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January 30, 2014
This is Not a Stone
The Gift of Underreacting
by Hannah Bird

A guy tried to kidnap me once.

I was pretty old before I figured out that this doesn't happen to everyone. For a kid who spent her life freaking out about things like P.E. class and getting a "B" in math, I took the attempted abduction surprisingly well.

When I was in kindergarten, my family lived in a heavenly oasis called Austin, Texas. To this day Austin remains second only to my grandparents' farm for happy memories.

This was in the 70's, and the only way to get home from school in the 70's was to walk.

I liked walking home except for the ginormous grizzly bear/Labrador cross that lived on the corner of I street I had to cross. I spent a lot of my walk home gearing up for passing this fearsome beast.

That afternoon, I had managed to successfully cross the street while the beast was snarling at children walking the other direction. I was feeling pretty victorious.

Then things got weird.

A man on a motorcycle pulled into a driveway in front of me. Now, I was no sheltered suburban kindergartner. I was a savvy city kid. Our neighbor had a crocheted bikini and tattoos and smoked pot in front of small children. I had seen stuff. But nothing really prepared me for what happened next.

Motorcycle man unzipped his pants. And if that wasn't alarming enough he started stumbling towards me. For a moment I was really surprised that his mother let him out of the house without underwear. And then I realized he was reaching out to grab me.

Luckily, as I have said before, this was in the 70's. I do not know what Motorcycle Man had consumed that day, but it certainly wasn't the healthy breakfast followed by a kelp supplement that my hippie mother had handed out. In the cold light of adulthood, I am going to guess he was on PCP and all of the beer in the world.  

While this combination made Motorcycle Man think it would be fine to expose himself to a small child and try to grab me, it also made him slow.

I backed up and tried to assess my options. Before me lurked a guy who was most certainly not on my mother's list of people I could hang out with. Behind me lurked a dog that hated me with every massive fiber of its being. What I needed was a policeman. Or a uniformed body of some sort.

Then I saw the mail truck. It was parked across the street in a little entry to some apartments. I ran like the wind and jumped into the mail truck the same time as the mailman. The mailman explained that I could not be in the mail truck. I was not sure that it was a great time to explain federal regulations to a five-year-old.

I explained that Motorcycle Man had tried to grab me and he was not wearing underpants. I also explained that I was never ever getting out of the mail truck. I had seen a uniform. No federal regulation was going to take away my salvation.

In the end, the nice mailman did take me home. We also picked up another little girl who had also seen Motorcycle Man. I arrived at home bursting with excitement. I am going to blame adrenaline and the heady glory of flaunting both Motorcycle Man and the Government man in the same afternoon. That's a good day for a hippie kid.  I was all-powerful.

The mailman and I explained my afternoon to my mother. He mostly explained. I mostly interjected excitedly. I did notice that he skipped over the part where he said I had to get out of the mail truck but I was feeling magnanimous.

My mother's blue eye's got bigger and bigger. I am a mom now. I can guess what that moment felt like to her. Her heart must have been pounding. She must have been heartsick. She could have freaked out the biggest freak-out in history. She would have been justified.

Instead she looked me right in the eyes and smiled her perfect mom smile.

My mom turned to the mailman and thanked him for giving me a ride home. Then she turned to me and told me what an interesting story mine was. She suggested that we call Dad and tell him my interesting story.

This was a great idea. I had never had a "call Dad at work"-worthy story before. This was almost as big as the time my brother's friend tried to break up a dog fight and broke his arm instead.

Mom talked to Dad on the phone for a few minutes. Then I got to talk to Dad. I told him my interesting story. He agreed that it was interesting. He came right home so we could tell more people my interesting story.

My whole family trooped down to the police station so we could share our interesting story. We looked at lots of photos of Motorcycle Men types. I told the police what Motorcycle Man looked like and what he did.

Then we went for ice cream at our favorite ice cream parlor. It had old-fashioned newsprint wallpaper and every kind of ice cream  that I had ever heard of even though I only ever got rainbow bubble gum. It also may or may not have later turned out to be a front for moving drugs. But that's probably what kept the ice cream prices so darn affordable for all the young hippie families.

All in all, it was a great day.

It was a great day because when face with the choice of reacting the way she undoubtedly wanted to or to react in a way that would be the most beneficial to me, she picked me. My mom could have explained to me how really dangerous that situation was. She could have cried and hugged me and decided we should move. But instead she smiled at me.

What could have been a traumatizing event became a reason for ice cream. What could have been a sign of how vulnerable I was became a memory of how capable I could be. What could have stayed with as a dark ugly stain became funny.

There will always be these pitfalls in our travels. There will be dogs bigger than your mom's Volkswagen. There will be bad men. The dangers are real.

But sometimes, the biggest danger is how we handle it. I got home safely that day. I could have been traumatized. I could have been made to be scared. But my mom was brave. She was brave enough to smile and listen to my story.

I wish I were more like that. I do try to be. But the lesson is always with me. It isn't always big emotion and concern that demonstrate love. It isn't always worry that shows you care.

Sometimes, you just have to love enough to underreact. There is a lot of power in all the careful nothing that she said. It was power enough to turn a monster into a memory of a really good day.

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