How I Dealt With Fears of Kidnapping

How I Dealt With Fears of Kidnapping

The Pied Piper

In my recently published book A MOTHER’S TIME CAPSULE, one of the themes that I work with is that of losing a child—to accident, death, but also to kidnapping, abduction—your child goes missing. And a week ago, in a piece published on the Huffington Post, I wrote openly of such a fear: …in 1983, when my daughters were nine and five, ten-year-old Jeanine Nacarico was kidnapped from her home in Naperville, Illinois. Though the kidnapping was in another Chicago suburb, it was something unconscionable that could happen: Jeanine home alone sick, her mother checking on her, and then a man breaks in, takes her, rapes and murders her. Days later her body is found. I couldn’t get a grip. I read newspapers for answers—the mother did something careless? Absolutely not. The horrific event made me realize again: these things actually happen…

There is no soft landing when a child is taken. Within days, the Nacaricos knew the unspeakable fate of their daughter. But then again, there is Etan Patz. Thirty-six years ago, May 25th, 1979, Etan disappeared while walking to his school bus in the Soho district of New York City. He was never found. Recently, a hung jury was unable to convict the man who claims he strangled Etan and dumped his body in a trash bin.

News such as this grabs mothers. Because after Etan, there was Adam Walsh, taken and murdered in July 1981 and two Des Moines Register paperboys: Johnny Gosch taken in 1982 and Eugene Martin, taken in 1984—never found. There was also a string of child and adolescent murders in Atlanta. Then in 1983, President Reagan declared May 25, the day of Patz’s disappearance, National Missing Children’s Day. And in 1984, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) was formed.

A curtain of fear descended. A wall went up between naïve security and scary reality. As a young mother, the climate of fear came into my mailbox as periodically, along with catalogues and Better Homes and Gardens, the Advo flier appeared, listing the current MISSING child and a grainy black and white photo. What did I do about all of this? In my Huffington Post piece, I describe in detail what my husband and I did to raise our three as safely as we could. You can read it here.

But the other thing I did, was take that fear, that feeling of being paralyzed, and try to deal with it through my fiction. The three stories mentioned below are all in TIME CAPSULE. 

In SONG FOR HER MOTHER, I worked beyond the finding—trying to discover some form of healing and forgiveness to bind up the wound of the forever separation and the unknowing.

Ana wondered if there wasn’t a place where all missing people gathered. A place deep in a wood where the trees arched overhead to form a cathedral-like space, and underneath, a pocket of peace, a place shot through with golden light. The missing found each other there. And while they spoke and learned each other’s history, more kept coming. They held out their arms to new arrivals. And they wept on each other’s shoulders or picked up the children and held them and wept again. And after a time they settled into a life of waiting in stillness and quiet, until the pattern of the trees and branches against the light above them became so intense and all-consuming that their memories of those they had lost melted away.

In THAW, I made myself work directly with the Nacarico case, of course changing names and ages, but always working through my own inner terror.

Maddy once said that it helps to think that Jessy is two years older now. She’s not eight, she’s ten and she understands what happened to her and the terror of it has subsided. Karen decided a year ago, though she never brought it up with Maddy, she never wants to ever bring it up, that Jessy was unconscious almost immediately; they beat her and raped her and she didn’t know anything. Karen had decided.

I also wrote a story entitled ANGEL HAIR, which though it’s a story about children going missing—the blame lies not with the abductor, but with the falsehoods, the cheating, the penchant for war and blame and fighting that still riddles our societies. Using the old story of the Pied Piper worked well: a well-meaning person is accused or taken advantage of and in retribution he or she uses the children as collateral.

But then in one of Jeff’s runs down the lawn, she heard sounds, the soothing notes of a high piped birdcall, or the humming of bees wings, and she smelled the pungent fragrance of shorn grass or scattered rose petals and saw the flash of a yellow/red cloak engulfing the sunlight for a split-second to reveal a shadowy opening in the hedge at the end of the lawn. Then in a blinding light there was Jeff, that was all she could see, the strands of his hair and then his entire head, and his entire body becoming golden and brilliant.

And maybe this last story is closest to truths we need to look at. We should teach our children to be aware of strangers, but we should not live their lives for them and we can better insure their futures by working to improve society—all aspects of it.

Fact: many of today’s parents tend to be over-protective—yes there are reasons for that, but society has jumped on the bandwagon, like charging a mother with neglect because she allowed her two children under ten to walk home from a park. Let’s not go crazy.

In a recent article, Meghan Daum gives us some stats: An oft-cited figure when it comes to missing children is that 800,000 are reported each year. What that number belies, however, is that the definition of “missing child” includes runaways and children abducted by a parent. Research from the Department of Justice puts “stereotypical” kidnappings at just over 100 per year — an unsettling number but hardly a national scourge.

Daum wants mothers to not sweat the small stuff in the face of the horror of kidnapping and disappearance. We can entitle our children to safety, but we must also get them out the door into their own lives where responsibility and initiative creates a full human person. In other words, we don’t want them to be entitled to life.

In a recent talk with a college professor, the extreme of entitlement presented itself. He told me that some students now verbally assault a teacher if they don’t get the A they think they deserve. And then if the complaint doesn’t cause a grade change, which it won’t, the student takes revenge and writes up a poor teacher eval.

Daum ends her piece with some thought-provoking words: Statistics (see above) are important to remember as we are, once again, being instructed to be scared for the nation’s children. This time, the boogeyman isn’t a mostly nonexistent marauder who strikes when parents aren’t looking. It’s the ever-lurking, overbearing parents themselves.

Strong words. What do you think? How do you handle the fears you have for your children and grandchildren? What societal changes would better protect our children, yet give them the tools to be independent?  As for me, I continue to mine the theme of MISSING in a novel I hope to publish next year.

Thanks to Eyeofthesoul Mixed Media On: monIster


10 thoughts on “How I Dealt With Fears of Kidnapping

  1. I know I was over protective with my children. I’m the same way with my grandson. These horrific things do happen, and as you say, the boogey man is real

    • Thanks, Jennifer. I just read a piece in THE WEEK about innocent moms running into a store to grab something while their child is napping in a car. Three have been arrested for child endangerment. I think we have gone way over the top. In Flossmoor, Illinois, more than once I pulled up in front of the post office and left my son in the car while I ran in to post mail. Now I guess I could never do that. Ah life, it changes so. Beth

  2. My friend and neighbor moved from the house next door when I was 7. A few years later I was told she had run away and was never again found. As a child although I could not comprehend her disappearance, I did understand her desire to leave her family as it was observably dysfunctional. I fantasized that she in fact made it across the border and had a new life in Mexico, her family and Texas safely tucked into her past. I suppose it was my way of coping with an inexplicable disappearance and loss. A little less than two years ago I came across a photograph of the two of us, I googled her and discovered the story I had been told was wrong, she had in fact been kidnapped from a street corner, raped and murdered. The truth juxtaposed to my childhood fantasy of her really left me feeling bereft.

    • Elin, What a stunning story. I am so sorry the ending was what it was. We all want safety and security for those we know, for those we care about. The novel I have been working on echoes your story in many ways: two young girls in the same neighborhood–one grows up to live a good life and the other is raped and tries to live with that memory.
      Thanks so much for your comment and I hope you have sunshine in your life today. Beth

  3. These are scary thoughts and statistics. To be a parent with the responsibility of an innocent child is a great honor but also a burden in the respect of raising and taking care of them. There has to be a balance so the child can grow up in comfortable surroundings, not fearing some of the evils that exist in the darker areas of our society. Unfortunately the parents end up shouldering most of the fears, but once their children find maturity, and move out of these eminent dangers, there is a sigh of relief and gratitude. My everlasting respect and thanks to parents for what they do in their lives for their children…….which is really for all of us in this society. Bill

    • Hi Bill,

      You truly centered in on what I want to say every day–that it’s our society and how we contribute to it that determines the safety of children. Even in very small ways–like funding preschools and honoring people of all races in their neighborhoods. It’s complex, yet simple at the same time–that our attitudes about many things determine the future safety of our nation’s children. THANKS. Beth

  4. That’s a heavy duty post and something that’s tough to think about no matter how old your children are. For those of us who were brought up in the days when kids would be out running free until dark, it’s sad. We are fascinated by all the drama that plays out on TV, like Dateline or 48 hours and you sometimes wonder if that just fuels sick people to see murderers and perverts as role models. Good luck with your upcoming book.

    • Hi Rebecca,

      You hit on a VERY important point. The world of creative people can often make these events the focus of DRAMA, forgetting that the real drama of life is extremely painful and lives can be ruined by it. If I get my book about MISSING published, I hope to bring peace to some readers and not pain. THanks. Beth

  5. I’ve never written about this, but I was kidnapped in Honduras when I was 38. Someday I may share my story, but I can’t imagine this happening to a child. I was an only child with severe asthma. My overprotective mother was afraid for me about everything. I couldn’t take PE, I couldn’t play with my friends. If it hadn’t been for an overly strict father who forced me to do simple things like pulling weeds in the backyard, and making me go back for their missing roots, long after it got dark and the street lights came on, I wouldn’t have had the self-reliance to make it through my ordeal. It’s nearly impossible for an adult to contain their fear and deal with the reality of what’s happening, much less what might happen. I get a sick feeling when I hear about missing children and what their parents are going through. Brenda

    • Dear Brenda,
      I am touched and honored that you shared your story with me. Thank you. I don’t know what anyone can do to prepare for what you experienced. Self-reliance–yes, you are probably right–one has to form it, learn it–there has to be a spark somewhere that allows you to be strong and to believe in that strength. Even if it is just as you said, being in the dark, learning to feel strong in the dark.

      I lost my father at an early age and had many fears. It took me years to venture into the world, just my neighborhood. But when I did I found how enjoyable it was to venture to new places. Again, I was blessed with safety. I’m glad that you are okay and I applaud you for using your experience to be so warm and understanding of others. Life is full of mystery. Take care, Beth

Comments are closed.