When I was a kid, we were told to look up to police officers, respect them, consider them our friends and protectors and, if we were ever lost, to find one. Still, I think many of us were actually afraid of them.
When I got to college, police officers were “pigs,” emblems of a corrupt establishment.
These days, the whole thing seems more complicated.
If I were the mother of an African-American son, I’d be terrified, certain that the police can go too far, as we saw with the “stop and frisk” policy in New York City. In fact, years ago, I, a white, upper middle class mother in a good neighborhood, holding an infant, was screamed at by a cop just as he was about to ticket my car. I left, shaken and grateful that I was not a black kid in nearby Jamaica, Queens. I could easily imagine being slammed against the car or the pavement.
Cops have a really hard job. Constantly alert to danger, putting their lives on the line each time they go to work, they still need to remain cool and respectful. They have to get the bad guys and keep the rest of us safe. And kids need to learn (perhaps despite our adult misgivings) that they are trustworthy, approachable and not scary.
My 3.5 year old grandson, Lev, skipped “Sesame Street” and went straight to superheroes. Either he’s Superman and I’m Wonder Woman or I’m Super Savta and he’s Super Lev. I bought him some superhero t-shirts, costumes and other superhero themed toys. We have a great time playing that we are getting the bad guys. Sometimes I morph into Joker, Riddler or Lex Luther and go after him with my “scary face.” We tussle on the floor and he always defeats me.
The other day when I was babysitting, I asked Lev if he’d like to meet a real superhero, someone who always got the bad guys. He was kind of confused so I explained that if a kid was afraid or lost, he should find a police officer who would always help. A police officer, I told him, is like a real life superhero.
The local precinct is near Lev’s house so we went in and I told the woman at the desk that I would like to introduce my grandson to a police officer. I turned around and a cute young man, straight out of central casting for an episode of “Law and Order,” gave us a big grin. He introduced himself as Officer K. and put out his hand to shake Lev’s. I told Lev that Officer K. was a good guy, a superhero who got the bad guys. He was a little shy. (I think he wasn’t sure if he himself was a good or bad guy at the moment!)
The officer assured him that he was keeping everyone in the neighborhood happy and safe.
Convinced that they were on the same team, Lev unzipped his jacket and proudly showed him his Superman t-shirt. The two superheroes shook hands again and I had one happy kid who couldn’t wait to tell his friends at school about the superhero right down the block.
Super Lev and Super Savta rule!