But my son did. He did not want to get out of the car.

I reminded him I was with him. He did not have to be scared because I would hold his hand. The man spoke. I spoke back. It was very polite. I did not buy a broom. We don’t need one. We got our donuts, and everything was fine. When we left, I wished the man a good day and he returned the pleasantry.

You have the gift of a brilliant internal guardian that stands ready to warn you of hazards and guide you through risky situations.
~Gavin de Becker

It’s bothered me since what I taught my son in that moment. On the one hand I want him to be a little bit afraid of adults he doesn’t know. I want him to learn what his intuition is telling him and listen. I want him to know his feelings are valid and should be respected. That way he will know other people’s feelings are valid and should be respected. I don’t want him to override that quiet voice in his head when it says, “This is not a good idea.”

I’ve been accused in my life of being too trusting of people. There have been times, looking back, my lack of fear, or rather my refusal to acknowledge fear, took me into potentially dangerously, dumb situations.

I honestly believe that’s partially because I was raised to be a good Southern girl and even if my gut told me not to trust someone, I should just ignore that. For example: if an elevator door opens and the guy inside gives me a bad feeling, I usually just get on the elevator anyway. Think about that: I’ve just locked myself in a sound proof cell with a person something in my gut said was dangerous. But it would be rude to refuse.

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.
~Hebrews 13:2

So now I have two competing values I’m trying to sort out. I try to be a good Christian girl. I fail a lot, but I try. I want to teach my son to be kind, polite and helpful to all people. We have purposefully put him around children of all races, ethnicities, religions and backgrounds so he will learn to respectful of all people.

I also don’t want fear to run his life. He could see the donuts. He wanted them, but fear was between him and the thing he wanted. His fear was of something that looked scary, but in reality, wasn’t. I want him to learn to push through uncertainty and get what he wants, rather than walk away because a challenge presented itself.

I know what you’re thinking: it’s some stupid donuts and a man with a broom. There’s no reason to make such a big deal. On the one hand you’re right. But on the other, I know the words that come out of my mouth are meaningless to him if they don’t match the actions he sees from me.

And I’m back to where I started: What did I teach him? Was it the right thing? I really don’t know.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Donut Dilemma

  1. I think you did awesome. I’m too trusting as well and it’s came back to bite me in the ass more times then I’d care to admit. I think children need to learn to accept and not be too fearful of those who look different. A child needs to be taught to trust his gut but also needs to know that you will protect him. I think it went a long way that you actually took the time to interact with the man. You taught your son kindness to others in doing this. He’s young. And like so many kids (and some adults for that matter) he’s fearful of the unknown or something that doesn’t look like anything else. But he’ll learn. And he’s got a great mom to show him the way.

  2. I think you did the right thing. I don’t have kids yet, but I remember my parents teaching me similar things in similar situations. Fortunately, the lesson I remember most was not to ignore my fears or to be polite, but rather to differentiate between right and wrong in awkward situations — when to ignore my fears and be polite and when not to. In this case, it sounds like you taught him exactly what he needs to know — that a friendly blind man is nothing to fear and should not keep him from getting donuts. And also, you taught him that his mother will always be there for him. Win, win!

  3. John

    I have to echo Tracey and Erin here. To my way of thinking, what you taught him was twofold: 1) Things both good and bad often are not what they at first seem; and, 2) There are safe (or at least safer) ways to learn the difference between what seems bad and what is bad. The key for us all is to be able to exercise good judgement without undue fear. It sounds like you got him started down that road.

  4. I don’t think you did anything wrong at all. I think it’s important to teach our children about context. Strangers are not dangerous in all situations. A blind man (or even a sighted man) standing by the door of the donut shop is a very different situation than a man seated in a car asking your child to step closer. I think what you can do is use situations as they present themselves to education your child about when it is appropriate to be near a stranger, or when it is not.