A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


It was innocent, really.  Nothing to get excited about.  Just kids being kids.  No big deal.

So why did the thought of it send a chill through me – like taking an icicle to the heart?

Elizabeth, then a buoyant, bubbly 3-year-old, had gone across the street to play with Carlos, who was 4.  While they were playing, 4-year-old Weston dropped in.  Everything went smoothly until Carlos and Weston decided they wanted a kiss from Elizabeth.

My Elizabeth.  My sweetheart.  My baby girl.

“So what did she do?” I asked coldly, a little Arnold Schwarzenegger creeping into my normal Jimmy Stewart demeanor.

Anita must have seen the “Terminator” look in my eyes.

“Joe, it’s OK,” she said, reassuringly.  “They’re just children.”

“What did she do?” I repeated, this time with a slight Schwarzeneggerian accent.

Anita hesitated.  No doubt she was regretting having raised the issue in the first place.  Then she went ahead with the bad news: “She kissed them.”

Immediately Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jimmy Stewart stepped aside and Clint Eastwood took over – steely eyed, taut-jawed and intense.

“Where’s the rope?” I asked.

“Joe, it’s OK,” Anita repeated.  “I’ve already handled it.”

I glanced outside – toward the tree.  “Where did you hang ‘em?” I asked.

“I didn’t hang anybody,” she said, patiently.  “I just had a talk with Elizabeth and explained that our kisses are special and we only give them to special people.  I told her that she never has to kiss anybody if she doesn’t want to, or if it makes her feel uncomfortable.”

“That’s it?” I asked.  “No revenge?  No retaliation?  No guest spots on `Oprah’?”

“Nope,” she said.  “Sorry.”

“But what if they try to do it again?  What’ll we do then?  What’ll Elizabeth do?”

“I don’t know,” Anita said.  “I taught her what to say.  We practiced it a few times.  I think she’ll do just fine, but we’re going to have to wait and see.”

We didn’t have to wait long.  The very next day the boys asked for another kiss.

“I told them, `No way!’” Elizabeth said when she told her mother about it.  “Then we played Batman.”  She rolled her eyes and wrinkled her nose: “I had to be Cat Woman again.”

End of crisis – at least as far as Carlos and Weston were concerned. But I couldn’t help but wonder about the next time, when motives may be darker and the perpetrator older, stronger, more charming or more persuasive?  How do we protect our children against potential horrors in the world without sacrificing the innocence and sweetness of childhood?

I’m no expert, but it seems to me that Anita did some pretty good things in handling Elizabeth and the Preschool Paramours.  She addressed the issue immediately.  She taught our daughter our values in a way that she could understand them.  She empowered her to say “no” if she feels uncomfortable.  She provided her with an acceptable response, and she role-played the situation so Elizabeth could safely practice responding.

But the most important thing, as far as I’m concerned, is that Anita was aware of what was going on in Elizabeth’s life – and she did something about it.  Our children are growing up in a world fraught with dangerous possibilities.  We need to know what they are experiencing before we can help them cope with life.  Armed with that knowledge, we can teach them from the perspective of values that will provide a framework for living.

Innocently or otherwise.

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— © Joseph Walker

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