August 12, 2009

Show me the money.
Pssst! It's in my mouth.

Update: With my permission, Lenore took this story, edited it and put it on her site. Now, it is all sparkly and pretty! I wish I could always have an editor. Would that not make blogging just grand?? Yes. Yes, it would.

I have made no secret of my love for Lenore Skenazy and her site, Free-Range Kids. I believe wholeheartedly in her message: "Children, like chickens, deserve a life outside the cage. The overprotected life is stunting and stifling, not to mention boring for all concerned."

I had to reach deep inside of my heart last night for that message.

Last night, I went to Tonganoxie to attend the Leavenworth County Fair with my sister and her kids. It was the typical fair scene - flashing lights worthy of a seizure, cheap stuffed animals hanging by their necks, chaotic noises of bells, buzzers and carnival music, the smell of grease lingering with the heavy scent of livestock. The fair.

It is a fair that was the highlight of my summers for the 7 years I lived in Tonganoxie and it was the place in town to be for that entire week. Because everyone was at the frocking fair- even that cute boy you spied from a neighboring town in that track meet last spring would be there. You begged your mom to make sure that your new school clothes were bought before the fair, so that you could wear them to the fair. THE FAIR. Ah, yes! This was a place with which I was so familiar and comfortable.

And none of that mattered one damned bit when Arun went missing. He was with my sister and headed towards me, but at some point disappeared. He was gone, it was dark and the population of folks seemed to be multiplying before my very eyes.

When my kids break dishes or create messes, I completely freak out. However, when my kids are in serious trouble, it is as if I enter some sort of tunnel of time dimensional warpitude and nothing else matters. Nothing. Everything around me becomes a hazy blur as I concentrate on my task at hand.

So, I leaped into action, handed Anjali over to my sister and told her to stay put with everyone. And then, I methodically and calmly searched for him. March...march....march..... I saw some police officers and made a beeline for them as I calmly told them the situation. After the longest 10 (15?) minutes of my life, someone found Arun. As my sister had stood in place, she told everyone she encountered about Arun being lost and someone brought him back to us.

Arun was not really aware that he was lost - in his mind, he was just hanging out by the super slide. What's the problem, yo? I explained to him what happened and told him to thank the police officers for helping. We also had a very long talk about it on the way home.

The whole experience is still a little surreal to me and I have not cried.

What would I do differently? Last night, I had dressed Arun in a green shirt, but it was a darker green which was so not helpful in a grassy field in the dark. I will definitely do brighter colors next time. And! I will snap a picture of each kid on my cell phone at the beginning of events like this. And! I will be looking into either doing a safety tattoos or a good, old-fashioned sharpie on the forearm. But that is it. Our days of the stroller are ending. I cannot keep my kids confined for much longer and I refuse to be afraid. I refuse.

The entire time I was searching for Arun, I was fighting back the rising panic rumbling in my stomach and that burning sensation on my pride that maybe, just maybe, this might be my You'll Shoot Your Eye Out! Moment. After all, who has posted endlessly about letting our children go? Who has been shamelessly taunting child predators everywhere? Was this the universe's lame attempt at bitch-slapping me?

I kept reminding myself of all of the sensible statistics that I have been reading on Lenore's site and in her book for the past year. I grasped those facts and figures tightly as my talisman while I searched. I knew that realistically, Arun was going to be okay. Afterward, my sister told me she was shocked at how calm I was during and after the whole thing.

I wasn't.


kristen said...

I'm so glad everything turned out okay. That sounds like a scene right out of a movie. I think as free range parents we probably (I'm not quite there yet since Caleb is only 2) have to bear the burden of the fear and worry so that our kids don't. Does that make sense?

I remember as a kid (and still now as an adult) being terrified of going to the malls in Houston because my mom was so worried about our safety that she scared me. We lived on 20 acres and I was free to roam there completely unsupervised. But the MALL? in HOUSTON? I was bound to get snatched there.

You had great tips on basic precautions to take that will help with the very real likelihood of getting separated without freaking out about the things that are so remote but so much scarier.

Bethany said...

I was finally able to get the book at the library (long waiting list). Lo and behold- it made perfect sense!!

I want to be a free range parent but I have a problem. Our 2 doors down neighbor is a convicted pedophile (pled guilty, five years in prison). Our yard does not have a fence and due to zoning issues not likely to ever have one. Do I think he will come into my yard and grab my kids? Not likely(1st suspect, talk my husband had with him, etc). I let Ebaby play in the yard alone but keep my ears perked. What's your opinion on this?

(This is also my attempt at commenting on a potentially divisive subject. And look at me, doing it on YOUR blog and not my own. You can tell me where to go if you like.)

Olivia said...

That must have been a frightening few mintutes, but by keeping calm you handled it in the best possible way.

What are safety tattoos?

Cagey (Kelli Oliver George) said...

Actually, I don't mind you hijacking my comments. This is an important topic and I would LOVE for others to weigh in because I want ideas as well.

First, we should point out to everyone that eBaby is in Kindergarten - definitely at an age you can talk to her about safety, while leaving out the nasty details.

Second, it sounds like you are already doing the right things that would be considered reasonable given the circumstances. Being cautious, but not freaked out. And your husband has talked to the guy and made it clear that you both know “what is what”.

What would I do if this were my situation? I would talk to Arun about the neighbor and be very clear, crystal clear, that he is not to interact or talk with the neighbor under any circumstances. I would still let Arun play outside, per usual, while keeping a close eye on him. We need to remind ourselves that the majority of children who are molested are victims of someone with whom they have a some sort of relationship. Therefore, your first line of defense is ensuring eBaby has NO relationship with your neighbor. I think this is also a good time to begin teaching eBaby that she does not have to be nice to everyone, that she has the right to back off from folks if she feels uncomfortable and that she should trust her instincts.

Do you have details regarding the crimes for which your neighbor was convicted? I am assuming it was some sort of molestation with a child he already knew, with no kidnapping involved. If there was an abduction involved, I would be more guarded with letting my kid run around.

Does that help? Any other ideas/thoughts out there?

Cagey (Kelli Oliver George) said...

Safety tattoos are temporary tattoos with your name/phone number printed. I would probably be far more likely to just jot my name/number on their forearm with a Sharpie. I am cheap like that!

Unknown said...

Congratulations for not letting irrational fear take over. Of course we're sorry if something unfortunate does happen, we can't let that stop us from living life.

Me said...

What a visit to the fair! I'm glad all went well. I'll check out the free-range parenting book, but have a sneaking suspicion that I'm already one without even knowing it.

Great idea of snapping photos of the kids before you enter a crowded place!

Unknown said...

I try to put Henry in bright colors when we go out in public for that very reason. It's so much easier to keep track of a kid in bright orange or yellow than a kid in grey or navy blue.

Bethany said...

Unfortunately I do know details. It was a child who they fostered (way to go Youth & Family Services!).

Ebaby knows she doesn't have to be nice to every one she meets (with me as a role model it wasn't hard to get that point across!)

Let me see if I can say this properly... She knows she does not have to obey every adult she comes across. She knows who is allowed to tell her what to do. I think sometimes kids get the idea that if an adult says something it must be true or if an adult tells them to do something they should do it. I want her to be polite when she should be but a hellcat if she needs to be.

Have to cut this one short, Scoop is yelling for me.

BTW, my oldest leaves for college in two weeks- talk about letting go!

Mojavi said...

i am so proud you remained calm in the face of mental and emotional chaos!

hugs and love girl!!!!