I'm continuing with the subject of the previous post - a day later and I've been able to give it a lot more thought. It also ties in with the murder of Carlie Bruscia and what I've been trying to write about that.
Maybe there are some things you just can't understand unless you're a parent. It's hard to describe the fierce need to protect your children or the desire to put a force field around them, keeping them a safe distance from everything
Some of these protectionist feelings are unrealistic, parents know that. We know that we cannot keep our children safe from harm 24 hours a day. We know that things are going to occur that we have no control over. So we do our best to control the things we can.
Wear your seatbelt. Put on a helmet before you get on that skateboard. Don't run with scissors. Don't put tinfoil in the microwave. Glue is not for eating. Wear a hat when it's cold out.
Simple things. They keep the kids healthy and away from preventable injuries.
So what of the factors that we don't have as much control over? Am I being overprotective by not letting my 14 year old walk to school because she has to cross too many high traffic main roads? I am being overly concerned when I realize her backpack weights 30lbs and I don't think she should be lugging it all that way? Am I coddling her by not making her stand out at the bus stop for twenty minutes in the freezing rain?
And of course, I'm afraid of what's out there. Perhaps some of you are right in your contention that kidnappings are over estimated, that they very rarely happen and when they do, it's more likely to be from a family member.
Like someone in the comments below said, when you do the math, it comes down to about 100 kidnappings per year in America that are perpetrated by strangers of the kidnapped child.
Is that supposed to make me feel more at ease? Well, it doesn't. Why take the chance that my child could be one in that hundred. Statistics are garbage when it comes to protecting your children. Just ask the parents of Carlie Bruscia or Polly Klass or Alexis Patterson
It's a no win situation. If I try to protect them, I'm told I'm smothering them and they'll end up in therapy blaming me for everything. If I ease up and let them have some freedoms, I'm being too lenient and they'll end up in a Satanic cult by the age of 12.
Maybe the dangers of childhood are overrated. Maybe not. What I do know is this: when I was little, we ran free in the neighborhood. We rode in cars with no seatbelts. We crossed main street by ourselves when we were ten. Maybe we even ran with scissors.
Was it a different world then? You bet. Even if the kidnapping statistics are the same now, other things aren't. There's more traffic, wider streets. Every two lane main road around here has been widened to four since my youth. The amount of cars on Long Island roads has at least tripled. There are more people and the the towns are more populated, meaning there are more strangers. We didn't have sex offender registries back then.
I don't want to be that one parent in 100 that is on CNN begging for my child's life. I can't follow my kids everywhere, but I can certainly limit the time they are out there alone by driving them to school or to their friends' houses. My daughter will be 14 on Sunday. She will be in high school in Septmber. I am going to have less and less control over her whereabouts as the years go on and it frightens me. I'm going to take what opportunities I can to be there for her and with her, and know what she is doing when she is not with me. If I'm seen a strict parent, so be it. At least I won't be the one getting the call from the police station at 2am.
[For more on the differences between then and now, read below, which is a repeat of a post I wrote in June, 2002].
Summer of 12
12 then and 12 now are worlds apart.
12 then was blissful ignorance.
12 now is the weight of the world.
When I was 12 my summer days were spent barefoot in my backyard, alternating between the pool and the sprinkler and the blanket on the lawn. I left the backyard only when I heard the tinny ringing of the ice-cream truck. I would run out to the street, hopping like mad from one foot to the other in an effort to not feel the full scorch of the burning blacktop. Al the ice-cream man would hurry us along in a heavy accent. Sometimes we understood him and sometimes we didn't. And sometimes Al was in a talktative mood and he would show us the numbers tattooed on his arm. We would shrug, not really knowing what the story was. We couldn't understand his accent, and even if we did, it seemed like too heavy a story to carry with our melting cones.
Today, 12 means you have read at least three historical fiction stories about the Holocaust. 12 means you would know what the numbers on Al's arm were.
When I was 12 my summer nights were spent in the street, playing kickball with my cousins. Sometimes we played kick-the-can and we would run through the neighbors yards, hiding in their shrubbery and under their porches. We played until we were too tired to run, and then we would walk down to the candy store to buy soda and snacks.
Today, 12 means you can't play in the street because there are too many cars. 12 means your neighbor's lawn is off limits because it was just sprayed with some chemical to make their grass grow greener. 12 means you can't walk to the store at night, because there are too many strangers.
When I was 12 we went to the beach and for family drives and spent leisurely days at the park. We woke up late and watched morning tv in our pajamas until we were shooed outside. Our days were long and unstructured and lazy.
Today's 12 means summer camp or summer school and getting up with the birds. It is structure and bus rides just like the rest of the year. Family drives and trips to the beach are scheduled events. Time is managed. Soccer, baseball, dance, enrichment programs, swim lessons.
When I was 12 I wasn't afraid of the world. Current events in school meant local news, fluff stories, a few science-related pieces. Health lessons centered around hygiene and grooming. Drug education was non-existent. Learning about the environment meant paying attention to don't litter signs.
Today's 12 is frightening. Current events are happening in their own backyard. War and terrorism are part of the daily venacular. Health lessons include segments on AIDS and condoms and learning how to say no. Drug education is imperative. Today's 6th graders know about ozone layers and recycling and toxins in the water.
Today's 12 is better educated than I was. They are more informed. They are better prepared. But they are not the 12 of carefree childhood and innocence. They are somehow older, wiser and a bit more cynical than I ever knew at 12.
Perhaps today's 12 is more prepared to deal with the world than the 12 year olds of my day were. But I still have to lament that their childhood is almost over at an age when it should be in its prime.