As a child I was certain I would be kidnapped. I made both my parents, not just one, walk me to school. I locked my windows and door before bed. But I had a hard time sleeping. After all, we had a swing set in the front yard, a tell-tale sign any good kidnapper would recognize.
I’m from the Polly Klaas generation, and well-meaning legislators are probably to blame for my overwhelming anxiety. They sent a policeman to my fourth grade class, so he could educate us about the dangers of strangers. To this day I partially hold him responsible for my social anxiety. He told us to never let on that our parents might not be home. If we couldn’t produce an adult, we were instructed to lie, explaining that our parents were in the shower.
Ryan Jones, the class smart aleck, raised his hand. “We’re supposed to say both our parents are in the shower. Gross!” The class giggled, but I remained serious. I imagine I was taking notes.
Later if I was alone and my parents’ friends would call, even if it was just Dennis, my dad’s good friend who I knew, I would turn the shower on and hold the phone up. No one was getting me.
Of course there was a possibility that I’d already been captured. My parents could really be my kidnappers. This was too much for my brain to handle, so I decided that if that was the case, I was just going to have to accept them as my parents. The danger had already passed, unless my real parents might try to kidnap me back.
When my friend invited me to go swimming with her and her sister I was excited, but then I discovered her mother’s friend, not her mother, was taking us. I spent the whole car ride to the swimming pool in a cold sweat. It was happening. A stranger had me in their car and we were getting farther and farther away from home. When we got to the pool, I told this eerily friendly stranger that I was terrified of swimming and would she please take me home now. She was annoyed, proof that I had foiled her plans. I’m not sure how I thought the car ride back would be less dangerous, but it was such a relief to get home.
I was certain the policeman would have been proud of me. My dad was puzzled by my behavior, but who knew if he was even my father. It’s amazing how completely I trusted the police, and the policeman had told us to trust no one, not even our own family.
Besides kidnappers, the policeman, who I remember as an unsmilingly man in a gray suit, talked about what to do when your uncle hugged you for too long. We were all puzzled by his description. How long was too long? I didn’t really have any uncles, so I was certain I was in the clear, but the others seemed worried. We asked for clarification and the policeman blanched. Our teacher tried to calm us down, assuring us that we would know when it “felt wrong.” When it “felt wrong,” we were supposed to alert the authorities. It felt like their was a team of trained professionals waiting for us to report our family, and I sensed that my classmates liked the idea of having the upperhand. Many of us didn’t really like our uncles in the first place.
After this mind boggling talk about bad touching and good touching, where no one could explain the difference between the two, we were taught some rudimentary self-defense. The boys were excited about this, but they soon discovered this self-defense resembled cheerleading more than fighting. “STOP. DON’T TOUCH ME THERE.”
“NO. NO. OUT OF MY HOUSE.”
“HELP I AM BEING KIDNAPPED.”
After the chants and a round of questions about his gun, the policeman left, but the world had changed. I’ve talked to other echo boomers (children of baby boomers – thank you Wikipedia), and I wasn’t alone in my paranoia. One of my friends was so terrified of kidnappers that he carried a spray bottle filled with bleach, so he could spray it in the eyes of his captors. When you inspire children to arm themselves, you’ve gone too far.
I was complaining about this instilled paranoia to my mother, the baby boomer, and she was non-plussed. “Oh, well my generation was preparing for nuclear fall out.” I can’t even imagine what I would have done if as a child I had been told to prepare for the apocalypse. How would that have affected my world view? I’m still struggling to understand how the relatively minor threat of kidnappers has affected me.