It’s a Tragedy, But Don’t Be Twain’s Cat

Ben today

Ben today, in shark shades. Safe, despite sharks and teachers who can sometimes misdirect.

As a parent and a grandparent, the case of Leiby Kletzky, an 8-year-old Brooklyn boy who took a wrong turn and ended up murdered, is a nightmare.

My heart goes out to the parents, who, in my mind, didn’t really do anything wrong. An 8-year-old who has practiced a route is probably competent to walk a few blocks in his own neighborhood, even in New York City.

But when Leiby took a wrong turn, he ended up in the clutches of every parent’s worst nightmare, a pedophile predator who was willing to kill to cover up his crimes.

That is heart breaking.

And very rare. Remember a few years ago, the “summer of the sharks” when media reports focused on the danger that those oceanic ancient predators pose to swimmers?

Except, they don’t. Every year, on this crowded globe of 6 billion humans, a few of us are bitten by sharks. Very few of us. So few that worrying about shark attacks is almost akin to worrying about being struck by a meteorite. Sure, it could happen. But, in your particular case, it won’t.

The odds of a predatory attack on a child, I’m afraid, are not as astronomically rare. Still, many children get lost, and most return safely.

When he was 8 years old, my son Ben was going to attend 3th grade at Bowman Woods School, a half-mile stroll along quite Iowa small-town streets from our house. We practiced walking with him, and assumed he could navigate his way home.

He probably could have, except his teacher insisted that he join a group of students crossing Boyson Road at a crosswalk in front of the school. In her defense, our street is one of the few that exists on both sides of Boyson Road, but still, it’s too bad that she was so insistent. You can guess the result.

Our son got hopelessly lost in the spaghetti tangle of streets in a strange neighborhood. We were frantic for a while driving around the neighborhood, unsure of where he was.

Lucky for us, an adult who he didn’t know spotted him. She brought him back to school and the story ended happily.

As do most. Even in New York City.

I like a fellow blogger who writes the Broadside Blog. But in a recent post of hers, she asserts that parents can never assume their children will be safe. That’s true, yet we can over-learn from these experiences, too.

Ben never got lost on the way to school again. And we continued to let him walk.

There are no guarantees in this universe, and a parent can’t keep constant tabs on all children. Honestly, they shouldn’t. At some point, you should let children ride their bikes, play out in back behind the yard, walk to school, etc.


photo from flickr by pmarkham. Cat with singed whiskers

Mark Twain said a cat that sits on a hot stove will never sit on another hot one—but also won’t sit on a cold one. A lost child should ask for an adult’s help, and 99 percent of the time will get it. 0.99 percent of the time, a rude adult will ignore the child. And less than 0.01 percent of the time, something truly ugly, awful and unthinkable will happen.

That does not mean you should never allow your 8-year-old to walk a few blocks, nor refuse to dip your toe in the ocean because Jaws might be out there. Truth be told, we are far more dangerous to sharks that they are to us. And truth be told, in an age of video games and rising obesity, we need more parents who will encourage their children to walk home from camp.

Leiby deserved to have a full life, and it was stolen from him under the most cruel circumstances. But don’t let that horrible incident inspire you to steal all of the freedom of movement from your own kids. Each of us lives on the edge of a knife and something bad could happen. Take reasonable care. Don’t drink and drive. Don’t smoke around your kids (or away from them, either). Make sure you practice safe habits and make sure you work with your kids to understand life lessons and rules for staying as safe as possible. “As safe as possible” does not mean absolutely safe, and you have to have courage to face that fact. Life is a gamble.

You’ve got to live it with some optimism and trust in yourself and the ones you love. Don’t take big gambles, but now and then you have to roll the dice. On the day poor Leiby Kletzky was killed, thousands of children in the U.S.A. walked home safely, as they should tomorrow.



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6 responses to “It’s a Tragedy, But Don’t Be Twain’s Cat

  1. Well said.

    I am absolutely not in favor of scaring kids away from the very real need for independence, as I wrote. I do not envy parents who have to balance that need with teaching their kids when to obey authority, when to ignore “help”, when to feel worried and know what to do in that case…

  2. Nichole

    Joe, do you ever read Free-Range Kids? She has a very similar post up.

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