A friend once told me a story about how her father would prepare she and her younger sister for someone with a weapon to attack them unexpectedly. While sitting in a restaurant waiting for their order to arrive, he might say to them, "A man with a gun busts in through the front door of this restaurant. What do you do? Go!" She had an odd childhood, but she became adept at quickly spotting the closest exits and locating objects in her vicinity that could be used as makeshift weapons.
There's a great deal of evidence that mentally rehearsing the details of the way you want something to happen greatly increases the likelihood of the desired outcome. And I find myself doing this.
Every parent I've ever talked to knows the fear. THAT fear. You can take away anything and everyone else, lord, but don't take my baby. I can't be in a world in which she is not. I thought I was the only one whose thoughts and worries about it bordered on psychotic at times, but another friend recently admitted she was terrified to drive her daughter anywhere in the car because ..."what if I crash the car and hurt her? I worry so much that it makes me physically ill sometimes."
One of the things I fear the most is kidnapping. I am terrified of it in every single nook and cranny of the world--even in my own house. Someone could take you right out of your bedroom! We can be at the playground and you run off and play on the other side of a mammoth wooden play structure with 100 different places to climb and hide. We can be at the library and you walk around to the other side of the bookshelf that I am on.
My first thought: I can't see her.
My second thought: It's okay. She's just over there. Safe.
My third thought: Some pervert could be just on the other side of a bookshelf waiting for a chance. He might have been hanging around for hours. But if he succeeds just once it's worth it to him.
My fourth thought: This is the children's section of the Morgantown Public Library fer chrissakes. She's probably okay to wander around it for at least a couple of minutes.
I might position myself strategically between the two exits of the fenced-in playground and feel assured for a moment while you're playing out of sight. But just a heartbeat too long and I have to find you. I physically have to. I am incapable of letting down my guard. The moment I do, the worst will happen. I just know it.
Maybe I am overly protective; I honestly can't tell. What I do know is this: An old man tried to lure me into the trunk of his car once at Teter Lake while my stepdad was fishing. I hid inside a pine tree and watched him until he finally gave up and left. Even then I knew what men did to little girls; this was not my first rodeo.
That was around 1984. Things in 2014 are exponentially more fucked up. So I cope with my anxiety by mentally rehearsing. Kidnapping is what I practice for the most.
I remind myself of what my priorities should be across any potential setting: get license plate number; note physical description of suspect(s)--god forbid there's more than one; have current picture of Sophie immediately ready to show to anyone who will look at it; remember exactly what she's wearing--what kind of Band-Aids is she wearing today? Was that scrape on her left knee or right? Sometimes I mentally freeze the scenario in my mind and study all the people in my mental image's vicinity. What did they witness?
Once police action is under way, Who should I call first? Her father, of course. I remember that I can never remember his cell phone number. I can recall the phone numbers of my 1st and 2nd grade boyfriends, but I cannot remember the phone number of my partner. The father of my child. Then call my mom and dad. Does my mom have my dad's phone number? I have to be sure she does. That way I only have to make one call. Then they will let everyone else know. I have to practice it all in my head to increase my confidence of actually being able to react quickly and rationally if the real situation were to come true. There aren't very many days when I don't think about it at least a little.
Yesterday evening in my hometown--40 miles away and in a town with less crime than my current one--two young men were spotted in multiple places trying to lure little girls to their car. I practice how I will teach you to protect yourself. Maybe it would be a good idea to test you--get a friend who is unknown to you try to pick you up. Maybe around age 6 or 7? I can't tell if that's totally messed up or not. I don't want you to be fearful and timid in the world; just savvy and alert. If the ability to spot a sticker of any kind from a mile away is any indication, you don't miss much.
Worrying about protecting you has become an outlet for my previously free-floating hypervigilance. I always think that when you are a little older I will worry less. But I know that's not true. I may worry about a different variety of things, but the worries themselves will only wear ruts deeper into my psyche. It is a constant effort to keep them in check.