When I was small, I saw the movie Adam. It was the cinematic recreation of the Adam Walsh kidnapping and murder. I was young when I saw it…quite young I think. But I still remember the scene of his Mom roaming the store screaming his name, “Adam!” like I watched it before bed last night.
When LilZ was small, I was very strict when we went to stores that he should NEVER LEAVE MY SIGHT. And he really never did. The few times he might have turned the corner of an aisle before I did and I looked up and didn’t see him…that scene immediately played in my mind. “ADAM!!” My heart would stop, I would want to vomit, I would panic.
Once I lost his friend Anastasia at Wal-Mart. She was more prone for wandering than he was because she didn’t have a hyper anxious mother keeping her at arm’s length. When we finally found her (in the produce section) I cried. At that moment, I understood child leashes. She had disappeared for five whole minutes and by the time those minutes were up and she was safely holding my hand…I was a wreck. As LilZ got older, he learned to tell Anastasia and Lauren (his two BFFs from birth to present day), “Hey…don’t disappear. It makes my mom freak out.”
Needless to say? I’ve was never good at the whole Free-Range Kids concept.
I met MrZ when LilZ was 5. As we started building our relationship, he started feeling more comfortable imparting his opinions on my parenting decisions. Let’s put it this way…he never saw the movie Adam. He also grew up leaving his house on his bike early in the morning and not returning until dark. He had a huge and friendly neighborhood surrounded by woods to explore. I grew up on a busy street that housed huge shipping companies – leading to a high population of semi trucks. There were no sidewalks and really very few houses. There were a few industrial buildings…furniture warehouses, meat-packing plants, etc. But no real neighborhood. So, I didn’t roam free as a kid. Those two very big differences in our upbringing created very different outlooks as parents.
I remember the first big disagreement we had. We had just graduated from college and were living in an apartment complex here in Huntsville. LilZ want to go across the residential street to play in another part of the SAME COMPLEX. I said, “No.” He was, maybe 7? 8? I can’t really remember but that seems about right. MrZ decided it was a good time to start playing the other side of the argument.
“Kim. It’s barely even the length of a football field away from you.”
“But I won’t be able to see him!”
“But you could probably hear him, he’ll be so close.”
“I don’t know any of those people over there. What if they’re all pedophiles and murderers?”
Eventually, I gave in. I think I told him he could play over there for, like 5 minutes or something. I was taking baby steps. I sat outside the back door and chain-smoked (Back when I still smoked…because that’s safe? For the kids? I know…) watching the direction he went until he returned. It might have been the toughest parenting day of my life.
Since then…I’ve gotten better. MrZ would disagree. He would still say I’m awful. Of course, he doesn’t see my major changes in giving freedoms to LilZ as major changes…he sees them as me still being too protective. He is most definitely, a free-range Dad.
The thing is? I want to be more of a free-range parent. Which is why I try year after year to be better and better. My younger kids will definitely have it easier than LilZ did. I believe what Lenore Skenazy preaches. The tragedies we fear have not increased in occurrence over the decades since we were kids…so why are we holding our kids closer to our chests? Because somewhere along the way of 24-hour news programs and true-crime dramas, tragedy started bringing people to their televisions. News programs know that headlines involving horrible things happening to children bring us to the TV. (Except in my case. I’m all about the tween programming.) Our darkest fears are not more common, but we hear about them more and more so they have become woven into our parenting decisions. Maybe keeping our kids close gives us some control. Takes away a few of the worries that plague our minds. Drugs. Sex. Rock-n-Roll. If we keep our kids close, we eliminate a few of the concerns. Who wouldn’t want that?
But, as Lenore points out over and over, what are we losing in the process? Have we kept our kids so close they haven’t learned the proper way to take care of themselves? Do we sacrifice lessons of responsibility and independence by never taking our eyes off of them?
I don’t know. I do know this: I’ll never be Lenore Skenazy. I don’t really want to be. I think I’m too high-anxiety for that. But every time she puts entries like this on her blog, I’m reminded that I also don’t want to be that Mom panicking about her son being 50 yards away. I am aware now. I know the truth. Adam Walsh was a horrible tragedy. Something of my nightmares. But also – very very rare as this article points out.
Of all the dangers to children, this is the one most alarming and the most frightening and probably the least likely to ever happen,â€ said Paula S. Fass, a University of California-Berkeley professor who wrote â€œKidnapped: Child Abduction in America.â€
The odds are about 1.5 in a million.
That seems rare, right? So…if I’m so freaked out about those odds…why don’t the other more real odds disturb me?
For most, putting a child in a car is the most death-defying act we perform every day.
Unintentional injuries, mostly car wrecks, are the leading cause of death for everyone between age 1 and 44, when cancer takes over, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
I’m not going to ever claim to be a Free-Range Mom. I know myself too well. But I do consider myself much better informed and now try to make decisions without the movie Adam playing in the background. LilZ walked home from school for the last few years. He periodically walked with friends to eateries. He got dropped off at shopping complexes for hours at a time. All of these things I started allowing long before I was comfortable with it.
Because letting fear dictate my parenting decisions helps no one.
What about you? Where do you lie on the spectrum between The Old Me and Lenore? Are you more paranoid than I was? Are you somewhere in the middle like I am now? Or are you sending your kid on the subway alone like Lenore does? I look at her end of the spectrum and envy it…to be honest. I think I would much rather have her as a Mother than myself…frankly. But…I’m just not there.