The tragic abduction of children (and adults), along with the human sex trade has been going on for centuries. Before the U.S. Civil War, the purchase and/or abduction of African citizens was, in fact, a thriving and legal business.
In the wake of the horrifying story of the three young women kidnapped and held hostage for 10 years allegedly by long-time neighbor Ariel Castro, I was saddened to hear the media -- even NPR -- reacting with hours of fear-inducing cautions by "professionals" warning children of all ages not to trust ANYONE, even known neighbors.
Back in 1991, a teenage girl in Kingston, MA was lured into a neighbors basement, raped, murdered and buried. Yes, it can be a dangerous world out there, but should we really keep our kids wrapped in cotton, fearful of their own neighbors?
I was pleased to see a post on a friend's blog about the importance of the old fashioned notion of welcoming and knowing one's neighbors. [CLICK HERE to read the blog entry.] This woman happens to live in my own home town, a fairly dense suburb just outside of Boston, MA. One of the reasons I chose this town to live in 20 years ago was because I observed kids walking home from school, in groups, which brought back many happy memories of my own childhood. Additionally, my husband and I both had high stress jobs. While we did enjoy the daily walks to elementary school with our children -- which we did for health and family reasons, not for protection -- we could not be there to pick them up after school. I taught my two daughters "the buddy system" and said a lot of prayers that they would be safe -- from bullies, from predatory adults, from cars out of control, and all those other dangers that are part of everyday life.
However, there was an elderly, eccentric woman who lived alone at the top of my street. My daughters had been warned by some well-meaning parent to stay away from her. That she was “a little nutty, and might be dangerous.” But one day, for some reason, my oldest daughter stopped to chat with her. She recognized the woman was just old and alone, and showing signs of aging, like her own grandmother. The elderly woman showed her all the pictures of her family, children, grandchildren and late husband. My oldest, then in 6th grade, shared this with me later, very sad that this woman was so lonely, and so appreciative of some company, and “grown ups” who didn’t even know her were spreading false rumors. My daughter stopped in frequently after that to check on “Mimi.” And later, my younger daughter, did the same.
About two years later, we noticed her house being cleared out. We stopped and inquired about her, and her grown children said she had to be put into a home, and they were preparing the house for sale. It just made me sad that, for every Ariel Castro that “lurks” out there (and always has), there are hundreds of lonely, house-bound elderly people suffering from loneliness and isolation. And the importance of community and being a “good neighbor” is as an important a lesson to teach our children as is caution and street smarts.
I was proud that both of my daughters cautiously alerted me to any fellow students and/or friend (or even a parent or a teacher) who they thought showed signs of mental or emotional health issues.
"It takes a village to raise a child," for sure. But sometimes it takes children to create and maintain the village, too.