Missing Child

Etan Patz. He was the first missing child to be featured on a milk carton. He was just six and a half when he disappeared, after walking two blocks by himself. Etan's story is fresh in my mind because it has been in the news lately, after authorities re-opened the case to pursue some leads regarding the child's remains.

Etan disappeared in 1979 after walking two blocks to the bus stop by himself. It was only two blocks, after all, and he had begged his mother to give in. I can picture this scenario perfectly, in as much as I live with a six-year-old myself. My daughter is yearning for a little bit of independence. We gave her a little taste of it on Saturday and quickly regretted it.

After yoga class on Saturday, I had a bunch of errands to run and took the kid with me. She conned me into buying her a shortbread cookie and an orange soda along the way. When we got back home, her dad told her that two of her friends had come by to see if she could play. She asked if she could go out and find them. Her friends can ride two-wheelers without training wheels - A cannot. We told her that she could take her scooter or Big Wheel after lunch and go up to her friend's house. It's just two blocks away so we thought she'd be okay (the other friend lives a couple blocks farther and we specifically told her she could not go there - it's a busier road, too). I stood in the yard and watched her pedal up the street on her Big Wheel. I turned and went back inside once I could no longer see her.

"I don't think I'm ready for her to be riding around the neighborhood by herself," I told my husband.

He shook his head. "Me neither."

We don't want to be "helicopter parents." We know she needs a little bit of independence, but it's hard. At times I do think her friends seem to be ahead of her in the maturity and decision-making departments, too.

A played at her friend's house for a while and then both of them came back to our house. The girls played in my daughter's bedroom for a while. I, in the mean time, came up with the ill-conceived idea of taking my dogs to the dog park. I hadn't been in years. P talked me into taking just one of the dogs, as two would be a lot to handle. I decided to take Gretchen.  I drove her to the dog park and as soon as I took her inside the gate, she pinned a beagle. So, realizing how stupid my plan had been (she's been off-leash with other dogs in other circumstances, but it was still a dumb risk to take), I turned around and drove her home.

When I got back to the house, P asked me if I knew where A was. The girls had been going back and forth between the two houses. "I'm going to take Kaiser for a walk," I said. "I'll make sure she's there when I walk by."

A few minutes later, I walked by the friend's house and learned that the girls were not there. I felt a tiny bit of panic rising up in my chest. "You know, they must be at my house and P just didn't realize they were playing out back or something," I told the friend's mom. I turned on my heel and walked Kaiser back to our house.

"She's not there," I told my husband. "You have to get in the car and find her."

I shouted into the back yard and checked the basement. I started calling the home of the second friend who lives farther away, in case the girls had gone there. No one was home. P drove to the park (many blocks away) to see if the girls had headed that way. They weren't there. At that point I didn't even know if the two girls were still together - maybe they had separated. I tried to stay calm but my anxiety bubbled over and I started to cry. I called P over and over on his cell phone. "Please don't come home until you find her," I told him.

I knew I was over-reacting but I couldn't help it. It was just two blocks! Two blocks . . . Etan Patz . . . two blocks. It is because of children like Etan Patz and Adam Walsh that I know what can happen to six-year-olds who are out of sight for even a moment. My hands were shaking as I waited for the phone to ring. Finally, it did. My daughter and her friend had gone to the home of another classmate. A was on her way home on her Big Wheel. My fear turned into relief.

I stood in the yard with my arms crossed. P stood next to me, his arms crossed as well. We watched our daughter, so tiny, pedaling towards us. The plastic wheels of the Big Wheel scraped against the asphalt. She slowed down when she saw us. Part of me wanted to scoop her up and hug her. Part of me wanted to lock her in her room until she leaves for college. "In the house," we told her. "Now." She glumly climbed off the Big Wheel and went inside. She knew some shit was about to go down.

I don't remember exactly what we said next, but there was a lot of "You didn't have permission to go there" and "What were you thinking?"  We sent her to her room to think about it. A few minutes later, I went in and gave her a hug. I told her how scared and worried I'd been.

"I'm sorry, Mama." She hugged me around the neck.

We honestly don't know what to do next. Do we keep her home all summer? Give her one more chance? This parenting business is not for the faint of heart, I tell you what.
She's gonna be the death of me . . .


Karen E said…
Ok, what I would do...get the other kids' families in the neighborhood involved. You said, perhaps rightly, that the other kids may have a better sense of judgement. Maybe contact the other parents and come up with a plan. When kids are over, the rule could be to contact each of the parents with arrival time & plan of departure, etc. Make a game out of it.

She might learn some responsibility by watching the other kids follow the plan. I am considering having my oldest carry a card with important contact info on it with her this summer. It might help alleviate your apprehension.

And don't worry - she won't kill you just yet. Hell, she hasn't started dating yet!
Steph K said…
Chloe did that to me last summer. My reaction was the same as yours. After I finished crying, I had some strong words for her. It was the most terrified I have ever been. If you figure it out, let me know...
Shelly said…
Too bad that we can't microchip our children like we do our pets.
The Lovely One said…
I am totally with you. Bug is also 6, and I don't want to smother her, but there are so many dangers out there! I don't even let her cross the street by herself!

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