I distinctly remember holding my squirming toddler on my lap while the kind police officer rolled his chubby fingers onto a cardboard card. He stopped wriggling, so amazed that adults had allowed — even encouraged fingerprints!
The kind policeman recorded his height, weight, eye color (brown), hair color (sandy blonde), and the tiny birthmark at the base of his spine (precious). This was a thing in the early 2000s. Identi-Kid Kits.
They were usually held at fun fairs and other such family-friendly venues. Beneath the smiles, stickers, and free balloons was the horrifying reality of what we were doing.
We were creating a baseline identification for our children in case they were stolen. I grew up in the time of Adam Walsh. Surely, there had been missing children before. Despite what people would have you believe about growing up in the old days, savvy parents weren’t completely naive to the spectre of kidnapping.
Yes, we rode our bikes and roamed. We camped in our backyards without a parent tucked in the next sleeping bag. We played kickball until the streetlights came on.
Still, something about Adam Walsh, six years old, missing from a Sears department store (what is more innocuous than a Sears after all? Home of Tuffskins jeans and tools your grandpa kept in his garage).
You could sense a nation of parents stiffen. I was young when Adam went missing. Still, I sensed a shift in the world. Strangers didn’t just roam in bad man vans luring kids with candy and nonexistent puppies.
Now they could show up anywhere. Kids were taught to play in groups. Safety in numbers.
A decade later I was a young adult when Jacob Wetterling was abducted. Jacob was eleven. Riding his bike close to home. In a group of boys.
Everything was in place that was supposed to help keep him safe. It didn’t work.
Over the last 27 years, the media brought us news of leads, anniversaries, Patty Wetterling’s advocacy, but unfortunately, no closure.
Last week they found Jacob’s body. People talk about closure, but somehow I doubt that is what his parents hoped for all these years.
When Boywonder was born in 1997, I couldn’t help to think about Adam and Jacob. Later years would bring us Polly Klaas and Danielle Van Dam.
If you don’t recognize those names it says something about our society. Adam Walsh made waves.
Now children can disappear with barely a ripple. I taught my children, as my mother taught me, to never wander off. That if someone tries to abduct them to scream bloody murder immediately. Don’t help find lost puppies.
That adults don’t ask children for directions (do kids today say use your GPS man). We taught them to kick. Scream. We taught them about code words and how not to be tricked by strangers.
All in the prayer that we taught them not to get stolen. I kept those Identi-Kid kits long past their usefulness.
I learned about DNA and the importance of keeping that lock of baby hair that goes beyond sentiment. I know the sickening reason why askign the Tooth Fairy to let you hold on to a few of those baby teeth matters.
I dropped them off at school and social events with the admonition to make good choices and don’t get stolen. Later they had cell phones, locator app on their phones, and if I could GPS chip them like a dog I would do it.
Protect your children
We protect our material goods, why not our offspring? You parents with the preschoolers on a leash? I feel for you.
I get it. I’ve never understood the hate. You keep Fido safe but not your child? Use a backpack, leash, or stroller.
Our son is now 19 years old. I do worry about parking garages and long walks across campus late at night and tell him to give up his wallet if asked. Still, the chances of anyone grabbing my strapping six-foot tall athlete for nefarious purposes is a receding fear.
Our daughter is 17, slight of build, though scrappy, and I worry every time she leave the house. When you are a female your window of don’t get stolen is wide open for many years past childhood.
She thinks about possible majors and I wonder about campus crime rates.
Adam Walsh and Jacob Wetterling were found much too late. Our innocence and our children, stolen. It’s just heartbreaking to think that innocence won’t be coming back.
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