This week, not one but two emails with alarming subject lines appeared in my inbox.
As a parent the last thing you want to see is a communication from school titled “Situation Today.”
Both were for “incidents” in or around our elementary school.
One involved a “suspicious” white van and a man gesturing to a boy, motive unclear; the other involved a fake weapon at school that was being “dealt with”.
Neither of them worried me very much once I had the chance to digest the information, although they gave me pause. But my initial response to seeing those emails appear was a tightening in my chest – what was I about to read?
Although I understood why the school needed to send home notices about the incidents, I felt discouraged by what I knew would be the effect – scaring parents who are already scared, and the subsequent tightening of reins on our kids that would follow.
This is a tightening of reigns that’s long been in process in America. A rope strangling the life out of childhood free play. A gasoline poured on the fire of the anxiety and depression levels in our kids.
This, I’ve always felt, is the real threat, for most kids – more corrosive to our children and our towns than the bogeyman who rarely (although sometimes, and that’s the rub) exists.
After we read the notice from school, we talked to my Kindergartener about the importance of never going anywhere with a stranger.
I don’t want my son to be afraid of strangers, but I want him to understand the basics of safety (never go with a person you don’t know, no matter what they say to you).
And I don’t want to buy into the notion that there is a bogeyman on every corner waiting to snatch my kid. More than that – I don’t want my kids to have this (largely unfounded) view of the world either.
And then, the Amber Alert from last night:
11 year-old Charlotte Moccia, abducted while walking home from school.
I read the alert and cried.
This was a stranger abduction, in a city about an hour away from us. The kind that almost never happens. The kind so unusual that your odds of it happening to your child are roughly that of being struck by lightning.
But Charlotte was struck by lightning yesterday, and despite all my talk about the benefits of childhood freedom, I felt scared. Scared for her and for her parents. I cried for them all.
However rare it is to be struck by lightning – if it does happen- to you, to your kid – the results are usually catastrophic.
Charlotte was found, alive, a few hours later. The Amber Alert was impressively effective – lots of 911 calls spotting the vehicle she was seen in, a police force that acted quickly, an arrest on the Mass Pike.
Charlotte would be home before midnight. It could have ended much differently. It usually does.
As a mother I’m not sure what to do with all this.
I think the answer, like in much of parenting, probably lies somewhere in the middle.
Take precautions, avoid paranoia. Educate your child, don’t terrify them.
But I would be lying if I said it isn’t hard, sometimes, to manage the fears inherent in parenting when they’re compounded by a fear of the bogeyman.
A bogeyman who lives not just in the darkest corners of our imaginations, but on the corner by the bus stop.
A bogeyman who doesn’t usually appear but who, every once in a great while, really does.