A few years ago, when my two youngest kids were around two and six years old, I took them with me on a normal, everyday trip to pick up some groceries. They tend to eat a lot (every day, in fact), so we often run to the store to pick up forgotten items or to replenish foods that apparently were in big demand.

I plopped the little one in the shopping cart and attempted to keep the older one attached to me or the cart at all times. Parents know this shopping routine all too well: Grab what you need as quickly and efficiently as you can before the kids ask for too many items or have a meltdown when you don’t get them all those said items.

When a Situation Feels Off — Intuition

That day, we had made it through a few aisles and added several necessities to the cart when I started to become aware of a presence nearby. There were several other shoppers in the store, so I didn’t pay much attention at first. However, as my kiddos and I went aisle by aisle, discussing all the snacks, toys and other random objects we did not need to buy, I noticed that this presence was not moving along as a normal person would. In fact, this man was following us and watching us … more specifically, he was watching my children.

At that point, I started to pay close attention, looking up often and catching him staring at my children and then quickly glancing away as if searching for an item on the shelves nearby. I would pretend to move away from my shopping cart (and the kids) as if I were distracted by something and then quickly move back to my cart, noticing that he would take a few steps closer to my children. I was not comfortable with his actions. At all. This was getting to be too much.

As a last attempt to lose our tracker (and perhaps salvage the shopping trip), I haphazardly whipped up and down a few random aisles, skipping over several aisles in the process, thinking the man would just give up and go away. But when I caught him in my peripheral vision one last time, I knew that it was time to make my move.

Using Situational Awareness to Your Advantage

Not wanting to confront the guy with two little ones in tow, I quickly pushed my shopping cart to the front of the store, scooped up my two-year-old daughter from the seat and firmly held the hand of my son. I explained to the kids that we didn’t need these groceries after all … what we needed was ice cream. Not surprisingly, they were very excited to abandon their prospects of possibly convincing Mom to buy junk food and leave the store for a sure promise of ice cream.

I swiftly walked across the front of the building, purposefully passing by one of the managers and asking him to walk with us. I summarized the situation and described the man’s height, clothing and overall appearance the best I could and noted that he was making us very uncomfortable, following us around the store and watching my children. I explained that the guy didn’t seem to have any shopping items of his own, so I wanted them to be aware that it could be a potential situation.

The manager nodded and thanked me for the information and watched as we walked out to our vehicle. I quickly got the kids into the car, locked the doors, started the engine and then buckled them in as I leaned uncomfortably over the front seats to reach them. (I didn’t want to stand outside the vehicle with the doors open while I got them settled in, just in case the man happened to follow us to the car.) And after some delicious and unplanned ice cream, my kids and I went to another store and finished our shopping for the day.

Self-Defense Takeaway

The lesson learned here is that even if the man from the store was completely innocent, that day, I felt he was up to no good. And even if we can’t explain every reason why we get uncomfortable or feel unsafe, we should listen to those feelings. Oftentimes, those feelings are natural, built-in responses to non-verbal communication (or even the slightest micro gestures) that our subconscious recognizes as a potential threat. And if the worst thing that happened that day was I abandoned a shopping cart full of groceries at our local big box store, then that was a very good day.