A blue Minions blanket.
Every time I think about what must have happened, I picture the girl scooting out of her window into the cold of the night clutching that blanket for warmth. A blue Minions blanket. Cartoon characters. Think about the innocence of a little girl who would carry that blanket. It almost breaks my heart.
There’s more to the story.
The girl recently received a liver transplant. She required medications to prevent her body from rejecting her new liver. Two pills in the morning, one at night. Without her medications, her body would start shutting down after a couple of days. On Friday, her father told a local news reporter that, “At this point, I know she’s sick. She’s hurting. She’s probably already into convulsions. Her liver is shutting down as we speak.”
Earlier today, an 18-year-old Virginia Tech freshman track and cross country runner was arrested and charged with the girl’s abduction. We’ve seen enough predator situations in the past to know something like this was possible, but it still boggles the mind. News reports indicated the girl participated in Facebook “teen dating” forums, and I could imagine how she and her alleged abductor met online, him a star college athlete and she a vulnerable Middle School student hungry for affection and attention. She wouldn’t have known he was a predator. I imagine she must have thought she was running off with some dreamboat, a charming gallant who would treat her with gentle respect and declare, Lancelot-like, his undying love. She probably thought she’d be back home in a matter of hours; otherwise, she would have taken her medications with her.
Hours ago, the girl’s body was found in North Carolina.
Last year, one of my sons went to the same school as this girl. When a tragedy like this happens to a child in your community, and you've got children of your own who you're trying desperately to nurture into a healthy, happy adulthood, you just feel so lost and helpless. Like, if something like this could happen to another child (who I'm sure was loved as deeply by her parents as I love my children), surely something equally as tragic could happen to my own children.
IT TAKES A VILLAGE. Hillary Clinton gave that title to her 1996 book-length meditation children and families . At the time, the title was controversial. Conservatives and would-be conspiracy nuts raised a ruckus, claiming the title signaled Hillary's intentions to somehow nationalize childcare. Or that it was somehow dismissive of a parent's role in a child's life. Bob Dole (remember him?) famously said, “With all due respect, I am here to tell you, it does not take a village to raise a child. It takes a family to raise a child.”
Back then, not having children myself, I had a romanticized view of parenthood. A super-duper self-sacrificing parent, ever-vigilant, ever-wise, was all any child needed, I thought.
I was wrong.
As soon as my first child—Stephen—was born in 1999, I realized many people outside our immediate family had the ability to shape and form his life. The obstetrician who delivered him at birth. The nurses. Our sweet neighbors who cooed at him when we took him out on stroller rides. Pre-school teachers. Baby sitters. Grandparents. Uncles. Aunts. The doctors who would later diagnose him as being on the autistic spectrum. A veritable village of therapists, school aides, classmates, educators, and school administrators who would come to get to know him.
A month after Stephen was born, my wife and I took him to RFK Stadium, where we held DC United season tickets. After DC United scored the soccer game’s opening goal, I jumped up in the air, holding Stephen. Thousands of other people were in the stadium, all of them screaming, high-fiving each other, raucously celebrating the goal. Any one of them could have done something stupid—fallen over their seats by accident and knocked him down, or accidently spilled a beer on him in their celebration.
My wife, sitting next to me in the stadium, was furious. She said I ought to be more careful with Stephen.
“Why?” I asked.
She looked at the people around us. “Anyone here could just grab him out of your hands when you’re holding him like that.”
At the time, I thought she was crazy. Crazy in an over-protective loving-mother kind of way. But she was right. I was so trusting of those around us, not thinking it possible anyone would do something so crazy, so deliberately evil. We are all like this. Trusting. Each day, venturing out of our houses, we trust the strangers we meet will be rational if not caring individuals. We trust our fellow motorists to control their vehicles; we trust pharmacists to fill our prescriptions with the right medications; we trust random strangers will not pick-pocket us when we’re in grocery store check-out lines; we trust our fellow classmates and movie-goers will not reach into their backpacks for an assault rifle while we’re engrossed in a college lecture or summer blockbuster; we trust the village.
One psychopath/sociopath/criminal degenerate can undo in a few hours everything that can possibly matter to you and your child.
A parent, of course, can do many positive things for a child. My last blog post said as much. A parent can feed the child, teach the child, provide positive re-enforcement when the child is feeling down on him- or herself.
A parent can provide a blue Minions fleece blanket for the child to treasure.
However, regardless how vigilant that parent might be, he or she cannot always prevent someone else from the Village from snatching that blue Minions fleece blanket. Or worse.