On Greater Awareness

I didn’t wear a helmet when I rode a bike as a kid. My siblings and I walked to and from school by ourselves starting in kindergarten. We were warned about strangers, of course, and to stay out of the street, but otherwise were given very little guidance or direction on how to spend our free time. My sister and I would often wander from friend’s house to friend’s house without so much as telling my parents we’d left home. And while I don’t think my parents or my friends’ parents were guilty of neglect, neither do I think that my generation is necessarily being too protective or paranoid about our children’s safety when we pick them up from a school that is only a few blocks away or hover over them at the playground.

Elizabeth Smart was abducted from her home when I was in high school. Last summer a little boy in Brooklyn was abducted and killed the first time he was allowed to walk home from school alone. Last month a little girl in a town close to where I grew up was kidnapped from her bedroom and killed before her parents even knew she was gone. And last week the Freeh report looking into the Penn State/Sandusky scandal was released and it became more clear that even adults who aren’t crazy don’t always do the right thing by the children who need their help.

It is unsettling and scary. It is something that keeps me awake at night and has me looking at my neighbors in a different way. It makes me nervous for school and sports camps and sleepovers. It makes me think that I may never get to the point where I feel comfortable letting my children play outside by themselves. Even if we had a backyard. With a fence around it.

I’d love to be able to say, “I didn’t worry about that when I was a kid, so why should my kids have to?” Or “I trust my neighbors. We live in a safe place.” And let it be. But I don’t think I can. I don’t know if times are different now than they were when I was growing up. I don’t know if they are different than they were 50 years ago. I don’t know if the world is really becoming a scarier, more dangerous place. I suspect that in some ways it is. But I also suspect that we are simply more aware of things that happen. The information is more available. The news stream is difficult to tune out entirely. And so it is that I even know about that little girl in my home state, or anything at all about the Freeh report.

With that awareness, with that knowledge, comes responsibility, and if it means I appear to be hovering over my children at the playground, so be it. I’d rather deal with judgment than with tragedy.

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4 Comments

  1. For your eyes only: Lizzie, the little boy was Etan Patz, and he was killed in 1979, the year Derek was born. The reason the subject came up this summer was that Pedro Hernandez, a man with mental health issues, come forward to say that he was the murderer. Just fact checking. The timing doesn’t change your argument.

    We all wait with bated breath your announcement.

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    lizzie Reply:

    Hey Aunt Ruth,
    I actually had a line in there about Etan Patz because it has been in the news so much recently and I have heard that for a lot of NYC parents that is where the fears started. But I took that line out and referenced Leiby Kletzky instead because it is both closer to home (happened in Brooklyn) and closer to my time.
    It does sound like the Patz case had a stronger impact, however, and continues to with the recent confession, so maybe I should have stuck with that reference.

    Thanks for bringing it up!
    lizzie.

    [Reply]

    lizzie Reply:

    Oh, also I didn’t realize until you brought it up how similar the two cases were: Etan was going to school unaccompanied for the first time, Leiby was coming home unaccompanied for the first time. They were about the same age as well.

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  2. a big DIT-TO from me. gone are the days of leaving at sun up and not returning until sun down unsupervised by adults. I think it is one part increasing dangers/crazies and one part more accessible information about said dangers/crazies.

    [Reply]

    lizzie Reply:

    Doesn’t it drive you crazy? One thing that I did when I was in school/because of school here in NYC that I’m not sure was a mistake or not was to look up the sex offender registry for my neighborhood. Totally opened my eyes, and while I think it is probably a good thing to know, it is also something you wish you didn’t have to think about.

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  3. I, too, hate this shift. I remember the joy of riding my bike alone for hours in my neighborhood. I remember the freedom or roaming around with my friends without a cell phone available to check in. I hate that Aspen won’t have the same experiences because we’re more aware of what could go wrong. Or, it’s more likely that something could go wrong.

    [Reply]

    lizzie Reply:

    Totally. I am grateful that cell phones exist, and that I could track my kids with their phones if I needed to, but the fact that I feel like I might need to is disconcerting, to say the least.

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  4. I too roamed my neighborhood pretty much unsupervised my entire childhood. Where I live now, feels a little reminiscent of that. There are kids just outside playing by themselves all the time. Part of me thinks it’s great, but I’m also pretty sure that my kids won’t be joining in. It’s true, you hear about too many terrible things out in the world and I just don’t feel like taking the risk with my children.

    [Reply]

    lizzie Reply:

    It is so nerve-wracking. But I also wonder if we will slowly embrace that kind of thing (roaming free) as our kids get older and we become accustomed to our neighborhood and trust their personalities. I have a hard time imagining it now, but I think it might be possible.

    [Reply]

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