October 22, 1989. If you are from Minnesota, especially central Minnesota, that date may not initially mean anything to you. Until I mention a name. Jacob Wetterling. Today marks the 24th of his disappearance and though his abduction has never been solved, it is far from forgotten.
Since my son was born, a little over three years ago, I have been going to ECFE classes (Early Childhood and Family Education) with him and now with my one-year-old daughter as well. I’m not sure if ECFE is a “Minnesota thing” or if it is nationwide but for anyone not familiar with the program, it is aimed at parents and their children age birth through five and is run by the school district. Each school district has a variety of classes on different topics and involving different age groups but the core of the program is based on group play time with parents, circle and song time together and then, most importantly for me, separation time where the parents get to meet with a parent educator and speak on a variety of topics.
One of the topics we often discuss is the cocooning of society. How when we were kids we had freedom to play all around the neighborhood as long as we were home before dark. A freedom many of us do not give our own children. My husband and I have lived on our cul de sac for 11 years and I am embarrassed to admit I only can name and recognize 3 of my neighbors. We moved here for the feeling of security, the dead end street and neighbors with houses full of children.
It is a great place to raise our young family. I have no tangible reason to not trust all of my neighbors. I speak to many of the other moms and dads in classes and they mention living in similar areas and although some of them mention knowing their a larger amount of their neighbors, inevitably, someone states “but how well do you REALLY know your neighbors.” Fair enough. But I have always wondered when did this change in mentality take place? When did this fear creep in?
The instant fierce love that appears at the birth of a child has been around for thousands of years, so the over protection can not be from too much love. The distrust feels deeper, psychological, traumatic, but for me, it was always something I couldn’t exactly put my finger on. Until today. When I saw the news clip about Jacob Wetterling. A little flare of panic lit up in my heart as I looked at my children. And then I realized, there are certain things from your childhood that stay with you, even if you don’t realize it. The case of Jacob Wetterling is one of mine.
There are many reasons I feel connected to the disappearance of Jacob. He was my same age. He was from a small Minnesota town only 30 minutes from home. He was abducted in daylight while riding bike with his friends. All things I could relate to at the time. It was the first time in my young life I realized that someone could take a child or hurt a child… And that it could happen to anyone I know. That it could happen to me. The news was ablaze for weeks, months, and even years with pleas for help, updates, new leads, dead ends, questions and disappointments.
I know this isn’t the only reason I fear the safety of my children. It isn’t the only reason I hover near them at the park, keeping an eye on any strangers, especially those without kids, who seem like they don’t belong. At 2.5 I started talking to my son about strangers and not taking food or treats from them. While there is no way to prepare your children for every possible situation, I feel like I wouldn’t even have thought to start so early speaking of danger if it wasn’t for that day 24 years ago.
Please, keep your porch light on tonight, for Jacob and all the children who have been taken from their parents and never found. Pray for answers and peace to those families and hug your kids extra tight before bed.
Here is a link to more details on the case if you are unfamiliar with it. Jacob Wetterling abduction