I consider myself an “old dog” these days. I find that consciously or not, many of my comments as I interact with twenty-somethings and younger, are aimed to help keep them safe. It may be annoying, but the warnings I offer are fueled by hope they can avoid some mistakes I’ve made. I’ve made plenty, but won‘t list all of those today! Instead I thought maybe it was time to share some background:
Before everyone carried a cell phone, I carried change in my pocket for phone booths. Before GPS systems mapped out areas and spoke directions aloud, I carried a folded up map with several plotted “escape routes.” It was 1986 when I walked around the Combat Zone of Boston, MA, with a whistle and good running shoes. I’m like a broken record, telling people they should never go out alone. Why? Because I did and paid for it. I didn’t know then that other crazy people did the same thing I was doing. Given the choice, I’d have gratefully partnered with someone else for safety.
Back then, I’d had training of all kinds and had reaped the benefits of having a previous boyfriend who was into martial arts, a black belt in more than one discipline who taught me some useful “tricks.” I worked as a security guard and for a private investigator. I’d been through weapons training, self-defense, and worked several years at a facility that housed patients with multiple mental disorders at a time when meds were not administered freely. I knew how to take a hit, safely restrain someone, and how to de-escalate a situation without using violence of any kind. I’ll even say I was good at it.
It was only natural that when I moved to Massachusetts to be a nanny, and met other nannies who shared horror stories of being attacked, I felt compelled to advise them about ways to protect themselves. Some of the girls barely spoke English (au pairs from areas like Norway or Denmark) and some arrived just out of high school. I spoke to my employer and she agreed that if I found someone who was being in any way abused at her job, I could bring her home and let her stay with us until other arrangements could be made. I held mini-classes on self-protection and what legal avenues could be pursued for a situation. I even created a program, pairing veteran nannies with new girls, supported by the agency.
While this was all happening many of the newer girls would go to clubs acting as if they were back home in small towns and did not take safety precautions. At first I started showing up to make sure that “my” girls got out of the bars at 2am and back to their cars safely, then I started going out every weekend and watching all of them. There were many mornings that I got back with cuts and bruises from fending off another overly-zealous dance partner who wanted to continue the dance with an unwilling woman, or flat-out violent attacker prowling the alleyways, but I always got back. (I firmly believe that was sheer dumb luck with a little divine intervention.)
By 1992 I was tired. Life changes and family needs pulled me back to Minnesota. There were a few times during those six years that I’d come across people who had been hurt and I hadn’t known how to treat them, so that became my new focus. I studied and even became certified to train others to perform various emergency medical treatments.
I don’t know if anyone really wakes up one day and says, “I’m going out to help someone today” and thus begins their life of service. Maybe it does happen, but more likely it’s what we see and experience in our lives that guides us gently but purposefully down that special path. If you want to be ready for it and most effective, you’ll train now. You’ll learn what you can and put it into practice, then learn some more. New dogs can learn old tricks too! Ask for advice or information from anyone who has been out there a long time. More likely than not, they will offer you plenty of ideas. No matter how much you do, how old or young you are, learning opportunities never cease. It’s never too early, or too late, to start.