Kidnappers live in a certain kind of house…A short essay on moving forward despite our fear.
I will tell you how to identify them in a bit.
The stranger danger talk
But first, let me tell you how I came to find out about this phenomenon.
It all started about 12 or so years ago, when our oldest child was old enough to start to learn the difference between adults that mom and dad knew and trusted, and adults we did not know.
You might know it as “The stranger danger” talk.
As newer parents with our first kid, we were navigating that difficult task of teaching an innocent child that not everything in the world is, in fact, innocent.
How do you navigate telling a slightly scary truth, that’s loaded with complexity, without actually scaring your child to death to the point they are afraid to go outside?
In your head, it sounds something like this:
“Look, honey…there’s almost zero percent chance that a stranger is going to take you from mom and dad. It almost never happens. But it does happen to a small number of kids every year…so, for the purposes of keeping you safe, we have a few guidelines for you to follow…”
In real life it does not end up sounding that rational. Our oldest daughter still remembers being scarred to death by “the talk.”
And once we had more than one kid, we learned that the “stranger danger” talk was something that kind of happened on its own…Passed from kid to kid.
And as the years passed and our oldest boy started filling in the details, the talk got more interesting…it moved beyond Stranger 101 into Advanced Stranger Studies.
So my five year old, as child number six, actually has a PhD in Stranger Danger.
Kidnappers live in houses
The other day on a long drive, he started pointing out specific houses where he knew kidnappers live.
“There’s a kidnapper house,” he said matter-of-fact from the seat behind me.
“What?” I said.
“There’s another one behind that big tree. A kidnapper lives there too.”
“I’m sorry? Did you say a kidnapper lives there?” I looked at him in the rear-view mirror.
“Yes…” He was quiet for a moment, until a minutes later when he said, “That’s not a kidnapper house, but they have a kidnapper van in the driveway.”
I turned to look at the van, and that is when I finally put it all together.
Somehow, that rational talk about policies and procedures involving how to deal with strangers from years ago had turned into a kid’s mythology about windowless vans and creepy guys.
To my five-year old, any white work van lacking side windows is a potential kidnapper.
In his logic, kidnappers like white (obviously from their vans), so he figured out that any white, colonial style house is also a kidnapper house.
Keep in mind, he did not learn any of this from me.
Emerging like the first day of kindergarten
For next little while, a lot of us are going to feel like we are five years old, entering a world that is both familiar but oddly new.
Our logical brain knows that if we’re outside a nursing home, our chances of dying from this virus (statistically speaking), are somewhere near zero percent (about as much as being kidnapped by a stranger)…But deaths are still happening…so for the purposes of keeping ourselves safe, we’re following guidelines.
We avoid people in some instances and stand near them in others…We do not hug our extended family members, but eat food prepared by strangers…Sometimes we go out with a mask rule enforced, sometimes the mask forgotten at home.
At some point, in the words of a businessperson I know “we must move forward” with whatever helps us get through the fear, even if it feels like we are following kindergarten logic.
You should know, with his big brothers and sisters around, my five year old is not afraid of strangers or kidnappers.
He also has been handed a few rules that give him confidence to be outside.
Rule number one. Be wary around adults you do not know.
Rule number two. Watch out for work vans without windows.
And now rule number three…Be cautious passing white colonial style houses.
In a few years, he is going to be old enough to understand that kidnapper vans and kidnapper houses are not really a thing. But being cautious (not paranoid) around people who do not know yet is a smart policy no matter how old you are.
He has gotten the lesson of how to play outside safely without living in fear.
That is my hope for us all.