(From a post in July 2011)
I cried this morning. As I watch the news story that has saturated the headlines, I cried for a mother and the horrific way her baby died. I cried scared tears.
Leiby Kletzky was just an 8 year old boy that just wanted to be a big boy and do big boy things like walk home all by himself. Just like my kid.
All his mother did was let him do what she thought her son could handle. They did what they could to prepare. They did dry runs, even down to the day before. She trusted that the same neighborhood that Leiby had been raised in, the same neighborhood whose people and businesses they passed everyday would be watching out for him. The thing is, Leiby had seen his abductor and eventual killer before. Even if they had never had an actual conversation before, that horrible man that killed him was a familiar face to Leiby.
This made me paranoid. Who is a stranger?
When we tell our kids of the dangers of talking to strangers, what is the description we give? Perhaps a man with a van that scoops young children off of the streets. Or some lady that wants to give our kids a drink or strange candy or PCP stamps and stickers that will drug the kids and make them susceptible to be taken advantage of. Or some strange person that tries to lure our kids out of our sight and take them to a basement somewhere.
Besides those examples, who are the real strangers?
I thought about my own 7 year old son who is like me, very friendly and knows his neighbors through our daily routine. There's the bus driver and the same passengers on our morning commute. The same friendly faces he has seen everyday since he was 3 years old. We smile, say good morning, even give high-fives. Then there's the crossing guard he hugs like a grandmother every morning and after school. And the security guards and lunch ladies that crack jokes with him everyday. These are all people that my son would trust to give him direction if perchance he got lost on his way back to me. People he would go with if they told him that they would take him to me. I cried again at the thought of What If?
Now I'm questioning, do I really know any of these people? This tragedy has us questioning the very people around us and it's crazy. Do we have to retreat into a life of paranoia that gives us a false sense of security in order to appease our insecurities about the world we live in?
All the Kletzkys did was live their everyday lives, in a close-knit strong community and let their child be a child and trust that their child would be fine. Like we all do. I would never blame it on his age because his mother really believed that he would be fine. As parents, we all know what our children are capable of and sometimes we give our babies more responsibility than they can actually handle. It's the rest of the world we underestimate. It's a judgment call that will haunt that family forever.
I realized that I had written a book several years ago about strangers called, "I won't go with strangers." It is for sale as the book of the month on my site. When I re-read it, I saw how practical it is for this very situation. Later on that day, the kids and I talked and practiced reactions to be lost and asking for directions and reaffirmed what to do if approached. I'm glad that we did it. It's crazy when a tragedy reminds us that the world is a different place and the same people that we see everyday may be hiding a monster within.
What hurts so much is the "what if" of it all. What if Leiby's family taught him that if he gets lost to call them or go to a police officer or go into a store, ask for a manager and get directions from them? What if Leiby knew his way home? Leiby's mother had just said no? My stomach spins every time I think of this. Perhaps this happened to wake us all up from the dream that is our everyday life. To remind us that no matter what we do, it still may never be enough. I cried again when I thought of how defenseless I as a mother I truly am. Is all I can do is hold my son's hand tighter and pray we never get separated?
No. Along with hoping and praying that when our child is in someone we trust's hands, they are in great hands, I can think of what I can do to prepare my son for this world. Give him tools to thrive and survive. To not just fight, give him foresight into the way to handle losing his way. So if and when I finally let my son out into the world, I can hope that the world is kind to him and the monsters stay away. Hope that when the situation calls for it, he will use the tools I have given him.