My son is seven. He is getting to the age where he wants to do things by himself. He is stretching his independence. When he leaves us after breakfast at school and walks away with his friends, he forgets to tell us goodbye. The school he goes to has the parking lot on one side of a busy highway and the school buildings on the other. There is an underground tunnel connecting the two. Just this year we have allowed him to be dropped off on the parking side and go through the tunnel to school by himself. We told him that if we hear of him not being where he is supposed to be at any time during this process, he will lose this privilege. Despite the fact that there is no place to go but through the tunnel, no turn offs or alternate routes, we were still feeling nervous about this. We can’t help it, we are parents.
That’s why seeing the Ethan Patz case being reopened this week just makes all parents feel uneasy. The first time his parents decided it was OK for him to walk by himself to the bus stop and he just disappears. It is the worst nightmare. It is what we all think, every time, be it the first or the 50th. Thinking of the worst thing that might happen. The majority of the time, the vast majority, these things do not happen. And that is what we tell ourselves. Every day. To let our kids out of our sights. Into the world. We trust in them and we trust in the world. That is why Ethan’s case gnaws at me. His parents did the right things but the world couldn’t be trusted.
I am so not a Dateline person but my Mom kept telling me that I had to watch it. Had to. Had to. The ones on Sunday, with the kids. I started picking some of it up on the internet. It was really, really unsettling to watch kids who know better be swayed into doing something that deep inside they know is wrong. Like getting into a stranger’s ice cream truck for a tour. Like giving out their full name and address. And seeing their reactions when reunited with their parents. One boy broke down in tears when his Dad showed up. We tell them. They say they know. We hope they remember. It is the case of preparing for the worst but expecting the best.