I was asked by Sandeepa to contribute to a Mothers Day special at Desi Momz Club (love this site with its wonderful contributions). Yes, my previous entry was in a way dedicated to mothers, but I felt I needed to say something else... not just a personal entry on what happened between me and my little one. Well, last night something happened which prompted me to write this...
It was a beautiful, sunny evening and I was preparing dinner, when at around 6 pm, there was banging on the front door and someone ringing the bell frantically. Turned out to be the 14-year-old boy from across the street, clutching his 10-month-old sister (the fifth child of our neighbors) - asking if I had seen his other sister - a beautiful 5-year-old with curly blond hair and greenish blue eyes. She was nowhere to be found, he screamed - could we join the search party please?
Of course, my heart started pounding and I was stunned. We live in a very safe neighborhood in the suburbs of Houston, where people leave their doors open and the children walk or cycle to school on their own. And yes, people do let their kids play unsupervised on the front yard. That was something which always bothered me. The little girl would play everyday all by herself in front of the house - on her bike or walking their poodle. My first thought was "Oh God, someone has snatched this pretty little girl away from her front yard" - not because I am paranoid and never let my little one alone (and that is true - I am with her if she decides to play in the front yard), but because this is a reality which has repeated time and again to so many families across the world. Little ones lost because some creep found it easy to stop, chat and whisk them into cars.
The next 20-25 minutes were a blur - all the neighbors outside, the mother screaming and wailing down the street and banging on every door to ask if their daughter was inside playing, and the older siblings rushing around on bikes searching the jogging trails in the area. My husband joined them, but the first thing he did was to go inside the neighbors house and look through closed cabinets, inside the pantry, inside washing machine and dryer and checked the bayou which ran behind their home. He tried to ask the couple if they had searched every room in the house for he was wondering if she could be hiding somewhere inside. The mother and the father were too upset and hysterical to answer questions. The cops came. And then as suddenly, the little girl was found. She was, indeed, hiding inside the house!!!!!!!! What joy, what relief. And what a jolt to the tranquil suburban lifestyle. I bet her mother will keep an eagle eye on her from now on. I will see if she is allowed to play unsupervised from now onwards.
There are plenty of scary statistics out there on how many kids get abducted (see National Center for Missing & Exploited Children too). To quote one "In 80% of abductions by strangers, the first contact occurs within a quarter mile of the child's home. In many cases, the abduction does too.- - 1990 U.S. Justice Department". You will get plenty of information on how to keep your child safe and what to do if one does go missing. We should all take the time to read these. And pray that this experience NEVER happens to you, to anyone you know or any other child you don't know. But this is beyond our control. While there are disturbed people with bad intentions, this will continue. Think of Madeleine McCann. Did the parents ever imagine their child would be taken from their bedroom at a resort? No. She's still missing.
I think, as mothers (and I say mothers first because statistically they are higher in numbers than dads who stay at home or take their kids to the park) and fathers, the one thing we can do is keep an eye on our children!! Don't assume they are safe just because they are playing outside your home or with the neighbors kids. Talk to them about safety issues, and pay attention to your kids if they tell you they don’t want to be with someone or go somewhere.
Here are some tips we all can follow.
What are the most important things parents should tell children about safety?
- Always check first with a parent, guardian, or trusted adult before going anywhere, accepting anything, or getting into a car with anyone.
- Do not go out alone. Always take a friend with when going places or playing outside.
- Say no if someone tries to touch you, or treats you in a way that makes you feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused. Get out of the situation as quickly as possible.
- Tell a parent, guardian, or trusted adult if you feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused.
- There will always be someone to help you, and you have the right to be safe.
I will end now. My thoughts are with all those who are still searching for their missing kids. Good luck and may you have the strength to go through this terrifying situation. And for the others, hope these tips will make us at least more aware of the harsh reality of a world where things can go terribly wrong... in a matter of seconds.