Yesterday evening I received an e-mail that I read in astonishment. It came from Not so Little L’s school, and it was an account of how a man had gone into their after care program and had asked about a kid, thus gaining entry to the school. He was restrained by some brave teachers and dutifully arrested by the police. End of the story, right?
Maybe in the pre Internet and chat group era it would have been. But I spent the next few hours texting back and forth with other concerned mothers (not that fathers were not concerned, but they tend to approach these kind of situation with more aplomb). We were all freaked out, and rightfully so, since it was a very close call. What would have happened if those after care workers had not realized that the man who was asking about a kid was not supposed to be there? I don’t even want to think about it.
Not so Little L was in the school, in an extracurricular class. Being the man of action he is, he was not scared, but rather amused by the mayhem, the screaming, the teachers running and, now his heroes, catching the bad guy. Not to mention the stellar appearance of the police. What more could a second grader ask for? All the better, if he is not traumatized. But just in case I made sure to review with him the list of people who can pick him up. And as happy as I am for how he took things, this incident scared the shit out of me.
I come from a relatively peaceful country. Within said country, the city where I went to school was one of the safest (save for the terrorist group that was around when I was a kid, but that’s another story). And I grew up in a 100 people village. In Spain you cannot own a gun unless you have a special permit for exceptional reasons. Hunters have to go through thorough exams to be able to own hunting weapons. And for some reason, children kidnappings seem to be rare there. It is not Switzerland, as we have our good share of robbers, pickpockets, some gang activity in the main cities, domestic violence and plenty of corruption. But parents are not scared to send their kids to school. I let my kids play outside without fearing that they will be kidnapped. Actually, if I tell my mom about this incident she will freak out and materialize herself here, ready to take us all back to Spain.
And, to tell you the truth, I wasn’t scared here. I live in a quiet street in Lincoln Park, the school is in Lakeview, and these things don’t happen in these supposedly very safe neighborhoods, right? This incident was a rude awakening. Because as of now, I don’t think safe is possible anymore.
So, when your kids go home today, have a chat with them. You don’t need to scare them, but remind them of the usuals:
1) Alert and adult if someone they don’t know approaches them, or if they see something/someone that makes them feel uneasy.
2) Don’t talk to strangers
3) If they get lost, look for a police officer, fireman, for a store employee, or for a mom with young kids.
4) In case of an emergency, follow the procedures, listen to your teachers, pay attention to the drills.
Luckily, yesterday’s incident was just a scare. But the truth is that schools are vulnerable places. And kids are vulnerable people. It’s everyone’s job to keep them as safe as possible. As my son’s teachers did. Because as I should have known, totally safe doesn’t exist.
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