I asked my 8 year old daughter what she thought a stranger looked like :
“Well, he’s a boy. Scary and tall. Big eyes and teeth. Probably a mask. Dirty clothes and he smells really bad. Very old and I have never ever met one, thank goodness!”
By now we have all read, heard, assessed and reacted to the horrific and senseless murder of Leiby Kletzky.
When news first broke of this story I was talking on the phone with a friend. We were both equally moved by the search and connected in an odd way. One hears of missing children, unfortunately, often. The news is filled with searches almost on a daily basis. But, this one story particularly affected me. I am sure that part of this was because he was an Orthodox Jewish child, like my own, however this felt even more personal. As a mother of four children, including an 8 year old, I am always being tested to allow them more freedom. “Why can’t I just go to the mall myself?” my 11-year old just asked a few weeks ago. My instincts said I didn’t want my beautiful daughter walking with just a friend alone at an outdoor mall. But, I ignored my instincts for wanting to let her grow and avoid the argument. So, I sent her.
Every day, any day, our kids ask to push the limits, to grow up and be more independent. It’s normal, it’s expected. But, in the world there are scary, frightening, ill people and we cannot control that fact.
I have already heard reactions to this tragedy by some who have suggested GPSing our kids, hook them up to microchips so we can see their every move and find them in the event of a kidnapping or lost on their way. Countless talks about Stranger Danger (of which you can find an excellent video here : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cL8sUzl2Tdk) and how easily children can be taken. Armed with information, hopefully we can allow children to spread their wings just a teeny bit at a time. But, the unfortunate and terrifying fact is that we cannot control the people in the world and what happens in it.
I don’t have any answers as why this terrible fate befell an innocent child and his family. However, please do not allow his death to be in vain – use this teaching opportunity, which is so valuable, to talk to our kids about the fact that strangers look like ANYONE and EVERYONE. Unless we know them we cannot trust them. We must be vigilant about trusting our gut as parents. I know that I have sometimes been guilty of being swayed by a teenager that I love and wanting to be a cool mom. I have just learned –it’s not worth it.