Friday, August 28, 2009

Homecoming

When my husband came home from work last night and told me to turn on the news, I expected the worst. However, instead I found myself feeling such intense joy over the resurfacing of Jaycee Lee Dugard. The day of her kidnapping is one of the days in my life that I will never forget. Our community was so deeply affected by it. This one tragedy dictated how parents behaved from that day forward.

Our daughter was only one year old at the time. However, many years later when she entered school, I stood at the bus stop with her even though the bus stopped right in front of our house. On days when I could not stand with her, my husband sat in his car behind her and waited until he saw her get on the bus before he left for work. We were on a first-name basis with her bus driver, and made sure that she was familiar with our routine. I can only imagine the torture that Jaycee Lee's step dad put himself through for walking her to the bus stop and then heading for home before the bus arrived, telling himself over and over that he should have stayed with her. He actually saw her being abducted from a distance. You play something like that over and over in your head until you just wish you could put it on rewind and stop it from happening.

South Lake Tahoe is a small, safe community. Even where I live down in the valley was a small community 18 years ago. Everyone knew each other. No one ever locked their doors. There was no reason to even expect that your child would get kidnapped and held captive for one-quarter of her life. However, after Jaycee Lee's abduction, everyone expected it and took measures to prevent it.

I recall keeping an eye out for a car and driver with the description of Jaycee Lee's kidnappers for years afterward. I often thought of this child who I had never met, and wondered where she could be. I was certain that she was one of these rare cases of an abducted child who was still alive. Perhaps I got that feeling because the witness saw a woman driving the car that Jaycee Lee was pulled into. I also had a strong feeling she was somewhere in California, however that's probably because there isn't much east of us. Oddly enough, I've been thinking about her more lately than usual. Then we find out that she was able to put it all together in her head and get herself to a police station to tell her story.

My children have always disliked that we are so protective of them. I threw a fit my son's sophomore year of high school when the school district removed our house from their bus route. He had to start walking half a mile to the bus stop and home. I remember talking to the bus driver on the phone, trying to convince him to change his route, and him saying, "Oh, Mom, he's a big boy now. You can let him go. It won't hurt him to walk a ways."

I was furious with that man for being so hard-headed. Then I realized that perhaps this was an irrational fear that I had developed, all stemming from Jaycee Lee Dugard's kidnapping. I admit driving my son to and from the new bus stop a few times, but eventually I let him walk on his own. Nothing is more embarrassing for teenagers than to have their parents hovering nearby. Now I just pressure my kids to keep their cell phones with them and inform me if something happens to alter their schedule.

As parents we can do all the training in the world regarding stranger danger, but that doesn't mean our kids will listen. I remember doing role playing with my kids on how to handle different situations where a stranger approaches them, hoping that the role playing would make screaming and running away second nature. However, there were a couple of times when my kids told me stories that made my heart drop.

When my daughter was in middle school, the bus stop was still in front of our house, but by then I was just watching from the window instead of standing out there with her. I had seen the bus drop her off, and I went about my business waiting for her to walk in the door. She came in late, but I figured she was just dawdling. It turned out that a man in a car pulled up next to her to ask what town he was in. She told him, and he asked for directions. As she gave him directions, he asked her to come closer, because he couldn't hear her. Fortunately, she just spoke louder instead of moving closer. I told her there is something really odd about a grown man who asks a little girl for directions, and not knowing what town he is in.

On another occasion, my son and daughter were playing basketball in our driveway. A man in an RV pulled over in front of our house and walked right across our front lawn up to my kids and joined the basketball game. He then started asking my kids for directions. Again, that is not appropriate. If someone needs directions, they should stop at the 7-11 down the road. Don't ask a child. Most children can't even give directions. It sometimes makes me wonder if people who intend to kidnap a child ask directions because they want to see if the kid could find his way home.

Anyway, my daughter came in the house and asked me for directions and informed me that a man was outside playing basketball with our son. By the time I got out there, the man was gone. I had to remind my kids that they both should have immediately come inside the second that man started walking toward them on our property.

Recently, when I was out trail riding, I pulled my horse to the side of the trail to let a troop of Cub Scouts pass. I sat up there on my horse saying hello to these adorable little boys, and every one of them stared straight ahead and completely ignored me. Finally, one of the Cub Scout Leaders said hello in return. I thought their behavior was odd, as most kids would want to pet the horse, but then I realized that they had probably been instructed to not speak to strangers. Twenty years ago people could be friendly and get a friendly response in return, however now that kind of banter is reserved just between adults.

I am so sorry for Jaycee Lee, her parents, and for the ways in which this event affected our community. She's finally going home to people who love her. May she have nothing but the best from this day forward.

11 comments:

S. Lauren said...

That's a good post. I am still living with my parents and you have the same point of view as them. I have to call them everytime I change locations and when I'd be at horse shows I'd have to call them every other hour. As a teenager I was annoyed by it, none of my other friends had too and I'd loose track of time and get in trouble for not calling them for a long time. I understand that they're just trying to make sure I'm safe. I remember when I was younger my mom knew another mom whose daughter was kidnapped when she was riding her bike. It was horrible and I think that was how the Amber Alert started, I believe that was the little girl. From that point on my parents never let me out of their sight. My mom told me that if someone ever tried to take me to run and scream, never go with them, and if i'm riding a bike or something is to grab onto the bike and stay on it. That way if they take you it is more difficult to just toss the bike in the car and it takes time as well if they try to pull you off. My parents taught me well and even though I'm an adult now I go by those rules. It is sad cause I have friends and know other women who are not safe and seem to trust everyone they talk too. It does make peer pressure take place when a group of girls wants to go hang out with a group of older guys we just met, I'm always the party pooper and will leave.
I am happy that this girl did get found and she can go to her real home now.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

S. Lauren - I'm glad you respect your parents wishes. They aren't trying to make your life miserable. If you think of it as you helping your parents relax by keeping them informed, then checking in isn't such a chore. They aren't trying to trap you into getting into trouble, they just love you and worry about you, and get anxious when you don't check in. I always say that when my kids have kids of their own, they'll understand. You almost have to be responsible for another human being before you learn what a scary place this world can be.

Paint Girl said...

That is excellent news about Jaycee Lee. But it is such a tragedy that that young girls life will probably never be the same again.
I totally agree with you on the strangers. You can never be too careful out there.
When I was in middle school, a girl from our high school was kidnapped by a guy that was working on her parents house. He kept her locked up in a garden shed and did unimaginable things to her, than killed her. The guy was given the death penalty.
It is so hard to know who to trust anymore.
Great post!

Breathe said...

I hadn't heard this story - and it makes me sick. What I really can't understand is how he hid this from the neighbors so long.

I guess he didn't have a neighbor like yours!

I refuse to let my children ride the bus. I hyperventilate when they go on girl scout trips. I just don't trust any one and have told my kids that many, many grownups try to trick children.

But it seems so inadequate. The world is so dangerous - it was probably always so. Now we just know it.

I hope this guy, who was released after previous sex offenses, is locked up for good. And his wife as well.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

What a relief that she survived this terrible ordeal and can now go home. So many other girls who have this happen aren't give that chance.

I'm much more protective with my kids than my parents were with me. I was an only-child and left to my own devices.
My parents both worked full time and were never home until dark, so I always came home to an empty house and had to cook them dinner every night.

I walked everywhere, including my 3-4 mile tramp to school and back home again....even during the winter, and rain, etc. I still remember walking along the busy highways and having adult men hooting and whistling at me. These were men that could have not only been my own Dad, but also my grandpa, too. I was only 13-18years old during that time in my life.
Somehow I was lucky all those years and never got picked up or had anyone try to hurt me (except other teenagers at school...but that's a whole 'nother story.)

~Lisa

ps. The book arrived today. I can't wait to read it. Thank you for thinking of me. You're always so thoughtful. I also really liked the card. You have lovely handwriting, too :)

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Lisa - Glad you got the book. The book rate postal service is amazingly slow. Things were so different when we were growing up. I remember having to skateboard past a construction site every time I went to and from my friend's house, and having all the construction workers pop up like prairie dog and start hooting and whistling. I rarely hear men do that to women now-a-days. They know better with all the sexual harassment training they get at work.

manker said...

my parental units were ultra protective... tho in retrospect even they admitted to going overboard at times with it.... I'd rather have that tho looking back than the possible alternative

stay safe all
gp

Katharine Swan said...

Just to offer up a different view -- I think it's a good idea to keep these stories in perspective and not get too worked up about it.

I'm the same age as this girl and I grew up pretty much having the run of the neighborhood. We had to let our mom know where we were going, and when we were younger we had to stay within hearing distance so that if she called to us we could come home -- but she didn't watch over us every minute we were outside. I certainly didn't suffer for it, and there are millions of kids my age who didn't, either. It's sad what happened to this little girl, but it's also highly abnormal.

Having worked in child care, I can tell you that these days parents are actually being advised NOT to tell kids to never speak to strangers. Not to get into a car with them, sure -- but the problem is, the vast majority of the time the kidnapper/abuser/etc. is actually a relative or a friend of the family's. If you teach your child not to talk to strangers, then who can they go to for help?

When I have kids, I probably won't let them have quite as much freedom as I had, but I also don't intend to watch them 24/7. I've babysat for people who think like that, who won't even go to the bathroom without taking their kids with them, and I just think it's going way overboard.

Cheryl Ann said...

Yes, EXCELLENT post, Nuzz! As parents, my husband and I were very protective of our two children. A couple of times our daughter was approached in the mall by strangers and she just turned away and marched away from them! Good social skills that she needed when she went away to college! And, yes, times are very different now than when we were kids. I'm glad now that our neighbors do keep an eye out for each other on our street.

lytha said...

just wanted to say that the story made it to the german news ...and not much does that i can tell...and i am mystified by it.

if i had a kid, i could not let him or her out of my sight, and going to school would be a horrible stress for me. i would be such a freaky parent, i dare not ever try.

°lytha

AareneX said...

Of course, horror stories stay with us--humans are engineered to remember horror in order to avoid it.

However, statistically, most children (even girls) walk alone for years, even an entire lifetime without being kidnapped.

Please, I beg you: think of how many children catch school busses every day in this country...in your state...in your town...on your street.

How many of them are grabbed by evil strangers?

As yourself: are you willing to live your entire life in fear--and teach your children to live in fear--because something horrible might happen?

Of course, something horrible might happen. Your child might be abducted, or hit by a car, or ingest e coli, or tumble off a cliff. Be careful, teach your children to be careful.

But please. Please! Think about what you do that perpetuates the fear. The world is scary, but it is also so beautiful. If you are too busy with the fear, you might miss the beauty. And that would be a horrible thing.

My 2 cents, discounted for the current economy, and worth exactly what I was paid to give it....