Parental angst

This is an article I wrote back in May, but I held back on posting for a while because it left me feeling quite emotional at the time:

I can’t sleep.

A fellow parent contacted me today and informed me that two children in a nearby village were approached by a car driver. He attempted to abduct them.

After some research, I discovered the information to be true. Two attempts have been made, I understand, in two different neighbouring villages. Both children were young boys, the latter one aged 10, just a month older than my own son.

The police have warned that parents should talk to their children.

I have yet again explained to mine not to go in the car of a stranger. I have made clear the very real danger. The proximity of it all. And I do not doubt, not for a single minute that my children would willingly enter the vehicle of another. They are well-informed. They understand the threat. But what about unwillingly?

I hold my hand up and freely shout out loud, that I am really, truly afraid for my children. It’s something that I live with every moment of every day, unsettling me under the surface.

It started the moment I learned of my pregnancy of my first-born, Joni. A protectiveness. .

The first moment I held her in my arms, I fell head over heels in love, in a way I guess only another parent will understand. The bond was instinctive and immediate.

I remember visiting an acquaintance shortly before the birth. I could hear her two small children breathing loudly on the monitor as they slept. However, my little girl slept soundlessly. For six hospital nights, I couldn’t sleep. I had to lie her in my bed and poke her constantly to check she was still alive.

Simultaneously, I felt this intense love and yet this enormous responsibility. An absolute joy and a terrible fear.

I remember wondering, in my second pregnancy, how on earth I would be able to cope with this mass of emotion; times two. I wondered if, I would at some point explode from the sheer strain of it all. But the truth of the matter is this: I adored my second child, but felt more secure. I realized, that I had managed to keep alive the original model for three whole years and she seemed happy enough. I noticed that some of the ‘important things’ were not, in fact, so important the second time round.

I started to relax as a mum and actually really enjoy myself.

In general, they were both always with me so I learned how to look after them. Of course, sometimes things went wrong, but nothing really dangerous. I had bouts of angst. I guess every parent does. For example; I panicked letting my eldest go swimming with a good friend. The pool didn’t concern me. The car drive there became my focus. So in Joni’s jacket pocket I hid her contact details. Nothing ever happened. But it gave me the strength to let her go, in the knowledge that in the event of an accident, the police would know how to contact me.

The years have gone by and I have had two further children. They are all growing up, the eldest is almost 15 and the youngest now 4. But my situation has now dramatically changed. My anxiousness over my children is beating against me at full force.

Instead of being more relaxed by having more children, I am constantly trying to calm myself down and figure out solutions to what on the surface appear to be dangerous situations. I feel like someone gave me a basket of marbles and I dropped them. I am frantically trying to pick them all up. But they are all going in different directions and I can’t be saving the one from going under the bookcase, and the other one from rolling under the cooker at the same time. I must choose one direction.

I feel pulled. One wants to go into town and meet friends. Then another asks to stay overnight at a birthday party, with not only a child I have never met, but also parents who I don’t even know the names of. And those are the normal things. Not including the impulsiveness of a son with ADHD. Or the energetic and very independent three-year old.

I have become a statistician and spend my days’ weighing up the odds’.

This evenings calculation is: Should Aden be allowed to walk to school or should I drive him? There are arguments, of course, for and against. For: he needs the exercise for his good health but also for his hyperactivity; he would concentrate better in class; he enjoys the walk to school; I would have more time, to take Akasha to Kindergarten. Against, there’s only one: he could be bundled into a car and harmed.

Now maybe you’re thinking at this point, that I’m one of those over mothering, crazy women. That I have no real sense of reality. Perhaps you’re right. Potentially you are stunned, you see me now as a neglectful mother, who should of course, take her child to school tomorrow, with such given knowledge, as should every other good mother within a 200 km circumference. And you are entitled to your opinion. But I will base my decision as I always do. On risk.

Firstly, my son must walk almost 2km each way to school. That information in itself poses for me no great threat, well I guess only that at the furthest point away, he is rather far from home, but then, on the other hand, he is near to school. The issue for me is not truly the distance, but the way. After leaving our street the next few hundred meters he walks, although on the main road, has no houses  on his side at all. It’s a picturesque walk, and cars frequently pass, but in my mind it provides a risk. The next point of huge importance, is he’d walk alone. 2 points to risk then. Next comes the likeliness of the driver coming to our village and picking my son. Well, obviously, boys in his age group are his target. But why would he pick our village? OK we’re not far away, maybe 15 minutes, but I would guess ours is a busier village. And another important point both boys were approached in the early evening. And Aden is finished school by lunch time. Of course, the driver could change his tactics…

Before I sat here at my computer I’d already decided to drive him. The lonely way did it. I figured that he could run if someone approached him, but where to?

But the problem for me is much larger. I have lost my sense of trust in Aden’s school way. Although I walked it with him for practically two years. Every day. Showing him every nook and cranny. Making sure he knew every single crossing point. Until he could walk it backwards without bumping into a tree. I watched him again and again show me how to cross a road. He knows his way around every obstacle.

Perhaps next week the police will catch the man in the white car. But what about the man in the black car? The one we don’t know about?

This is not the sort of person I want to be. It is not the sort of parent I want to be. I want my children to experience life and love it. I want them to be thrilled and challenged. Excited and engaged. Not afraid.

We live in a world where fear absorbs us.

I want to be rational, confident and free.

And here lies the massive problem for me: I cannot ignore the evidence.

And the evidence is thus: there are bad people in the world, bad things do happen. Sadly. And everywhere I look I learn of terrible things. I don’t mean in the media. I can look at that and say, “that, that happened to someone else.” But I hear from my friends or I know from my own experience. In the last year, two of my young contacts have been approached by pedophiles on the Internet. Not one but two. Two years ago my own daughter was followed in a local department store, luckily I was myself in the store but even then he followed both of us. These events are the tip of the iceberg, certainly in what I know of my own friends and family experiences.

My objective is not to scaremonger. Not at all. I want to be clear and honest. Nowadays we hear talk of helicopter parenting and all the negativity of not allowing children out to play. They tell us life is not more dangerous than it was 50 years ago. But think on this: our parents saw many children die. My own mother’s brother drowned as a very young boy. I think it’s true that we’re more informed which makes us more afraid. But I think it’s also fair to say without our fear and therefore our vigilance, more children would be at risk today.

Something that happened to me:

Standing at the bus stop on a lonely road near my house, (when I lived in Cumbria). Many years ago, aged around 12, a man paused his car alongside me and asked me if I’d like a lift. It was raining heavily. He offered to take me to school. I politely declined his request but then in a menacing voice, he ordered me into his car. I got lucky as my bus appeared in the next moments at the top of the hill and he backed down. He slid off in the rain. As I watched his car leave the scene, I knew that that man had meant me harm. Disturbed, I told the school teacher, who informed the police.

I was lucky, but that man had intent. Did he find another victim?


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