A Nice Note from An Aussie (About Serial Killers)

Hey Readers — This was an extremely nice reaction to my talk at the Sydney Opera House yesterday, so how could I resist posting it? Tomorrow I’ll be at the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne (free!).  And after that…back to America!

Dear Lenore: I loved what you had to say about how news was once finite, but now it’s an endless loop (first on TV, then in our heads forever after.) We almost have our own personal “Canon of Crime” that we carry about with us in our heads.

For the first time, I let my 6.5 year old son use the Men’s Change Room at the pool this week (without me, obviously!) As he dashed in and the door shut behind him, the very first thing that came into my head was a picture of a girl named Natalie. I taught Natalie briefly back in 1992, in my first year out of Uni as a teacher, and the following year, she was murdered literally as she walked home from school. To be murdered walking home from school (by a ‘serial killer’, no less) must be the rarest-of-the-rare subset of child murders, but it still happened. The details are beyond sickening. And I still see Natalie’s face in my head every time I let my son have a bit of Free-Range Freedom.

After hearing your talk, I finally realised that I am using this horrifying, rare, extreme incident as a measure of risk. Even when my son uses a rest-room alone! This is NOT being ‘careful’ or ‘responsible as a parent’. It’s neurotic! It’s a crime that happened almost 20 years ago, a crime statistically so rare that you’d struggle to find another one like it, at least in Australia. It gives the actions of one nutter even more power, like a wave that goes on and on.

It takes a bucket-load of energy and humour to dispel fear. Thank you. — Fiona

10 Responses

  1. I had to re-read that title a couple of times!

    I have a lot of sympathy for people who have been close to a rare tragedy in trying to overcome the instinct to expect it to happen again. I think personal experience is much harder to ignore than the chattering of the TV screen.

    To some extent you can replace neurotic chatter with reasonable chatter, but developing good experience to counter something you’ve been through is much harder. But each day you overcome the irrational fear and do something reasonable, you help build a little bit more perspective into your personal history.

    So congratulations Fiona! I’m sure your efforts to change your perspective will help you and your kid(s) enjoy the rest of your lives a little more.

  2. I was almost dragged into a car at age 13. Thanks to my guitar and a pathological fight or flight response, I escaped. I think about that daily as I send my son out to catch the bus. In the same mental breath, I also remind myself that he could pull a book shelf over onto himself, choke on a pretzel or get stung by a bee. I do my level best to detach from him and get him ready for life on his own despite my own fears.

    I’m right there with you, Fiona.

  3. I have a lot of sympathy for people who have been close to a rare tragedy in trying to overcome the instinct to expect it to happen again. I think personal experience is much harder to ignore than the chattering of the TV screen.

    I agree. There’s a big difference between “I think the world is scarier now because, I don’t know, it just vaguely seems scary” and “I know I’m a little overprotective, but something bad DID happen to ME and it’s hard to get past that”.

    Though of course you should always strive.

  4. To some extent I think having those people around who have a genuine reason to be fearful is probably healthy — for some people,at least, there’s a temptation to be complacent — having someone tell you “Hey, that actually HAPPENED to me” can be a useful reminder that a responsible, not a carefree, approach is what’s necessary. But the scary experiences should “season” the conversation, not dominate it.

  5. What a beautiful healthy place we will live in when more of us think and behave as you do Lenore. I’m was a ‘risk engineer’ in my previous employment and it is true that perceived risks (not real risks) do run the show for many people and many organizations.

    We are about to launch a global FREE members club and advertising directory and just one of it’s member features is the “Good News” which members from all around the world can submit good news stories they see or want to share.

    Keep up the great work.🙂

  6. Hi Lenore,

    Thanks for being such a voice of reason in this mad world of parenting anxiety we live in.

    You have been a joy to listen to and watch while you’ve been here in Sydney (I’ve seen you on the 7.30 Report, Q&A, and listened to you on Radio National)… so inspiring and funny.

    Plus you seem so genuinely thrilled to be down under it’s really gorgeous. I’ve never seen an American so beside themselves at actually being in Australia!

    Nicola

  7. Dear Lenore,

    I just came back from your talk at the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne and wanted to thank you for the inspiration (and comedy). With the best of intentions, my mother raised me (and yes, she still says “watch out there’s a car coming” when I am crossing the road in her presence) in a cautious way (having been raised by over bearing parents) and whilst growing up I rebelled against that to come out the other side independent and somewhat daring (often much to my mother’s dismay).

    Now, as a mother myself, I promised myself that I would not instil fear into my son but rather teach him to live life, be responsible and independent, resilient and a creative a problem solver. At 18 months old, he climbs the back stairs at his own free will and walks in and out of the house/backyard whenever he wants to with the back door remaining open for his adventures. He stirs pots with me and knows himself when a heater or oven are hot and makes ‘blowing’ sounds at them to cool them down. He walks around the supermarket with me and says hello to ‘strangers’. Already he is starting to show striking independence, self-awareness, self-assessment and a determination that I admire so deeply.

    With books, blogs and ideas like yours I am sure this community of free-range parents and children can grow to create a world that is much less fearful of the ‘other’ (whether that be a person, place or thing).

    Thanks again. Nothing beats inspiration.

  8. When my oldest boy started to want to use the mens room or changeroom by himself (about age 6), I handled my anxiety by standing by the door and occasionally yelling into the washroom, “Are you OK in there? Do you need me to come in?” I would be reassured by hearing him answer, and I figured it was also a warning to any evil-doers that might be in there. Now my 5 year old goes in with my 7 year old supervising and assisting as needed, and I LOVE it.

  9. One of my friends was kidnapped by a stranger when I was a child. She’s never been found. (We’ll never forget Michaela!) As I prepare to send my own daughter out into the world, I struggle with my fears based on this personal experience. Hearing stories like this, from someone else with a similar experience is encouraging.

    There was a news story this morning about an 8 year old girl kidnapped by a stranger last night. Turns out that the little girl voluntarily followed the stranger to his truck after being enticed with a promise of toys. Not that anyone is to blame other than this sick man who wants to hurt little kids … but I wonder what sort of education her parents gave her about this sort of situation. Most of the other kids she was playing with ran away from the man. This sort of story encourages me as well. The more effort we put into raising out children to be thoughtful, self-sufficient, confident adults, the more power we give them to protect themselves.

  10. I’ve been thinking about the whole ‘stranger danger’ thing. On the one hand we have to teach kids not to just trust anyone, but like Francine, I hate the idea of fostering the fear of the ‘other’. I am sure this manifests in mistrust, suspicion and even more insidious forms of fear such as that of boat people, racism, the disabled and other things that are strange or ‘unknown’ to children. Also it’s so important to learn to overcome our fears, especially those that are irrational. Kids can only learn that if it’s modelled to them

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