Now that we're one big happy, private family, I'll write down the whole story. I know I freaked some of you out, but honestly, I was more than just a little freaked myself. Here goes:
Several Thursdays ago there were tornado warnings out. The sky looked REALLY bad and there were tornados touching down and doing damage no further than 15 miles from here. It was around the time GraceAnne gets off of school, so I figured they'd keep her there. I called the school around 2:45 to see what was going on and they said they had allowed the children to board the buses as normal. At around 3:10 she was late, so I called the bus barn. They told me that they had ordered all buses to stop at the nearest school and get all the children off of the bus and into the hallways to follow tornado procedure. They weren't sure where GraceAnne was, but assured me she was safe and would be home as soon as the storms blew over.
Of course this worried me, but I was also busy putting things in the closet under our stairs so that if I needed to take the babies to shelter I could. I spent the next hour and a half staring out the front window, watching the storm swirl in between spurts of getting things together and taking care of Violet & Corbin. During this time I noticed that there was a red truck parked in front of the neighbor's house. The driver had been talking to the neighbor, so while I thought it was strange he was out there in such a bad storm, I figured he knew the neighbor.
GraceAnne finally got home at about 10 minutes till 5 and by this time the storm had cleared up and I was starting dinner. I wasn't waiting for her specifically because I had no idea when she'd be home. When she came in, the bus had already gone, (not supposed to happen, they're not allowed to leave Kindergartners without seeing the parent.), but I figured she had been in a hurry to drop all the kids off since it was so late. Then GraceAnne said, "Mom, this really nice guy walked me to the door and let me use his umbrella!" The thought of someone walking my daughter to the door and not saying anything to me unnerved me a tad, but I let it go. I figured it was the neighbor's friend. I looked out the door to see if anyone was still around, but no one was and the red truck was gone.
Friday I opened the door for GraceAnne when her bus came and noticed the red truck in front of the neighbor's house again. I made a mental note to myself that he must know the neighbor if he was parked in front of her house 2 days in a row and shut the door.
Monday I went to check the mail and Violet followed me outside. She wanted to play with sidewalk chalk, so I sat with Corbin on the porch swing while she colored on the front sidewalk. I noticed the red truck again and thought it strange that he was there everyday. GraceAnne got off the bus and we all began to walk in and I noticed that the red truck sped off after the bus left. No one got in his truck and he hadn't spoken to the neighbor the entire time he was there. Now the man was starting to scare me. I took all the kids inside and called the neighbor. I asked her if she knew that man and she said that before Thursday she had never seen him in her life. She said he told her that he was waiting on his daughter to get off the bus.
This is where I completely freaked. No one else gets off in front of our house because it's not a real stop. The only reason GraceAnne was allowed to get off here was because when I had the baby I had pulled her off the bus and told them it was too cold for me to stand outside with a 19-mo-old and a newborn. The bus driver made a deal with me that she would drop GraceAnne off in front of the house instead of taking her down the block. Of course at this point the comment about the man walking her to the door comes back to me. I called the school, I called the bus barn and I called the police department. Of course I also called my husband, to see if I was flipping out for no real reason. He agreed something was very wrong and encouraged me to move forward.
Let me pause here to say, I do have reason to be overly protective and a little too sensitive in this arena. I've been through the trauma of child molestation and been a victim to other sexual crimes in the past, so I know sometimes I jump into the deep end feet first. I've spent a lot of time and effort to become the more balanced person I am now. I am not terrified to let my children play at a park, but I do watch them a little more closely and cautiously than a lot of moms I know. I have made a great effort to not be a total spazz and they do have certain amounts of freedom, but because of my history, caution will always be in the back of my mind.
The police told me that they could do nothing without a license plate number, so I made a plan to have GraceAnne ride the bus the following day and I would attempt to get the information I needed. He never came back. When I couldn't move forward in the way I felt I needed to in order to protect my child, the downward spiral began. For 2 weeks the kids did not get out of my sight. I shut down my Facebook page, my MySpace page and my blog was temporarily shut down, as well. GraceAnne wasn't allowed to get on the bus in the afternoons anymore, (and she didn't want to, anyway, so it was alright) and she was given a new description of "stranger." I started to turn the security system on while I was home during the day. I wouldn't leave the kids in the car, even if all I was doing was running from the driveway to the door and back to get the mail. I turned back into the scared little girl from so long ago and all in the name of saving my daughter. From my view point, there was someone who had been stalking my daughter out there and if he had gone so far as he had, what would stop him from finding a way around my defenses?
Now...there's where I lost half of you. You think I just went nutso cuz of my past. That's alright, you're allowed to think so, but I want to challenge you to understand something...these people will find something they "need" just like an addict. They see a photo of a little girl on a website somewhere; they search for the mother's name on the net and find she has a blog, over the course of time they collect small bits of information, such as what town they live in, what things the child likes to do, and they wait. They may wait for a year or more until finally a picture is posted of the family in front of their home. They do a little zooming and find the house number. It doesn't take long to put the whole puzzle together once you've got the edges done.
Or maybe they see a little girl getting on the bus. They follow the bus until they see the little girl get off. They know where she lives and they watch parental habits. In my case, about 1 time out of 10 I would not be right at the door when she got home because I was doing something with the little ones or going to the bathroom, etc. Suddenly there is an opportunity to become a "friend" instead of a stranger. They offer the little girl help to the door with an umbrella on a rainy day. If you ask a 5-year-old if someone who helped them once was a stranger, they will tell you no. Even if mom and dad have no idea who they are. This is called "conditioning." It sets the stage for one time going to the child and saying, "honey, your mommy is in the hospital and asked me to pick you up and take you to her" at which point the child is worried about mommy and that overshadows the worry that they shouldn't get into this man's truck--besides, he was nice that one time...
So now as much info as I could get off the net is gone and my blog is open to only people I know care about us and as for the rest, I'll just pray that the good Lord takes care of us and that if, God forbid, something ever happens, He'll carry us through it. But it won't be because I didn't do the smart thing.
So now we move on to about a week ago. I was at church cleaning up after dinner and Allan took the girls home with him. I decided to sit down and chat with some of the other ladies. During the course of our conversation, a girl from the youth group walks in. We tell her that the youth are gone and she says she will sit with us until they get back. A little while later I decide that I should go. Corbin was getting fussy and I was tired, so I stood up to leave. A friend I had not talked to about the situation, (by this point almost everyone knew, so I didn't realize she didn't know) asked me if I had seen a picture she posted on Facebook. I said no, that I had deleted my page. She looked at me funny and then I realized I had not told her. I explained it all to her and at the end all the women were asking me to describe the man and the truck and I did. The girl from the youth group looks up at me and says, "are you sure that truck was as red as you think it is?" I told her I was pretty sure and she looked at me strangely. I said, "please, ease my mind if you know who this is, because I've been freaking out for 2 weeks that someone is stalking my daughter." She looked down and said, "my dad is ____ & _____" (matched the description I gave.) My stomach fell to the floor, I think. She asked me what neighborhood I live in and I told her. She informed me that her sister rides the bus with GraceAnne.
I cannot begin to describe the mixture of relief and anguish I felt at this point. Relieved that my fear was unfounded and that my daughter hadn't barely escaped with her innocence or her life. Anguished because can you imagine hearing something like that about someone you know and love?? The poor girl kept saying over and over again, "I swear my dad's not like that."
The next few minutes liked to have lasted an eternity, but we managed to discover that the younger daughter had been getting off the bus at the wrong stop. She would then walk home with her friends and her dad was tired of it. Even though no one else gets off at our stop, he told the bus driver to ONLY let his daughter off in front of our house. This never happened, (hence the speeding off when the bus left). Why he wanted to pick her up in front of our house I'll never know. Why he walked my daughter to the door and said nothing to me is a mystery, but the seed was planted and though I'm relieved, I'm also not stupid. It could have as easily been something not right. That girl was at our church that night for a reason and my friend asked me that question for a reason and it was all entirely too coincidental to have not been divine.
The biggest thing here and what sealed my Facebook page and blog for good is that before all this happened I KNEW these things. I know about freaks and perverts, I know how they stalk and find people on the internet, I know how they use your habits and your conveniences against you. I kept everything fairly private...my FB page has only ever been viewable by friends only. I am constantly checking the security of things like that and being sure nothing has changed or leaked. I was, for all intents and purposes, being smart. And then after the whole church thing went down a friend said, "at least you can get back on Facebook now." But no...I can't. It was taking up way too much of my time anyway and not only could my children have suffered physically because of my little hobby, they were suffering mentally because time spent there would have been better spent with them. The day after I logged back in, (by the way, when you "delete" your Facebook account you don't really delete it...it's just suspended out there in the internet somewhere) I realized just how ridiculous it was. If a man wasn't really stalking GraceAnne, then shouldn't I have learned something else from it?
So here I am. Learning one more time how to balance the part of me that wants to dig a hole and live in it with my family so no one can ever get to us and being a lonely stay-at-home mom who wants desperately to be known and to have social interaction. Both sides are going to have to sacrifice a little, but I trust we'll find a happy-medium.
If you read this far you probably have a lot of other things piled up to attend to. Haha. Love and miss you all!