She Says… Safe

Nearly 2 weeks ago, the 13 year old daughter of a friend of ours went missing. It looked as though she ran away; she was last seen getting off a bus in New York City. After 12 days of unimaginable sadness for her parents, her story spread through social media and, thanks to a tip, police found her, safe, inside a 45 year old man’s house in New Jersey. I don’t know much more about the story except that the New Jersey man has been arrested and that there may have been a possible internet-based relationship involved.

It makes me sick to my stomach.

At 13 I spent my time dancing around my room and singing musicals at the top of my lungs into a hairbrush microphone. I agonized over holding a boy’s hand at the movies when our parents drove us to the movies for our first date. I felt the awkward brush of lips that somehow passed for my first kiss. I babysat on weekends. I still went to roller skating birthday parties. I giggled with my friends. To think about 13 year old girls checking out dating websites and chat rooms and connecting with 45 year old men blows my mind.

The scariest part, to me, as a parent, is to wonder if this could ever happen to me. To MY family. To MY son or daughter. I guarantee our friend didn’t think it could happen to his. You know what they say: keep parental controls on your kids’ internet usage, educate them about being safe online, look for signs that they aren’t happy or that they are hiding something, be open so they talk to you. But the bottom line is that teenagers are smart. Especially now. The parents might not have a clue. No matter how hard they try, parents can’t always keep their children safe.

When I was pregnant with Owen I remember feeling this intense power and pride that I was growing a little person. I was keeping him safe and healthy. I was. I could totally protect him, at least while he was in my belly. When he was born I was immediately struck by just how dangerous the world is. It’s all sharp corners and scratchy surfaces and poisonous chemicals and loud noises and bright lights. I barely wanted to put him down in case something happened to him. Little by little I had to get over that fear, though. We have to live our lives. I had to teach him to crawl on his own, and walk on his own, and have the confidence to try things without me holding his hand and explore the world beyond my arms. It’s the scariest thing a parent has to do — let go. And know that we can’t protect our babies all of the time.

My mom and I were recently discussing how important it is to realize that every stage kids are in leads to another, even more wonderful stage. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in wanting our babies to stay babies forever. For me, it’s mostly because we can protect them when they are small. We keep them safe in our bellies. When they bump their head, we can pick them up and kiss them and tell them it’s going to be alright. But it scares me to think about when they are teenagers and the space we have given them gets so wide that they could have an online relationship with a sexual predator and I, as the mother, might not even know.

So I guess I do believe my mother when she says that children just get better and better as they grow. But hearing stories like the one about my friend’s daughter also makes me want to hold Owen’s hand for the rest of his life.

Some things would be a lot easier if they stayed babies forever, huh?

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9 responses to “She Says… Safe

  1. I feel the same way every time I watch Teen Mom.

  2. I am so sad to hear about this situation, but thankful that your friend’s daughter is safe and home. I read things all the time that make me wonder what life will be like for our children when they are teens… and how different that life will be from the ones that we lived 15 years ago. I worry about being able to relate what Eli is going through in high school and I worry about the things we won’t tell me. SO SCARY. It would certainly be easier if they stayed little forever, but the best we can do is to teach them right from wrong starting RIGHT NOW. Teach them to make good decisions and teach them that there are consequences to their actions. And then, we hope that they take those lessons with them every day and everywhere.

  3. I’m soooo glad to hear she is safe. Very very scary. If you want Owen to be delay “growing up” and “meeting evil”, just make sure he grows up to be a nerd. I was shocked to read you went on your first “date” and had your first “kiss” at 13. Me and my husband were both such social misfits we didn’t have a date or kiss until we were 19. ;)

    All kidding aside, it is a scary world and all you can do I suppose is model and teach. And possibly shelter your kids and brainwash them [it seems to be working for the Duggars]. And no cell phones and no internet until they are over 21.
    :)

  4. @christy, You’re right about the Duggars! Maybe they are onto something… :)

  5. So glad to hear that your friend’s daughter is safe now. A very scary world out there for sure! I worry about today’s world for my daughter as well. No matter how much we read up on things via the internet etc. there will always be things that our kids know better than us. You’re right Kate, wish I could keep my little one “little” for a longgg time. We can only hope and pray that our little ones will make good life decisions.

  6. Just finished reading the news article (I live in NJ). So glad your friend’s daughter was found. I have 2 boys (ages 3 and 6) and could not even IMAGINE if they were missing for an hour, let alone almost 2 weeks! Unfortunately we live in a different world than the one we grew up in. Scary stuff!

  7. It’s really tragic to hear of such news. In Malaysia, these incidents have become part of the daily news. We hear about babies being thrown away (this sickens me the most – here we are, trying, and there they are, throwing). Yes, I mean literally get thrown in dustbins! Girls go missing, thankfully some are found and the list goes on. It’s a scary world out there indeed!

  8. I don’t know………….it’s a natural instinct to want to wrap our kids in cotton wool and never let go but, remembering my youth, I would have HATED that. Yes,theworld is scary and dangerous but it is also magnificent and exciting and the only way we get to be fully alive is to get out there and experience it. I’m sure I did a lot of things that would have terrified my parents, had they known, but I wouldn’t undo any of it. I don’t want to look back at the end of my life and wish I had tried more things but was too afraid or coddled to do so. I think I raised my kids with the same philosophy. My youngest was especially a real daredevil and the result was a lot of broken bones and trips to the ER but now, as a young man, he has a lot of common sense but is not afraid of risk or challenge.

  9. So glad she’s safe. It makes me sick to my stomach too reading your post, just like I’ve been sick watching the news of the Penn State incidents. SICK. I want to keep my kids safe in the bubble of my protection for as long as possible but I know that is not forever. We just need to remember to teach them that bad things can happen and how to recognize it and get help. It’s our job as their parents.

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