I try to avoid the 24-hour news cycle. I’m not anti-news, I just don’t need to hear the same story rehashed one thousand different ways around the clock.
When the story of the Boston Marathon bombing broke, I listened to the initial details. I
read a thorough piece on the suspects published by the Boston Globe. I watched for 20 minutes as the younger suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, hid in a boat in a backyard and authorities determined how to safely apprehend him. That was about it. I somehow still always know what is going on with that case through a process of media osmosis.
My husband watches MSNBC a lot, so it is on in the background. When I go online to open my Yahoo mailbox, I see the headlines of the day. Retired Air Force personnel discuss the details of those headlines over coffee at the local Panera where I work sometimes. So I keep up on major news stories, even when I’m not trying to let them invade my day.
In general, news stories like the Boston Marathon bombing do not affect my day-to-day routine. Of course I feel sympathy for the lives lost. I got choked up when I read a statement from the family of the eight-year-old boy who was killed near the finish line. I take time to hug my children more tightly after stories break like the school shooting facilitated by Adam Lanza. I am impacted, but never engulfed in the story itself or the accompanying fear.
Well, until last week. The details surrounding the kidnapping and 10-year captivity of three young women in Cleveland at the hands of Ariel Castro have permeated my usually cool news approach. Quite frankly, the story terrifies me because it speaks directly to what I most value, and fret over, in my home: the innocence of my children.
One of the first things we teach our kids when they start exercising some independence outside the home is to not talk to strangers and to never, ever get in a car with one. We develop code words for pickup times and make sure they know their addresses as soon as they can speak so they can always find their way home with the help of a trusted adult, like a teacher or police man. We explain, without frightening them too much, that not all “bad” people look that way and that even though they should usually listen to adults, sometimes it is okay to say “no.”
Parents teach these things. Schools teach these things. Police departments teach these things. From an early age, the “stay away from strangers” rule is embedded in our culture. So how then did three separate young women all go against their gut instincts, and the lessons they had learned since toddler years, to accept a ride from a stranger? The details are still coming out but at least at the outset it appears that all three entered the car willingly and accepted his offer to give them a ride home from work. How could they do that? What were they thinking?
I ask these questions not to point blame but rather to emphasize my own fears. I think back to the years I was in the age range of these young women at the time of their abductions. I worked outside the home, sometimes alone at the local beach park (with a lot of cash on hand). I usually had my own car but there were times I had to depend on rides from co-workers, or wait for my parents to pick me up. I worked within walking distance of my grandparents’ home and often parked there during very busy park events, which meant walking back to my car alone after dark. I didn’t think much of it.
If I had been offered a ride from a stranger, I’d like to think I would have refused it. But what if it was raining? Or I was especially tired after a long shift? Or I just felt like I could trust the person behind the wheel? In retrospect, I wonder how often I came close to a dangerous situation without ever realizing it. And for that matter — how often do I dance with danger now when out running or walking my neighborhood with or without my kids?
When it comes to most frightening news stories, I rationalize that there really is no way to explain that fear or make it better. Tighter immigration rules won’t catch all of the angry people with anti-American vendettas. Locking up all the kids with behavioral problems or spectrum disorders won’t prevent violence in our schools. Evil simply exists. We cannot control it or make ourselves any safer by making generalizations about specific groups of people. Most of the time I can make peace with these facts and try to live every day to the fullest despite them.
I’m struggling this time, though. This specific story out of Cleveland has conjured up others from recent years. Elizabeth Smart. Jaycee Dugard. Young women kidnapped out of their own homes or off street corners. I’ve started waking up at night several times to double check locked doors. I asked my husband if we can start setting the security alarm (normally reserved for long stretches away from home) every night when we go to bed. I’ve locked my husband out of the house during the day when he was in the yard watering plants. I walked away from my one year old in the bathtub because my older daughter said she thought she saw someone walk into our garage. It ended up being a person leaving an advertisement in our front door but fear gripped me as I rushed back to my littlest alone in the tub (my husband was there, looking incredulous that he had found her alone).
I’ve started worrying about the people who have been in our house and walked through our middle daughters‘ room to get to the backyard. The plumber. The bug guy. The air conditioning repairman. What about the guys who mow the lawn and can see into our home if I forget to close the blinds? I found a piece of wood and wedged it in the sliding glass door. I’ve allowed the girls to sleep other places than their room but not told them why. I fell asleep last night with my hand on my five year old’s arm because she was in bed right next to me.
Our kids love to play in the driveway and on the sidewalk out front because they can ride their bikes and scooters and pull their toys around in our wagon. We sit out front with them but now I think play time may only be reserved for the back yard. Too many cars with unknown people drive by. Our neighbor across the street has several visitors every day. I can’t possibly gauge the safety or intentions of these people who may or may not want to harm my kids.
As I told my husband, “Who knows who is watching?”
I Googled “GPS for kids” and found backpacks, shoes and other items that can be equipped with non-obvious tracking devices. I wondered aloud why kids can’t be micro chipped like dogs.
I realize I’m acting a little bit crazy. I know I can’t provide a blanket of security for my kids in every situation. But I also don’t want to leave any door open that could be an opportunity for evil to step in. My kids are too important for these things to be left to chance.
All the door locking, and alarm setting, and backyard playing in the world can only keep them safe for so long though. I think that is the part of this latest news story that scares me the most. At some point, all four are going to find themselves in a compromising situation. Maybe it won’t be a stranger offering them a ride home from work. Maybe it will be a person who offers to walk them home from a college class. Or a cute guy who wants to buy them a drink. Or a seemingly nice person who makes a seemingly nice offer of some sort that has an ulterior motive.
There is simply no way for me to warn them against everything. As we’ve seen in the the case of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight, lifelong cautionary tales about strangers seemed to do no good anyway. My kids are going to have to trust their own judgment millions of times in their lives. Mistakes will happen and as a parent, I can live with that. My worry is not that my kids will be imperfect; it is that someone else will trump their inherent goodness.
I’m hoping my level of crazy dies down a little bit in coming weeks but that I never slip into a state of indifference. I want to remain passionate, if slightly off my tree, regarding my kids’ safety and vigilant in teaching them self-protection. My wish is that maybe something I say now will find its way to their memories at the right moment later in life and keep them safe — even when I can’t be there to step in.
Let’s connect on social media too:
Tags: Amanda Berry