Spidey Sense

Welcome to the September 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Staying Safe
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared stories and tips about protecting our families. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

One day during the summer, I took the kids to a playground in a part of town I hadn’t been to before. The venue had been suggested for a meetup with some other friends, but it was clear before I left the house that nobody else was likely to make it. Never mind, I thought, we’ll check out somewhere new. It’ll be an adventure, I said.

The route was straightforward and we were there in about fifteen minutes. There was plenty of space to park, a lovely new-looking pirate-ship shaped playground structure, clean bathrooms, and a river view. There were some other children at the playground and everyone had a good time for a while, until we got hungry.

We took our lunches over to the picnic tables. I noticed some people sitting at the tables were older men, smoking, not seeming to have anything to do with the children at the playground. Not to put too fine a point on it, they looked somewhat homeless. We sat at a further away table without making any avoidance too obvious – it was reasonable to want a clean table in the shade. My kids and I had a little discussion about smoking. Apparently they lead a sheltered existence, because they don’t see it very often so they always feel the need to comment, and then I have to agree that smoking is bad for you but that it’s often hard to stop once you’re in the habit, in case those people are listening and taking umbrage.

A group of summer-camp kids and their supervisors came along and started unpacking lunches at the tables beside us. This was obviously a perfectly safe area. But I was starting to feel a little uneasy, nevertheless.

A little further along the waterfront I could see another playground – one of those red and yellow plastic ones you can see for a long way. It looked cheerful and I suggested we check it out rather than going back to the pirate ship, since our friends were clearly not coming and the other children playing there seemed to have gone home. My son wanted to walk the fairly short distance, but I insisted on going back to get the car and driving down to the parking lot beside the other playground. I said it was because we had to put our lunch things back in the car anyway, but the truth, which I was still only half admitting to myself, was that I wanted to know I had a quick exit strategy, just in case the other playground turned out to be not so child-friendly.

I drove the scant quarter mile along the road, with the seven-year-old laying the blame for global warming squarely at my feet all the while. As we turned into the second parking lot, I took in a few details. The building beside the playground seemed to be derelict, but a young man was standing on the steps. Loitering, you might almost say. There was a truck with a worker loading or unloading something park-related and official around the side. As we approached the playground, I registered the following:

  1. The swings and slides were in some disrepair.
  2. There were no children to be seen.
  3. The only other cars in the parking lot were two parked beside each other with open doors and one person in each, conversing, or exchanging illegal substances for money, or something. 

Now, I’m not the most noticing of people, and I like to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, but something about fact number three there just screamed “drug deal” to me. I swung all the way around the parking lot and smoothly back out again and announced that we were going home, actually. The four-year-old in the back (who had fed all her lunch to the geese) exploded with misery, and the seven-year-old wasn’t far behind. Being driven slowly past an enticing new playground and then whisked away was high on their list of atrocities, but I just didn’t feel comfortable and no amount of wailing was going to induce me to stay.

As we drove away and the indignant cries died down, as I – incidentally – missed the on-ramp I needed and started to get lost in an unfamiliar part of town that I was noticing looked more and more sketchy, I took the opportunity to explain to my kids the importance of listening to your Spidey Sense.

My invoking the webbed wonder made them stop and pay attention. Your Spidey Sense, I told them, lets you know when things aren’t right. Listen to it. If you feel uncomfortable in a place, or with a person, even if it’s a grown up who’s supposed to be in charge of you, that’s your Spidey Sense telling you to leave. Even if you can’t see anything wrong, if you know there’s no logical reason to feel that way, just go.

So I explained the things that had made me uncomfortable in that place – the possibly homeless men, the derelict building, the absence of other children at the unmaintained playground – and I told them that I felt it wasn’t a safe place for us to be, and that was why we’d left. (I didn’t mention the drug deal. It might have been a perfectly innocent job interview. Or something.) They listened, they took it in, and they stopped calling me the worst mother ever for leaving a set of swings unswung in.

Two children on a tyre swing at a playground
Not the playground in question

I haven’t read The Gift of Fear, but I know that listening to your Spidey Sense, or however the author may term it, is a vital message of the book. And, though I’ve been lucky enough never to have found myself in a situation I couldn’t get out of, the older I get, the more credit I give to my gut feelings. It’s never too early to teach your children to trust their instincts. It might just keep them safe.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be updated by afternoon September 10 with all the carnival links.)

  • Stranger Danger — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama shares her approach to the topic of “strangers” and why she prefers to avoid that word, instead opting to help her 4-year-old understand what sorts of contact with adults is appropriate and whom to seek help from should she ever need it.
  • We are the FDA — Justine at The Lone Home Ranger makes the case that when it comes to food and drugs, parents are necessarily both their kids’ best proponent of healthy eating and defense against unsafe products.
  • You Can’t Baby Proof Mother Nature — Nicole Lauren at Mama Mermaid shares how she tackles the challenges of safety when teaching her toddler about the outdoors.
  • Bike Safety With Kids — Christy at Eco Journey In the Burbs shares her tips for safe cycling with children in a guest post at Natural Parents Network.
  • Watersustainablemum explains how she has used her love of canoeing to enable her children to be confident around water
  • Safety without baby proofing — Hannabert at Hannahandhorn talks about teaching safety rather than babyproofing.
  • Coming of Age: The Safety Net of Secure AttatchmentGentle Mama Moon reflects on her own experiences of entering young adulthood and in particular the risks that many young women/girls take as turbulent hormones coincide with insecurities and for some, loneliness — a deep longing for connection.
  • Mistakes You Might Be Makings With Car Seats — Car seats are complex, and Brittany at The Pistachio Project shares ways we might be using them improperly.
  • Could your child strangle on your window blinds? — One U.S. child a month strangles to death on a window blind cord — and it’s not always the obvious cords that are the danger. Lauren at Hobo Mama sends a strong message to get rid of corded blinds, and take steps to keep your children safe.
  • Tips to Help Parents Quit Smoking (and Stay Quit) — Creating a safe, smoke-free home not only gives children a healthier childhood, it also helps them make healthier choices later in life, too. Dionna at Code Name: Mama (an ex-smoker herself) offers tips to parents struggling to quit smoking, and she’ll be happy to be a source of support for anyone who needs it.
  • Gradually Expanding Range — Becca at The Earthling’s Handbook explains how she is increasing the area in which her child can walk alone, a little bit at a time.
  • Safety Sense and Self Confidence — Do you hover? Are you overprotective? Erica at ChildOrganics discusses trusting your child’s safety sense and how this helps your child develop self-confidence.
  • Staying Safe With Food Allergies and Intolerances — Kellie at Our Mindful Life is sharing how she taught her son about staying safe when it came to his food allergies.
  • Don’t Touch That Baby!Crunchy Con Mom offers her 3 best tips for preventing unwanted touching of your baby.
  • Playground Wrangling: Handling Two Toddlers Heading in Opposite Directions — Megan at the Boho Mama shares her experience with keeping two busy toddlers safe on the playground (AKA, the Zone of Death) while also keeping her sanity.
  • Letting Go of “No” and Taking Chances — Mommy at Playing for Peace tries to accept the bumps, bruises and tears that come from letting her active and curious one-year-old explore the world and take chances.
  • Preventing Choking in Babies and Toddlers with Older Siblings — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now gives tips on preventing choking in babies and toddlers along with Montessori-inspired tips for preventing choking in babies and toddlers who have older siblings working with small objects.
  • Keeping Our Children Safe: A Community and National Priority — September has many days and weeks dedicated to issues of safety; however, none stir the emotions as does Patriot Day which honors those slain the terrorist attacks. Along with honoring the victims, safety officals want parents to be ready in the event of another disaster whether caused by terrorists or nature. Here are their top tips from Mary at Mary-andering Creatively.
  • A Complete Family: Merging Pets and Offspring — Ana at Panda & Ananaso shares the ground rules that she laid out for herself, her big brown dog, and later her baby to ensure a happy, safe, and complete family.
  • Be Brave — Shannon at Pineapples & Artichokes talks about helping her kids learn to be brave so that they can stay safe, even when she’s not around.
  • Catchy PhrasingMomma Jorje just shares one quick tip for helping kids learn about safety. She assures there are examples provided.
  • Know Your Kid — Alisha at Cinnamon&Sassfras refutes the idea that children are unpredictable.
  • Surprising car seat myths — Choosing a car seat is a big, important decision with lots of variables. But there are some ways to simplify it and make sure you have made the safest choice for your family. Megan at Mama Seeds shares how, plus some surprising myths that changed her approach to car seats completely!
  • I Never Tell My Kids To Be Careful — Kim is Raising Babes, Naturally, by staying present and avoiding the phrase “be careful!”

20 thoughts on “Spidey Sense

    1. Maud

      Our neighborhood has a ton of great playgrounds – we’re spoiled for choice. But venturing a little farther afield brought me to unfamiliar territory.

  1. Busy Mama

    Great article and I totally agree with you about trusting yourself and teching kids to do likewise. I think a great deal of the historical problems we’ve had with keeping children safe can be attributed to placing a stronger emphasis on manners and rules rather than listening to our basic intuition. If my kids announce they ‘dont like someone’ I ask them to be polite but dont force any interaction – and to be honest it normally fades quickly but I hope I’m showing some respect for their first impressions. That’s the theory anyway! X

    1. Maud

      Yes! My daughter hates it when adults smile at her and I never make her smile back just “to be polite”. Though I would prefer if she didn’t stick out her tongue and blow a raspberry at them either.

  2. Lauren Wayne

    Totally great point! And I love the “Spidey Sense” terminology, too! I’ve had several occasions where I’ve just had to go with the fact that something felt not-right and that — even if I was overreacting, even if I made someone else feel snubbed or uncomfortable — I had to protect myself and my family first and foremost.

  3. Anonymous

    Allow me to be the one person to rain on your parade a bit…exactly what did you think was going to happen to you guys? Someone was going to deal to you and your kids? Homeless people were going to nap on a bench?

    Spidey sense is great, and all, but this seems like privileged white people snobbery.

    Don’t mean to be anonymous but no way to leave an email.


    1. Maud

      You’re right, it might have been exactly that. (Though I didn’t mention skin color anywhere in my description. You are making assumptions there.) Later that day I heard that this area has a notoriously bad name, but because I didn’t grow up around here, I didn’t know that before.

      My point was that even if nothing bad was happening or going to happen, I felt like getting out of there, and I honored that feeling, and that’s the lesson I tried to get across to my kids; not that homeless people are dangerous.

  4. Jennifer Saleem

    There are gobs of parks within walking and short driving distance from our house and each one has its downfall. I think that is the nature of public spaces you know? But there have been times when my mama gut gets uneasy over something and I will leave, even if it means an outburst from a peeved four year old. Since we walk a lot of places, I am especially conscious of our surroundings, particularly at parks that are more isolated. I have never had an issue with homeless folks – in fact most have been really friendly and happy to have someone actually talk to them – and the drug deals, well, I hate to see that but its a reality. I just try not to make it obvious that I have one eye on what’s going on. But I have had situations were a lone man would stare at us in a not so casual way. And then leave. And then come back. Spidey Sense kicked it big time.

    At the end of the day, you go with your gut. You have to protect your children. So yeah – better to be safe than sorry. There will always be other parks to play at.

  5. Justine

    I was given “The Gift of Fear” 15 years ago when I went off to college, and I read it again periodically because it has made such a valuable impact on my life. As I commented on another post in this safety series, I also recommend “Protecting the Gift,” which is tailored toward keeping your kids and teens safe. I love the idea of calling your gut instinct “Spidey Sense.” We’ve talked about trusting your gut with our kindergartner but never had such a great word for it. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Maud

      You know, I’m sure I’m not the one who came up with this term. I think possibly it’s been called that on a discussion forum I contribute to (as that’s where I heard about The Gift of Fear). But it does happen to make a great way to explain it to children.

      (If anyone out there is the originator of Spidey Sense in this context, please do take full credit for it and don’t think I’m stealing your thunder!)

  6. Thrift Store Mama

    Aww, Justine took my comment !

    Seriously though, I read Protecting the Gift when Beezus was about 3 years old and it really changed the way I looked at the world and at her.

    I worry we’re never going to get to use our Spidey Sense here in Colorado, but this reminds me that I need to talk to them about it anyway.

  7. Christy

    I agree with you. We don’t listen to our intuition enough these days. At a local park, at the back of a housing complex, I recently had to leave early because I didn’t feel comfortable with the gangs of teenager smoking and swearing on the benches ringing the play equipment. I have nothing against teenagers, and I think people are often unnecessarily distrustful of teenagers (basically they are good, they just like to hang out). But I took issue with the smoking and swearing around my young kids.

    1. Maud

      Gah, I hate people swearing around my kids. I have a neighbor who is totally oblivious and swears at her dog right in front of my kids. I didn’t spend all these years purging my vocabulary of colourful terms just to have her ruin it all, you know?

  8. Office Mum

    I told me kids about spidey sense yesterday – I don’t know that they full understood as we were just driving along and I had no there and then concrete example but I’ll bring it up again. They loved the name


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