The Sad and Gut-Wrenching Case of Jessica Ridgeway

Dear Readers — Like no doubt most of you, I am horrified and dismayed by the disappearance of Jessica Ridgeway and what may be the recovery of her body. My heart is pounding as I read the stories. And of course, I am reading the reactions to the case, too. Here’s one woman’s essay, from the website Chicago Now:

When I read that a body has been found in Colorado a few miles from where Jessica Ridgeway went missing, I got a lump in my throat.  ….This case hits close to home. My tween is 10 years old, just like Jessica Ridgeway.

What hit me about this sentiment, is that the case is not literally close to the writer’s home at all. It’s about a thousand miles away. What it hits close to is…the heart.

These stories always will. In fact, as we go our separate ways as a society, our anger at those who torment children is one of the few things that still unite us. (Think of the Jerry Sandusky trial.) So the media brings these terrible stories to us from afar, and they do feel close by. We see pictures of the girl. We see the parents. It’s a ritual — the media know the script. And the more stories we hear like this, however rare, the more our hearts fill with dread. That’s why the essayist has decided, like so many other parents around the country, that she will drive her daughter to school from now on:

My internal debate is over. Driving may not be best for the ozone or our wallet, but it is for my child’s safety and for my piece of mind. I will drive her to and from school. If that makes me a helicopter mom, so be it.

I think what it makes her is a very normal, 2012 mom. Only 11% of American kids get to school on their own anymore, for lots of reasons. One is surely the fact that when these stories occur, they so dominate the news, it’s impossible to keep their rarity in perspective.

Is there any reason we should even try?

Yes. Not because the world is totally safe. But because it never will be.

As parents, we want to keep our children safe from everything. What we don’t realize is: We can’t. Even driving a child to school comes with it the possibility of getting into an accident. It’s a very small possibility, so we manage to shrug it off. But it’s a far more likely danger than then the chance of a child getting kidnapped and killed by a stranger. (If you want numbers, about 50 children a year are killed by strangers. About 1400 are killed as car passengers.)

So if we really want to protect our children from all harm on the way to school we would have to…I don’t know. Keep them at home, I guess. Just not near the stairs, for obvious reasons. Or the stove. Or a germ. Or a roller skate. Or a cookie they could choke on. Or…you get the idea.

What happens when we try to protect our kids from events so 1-in-a-million random that they can’t be predicted? Well, it’s like trying to protect our kids from being killed by a falling tree branch. Chances are very good that even if they lived to 100, they wouldn’t die that way.  But to reduce the chances to absolute zero would mean never letting them walk by a tree. They could walk in a mall, or in the house, but never outside. In other words, we’d have to obsess about this very unlikely fate, and dramatically constrict our kids’ lives to avoid it.

That’s what many of us are doing today in our fear of kidnapping.

Recently I heard from one of you a saying that may help some parents regain their perspective: Fear doesn’t prevent death. It prevents life. – L.

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