Sad Memories, Overprotective Impulses, and Keeping Things in Perspective

Hi Readers — By now I’m sure you’ve heard of new leads in the Etan Patz case, the missing child case that may have marked the beginning of our obsession with stranger-danger. Now comes this “follow up” in Psychology Today, of all places, reminding parents to be worried all the time about abduction.

As if this fear had slipped most parents’ minds. As if it’s helpful for anyone to focus on the idea of their children being murdered. As if stranger-danger is even a valid concept, considering that the vast majority of crimes against children are committed by people they know.

It is SO EASY to send parents into a tailspin of terror by mentioning the Patz case. I’m one of them. That’s why I try not to think about it too much. Not out of any “denial.” Just out of emotional self-preservation, which in turn allows me to preserve my children’s freedom.

At some point I’ll address the latest iteration of this stranger-danger obsession of ours: A recent magazine show featuring a creepy ice cream man trying to lure children into his clutches. The idea that there are any non-psychopathic ice cream men in America is becoming increasingly hard to grasp.

But that’s for another post. Right now, let’s just take one quick glimpse at the Psychology Today piece, by a woman named Susan Newman, who writes:

“Yes, childhood is supposed to be a period of innocence, but as long as people who prey on children exist, parents must be watchful…. Reopening the public to the Etan Patz case hopefully will caution parents to dangers sadly still present.

Leave it to others to parse why a crime that happened 33 years ago is a good way to remind parents of dangers “still present,” I’m going to go get some ice cream. (If I don’t ever post again, alert the police. And Psychology Today.) — L.

Such Sadness. Leiby Kletzky, R.I.P.

Hello, Readers. It is with an actually, physically aching heart that I report to you the death of an 8-year-old Brooklyn boy, Leiby Kletzky, who disappeared from a short, solo walk yesterday and was later found in a dumpster. Here is the story.

I bring it up because it seems to prove that the incident that kicked off Free-Range Kids — my letting my 9-year-old ride the New York City subway alone — was foolish, or worse. At the time I said that I felt this was a reasonable and safe thing to do, because I believed in my son, my city and my own parenting. Despite the sorrow I feel even in my joints, I still do.

There are horrible people in the world. There always were, always will be. There were horrible people in the world even when we parents were growing up, and our own parents let us play outside and walk to school and visit our friends on our bikes. Our parents weren’t naive. They knew that we live in a fallen world. They also knew that they had a choice: Keep us locked inside for fear of a tragic, rare worst-case-scenario, or teach us the basics — like never go off with a stranger — and then let us out. They let us out.

Today we are faced with a worst-case scenario that could end up re-defining childhood as did the Etan Patz case 30 years ago.  (A case that had no parallel in my city until today. ) That a stranger abduction like Leiby’s is rarer than death-by-lightning just doesn’t seem to matter at a time like this. But it does.

People will blame the parents for letting their son walk even a few blocks on his own. I’ve already read some of those comments. They are like knives. Is it better to have a city — a country, a world — where no child is ever outside again without an adult? Where parents who let their kids to walk to the bus stop are treated like pariahs? Where the parks are empty, the playgrounds are empty, bikes sit in the garage and children hunker inside with their terrified moms and dads?

It is really hard to even suggest that life continue on as normal, but that is what I truly believe is the only response to this crime. Not that we take it in stride — I think it will always hurt. But that we take it in context. Saying that my city’s crime rate is down to the lowest it has been since 1961 seems ridiculous at a time like this. But it is down, and to act as if every block is full of darkness means — to borrow a phrase from terrorism — the darkness has won.

I’m shaken. I’m sad. I’m so sorry for what has happened. And I will send my sons out again. — Lenore