Dear Munchkin and Peanut,
As I was out shopping last night, I encountered a man and a little girl. The man was in a motorized scooter; the girl, who looked to be about Peanut’s age or maybe a little older, had gotten about 10 feet away from him. Though he kept calling her, gently, and encouraging her to come back to him, she stayed where she was. He was beginning to get up out of the scooter, and it was obviously difficult for him.
“Can I help you, sir?” I asked as I quickly covered the distance between us. He indicated his appreciation, so I delicately guided the girl back to him. They went their way, the girl in his lap, and I went mine.
Then I had a terrifying thought.
The girl appeared bi-racial and didn’t look anything like the man, who was white. He also appeared too old to be her father, though he might be her grandfather. The girl may have just wanted to explore and stretch her legs. But what if she had hesitated because she didn’t belong with him?
I tried to think rationally. Your Daddy’s skin color is much darker than mine. You are bi-racial, too, though I never really think of you in such labeled terms. Your skin color falls somewhere inside the palette of your parents’. One time, your Lola and Lolo took Munchkin with them on a trip to a different state, without the rest of us. Because they are clearly too old to be her parents, and her skin is so much lighter than theirs, they asked us to give them a letter stating they had our permission to have Munchkin with them, just in case the question came up. So it would be perfectly reasonable to think that this little girl was out with her grandfather, just one of many legitimate reasons those two could be in the store together. Who was I to stick my nose in somebody else’s business? How would I feel if some stranger accused your Grandpa, Lolo or Lola of kidnapping you just because it didn’t “look right?”
But it continued to haunt me.
As I left the store, I realized the little girl’s bright pink puffy coat was in front of me again, but this time she was in the lap of an elderly woman in a wheelchair. A different man, who also appeared too old to be her father, walked beside them. Neither of them bore any resemblance to the girl.
I kept telling myself I was overreacting, jumping to conclusions, but I couldn’t shake it. It just didn’t feel right.
They waited at the entrance for the first man I saw with the girl to bring the vehicle: a full-size white van. That set off alarm bells in my head, but I tried to tell myself I just watch too many crime-themed TV shows. After all, there were two disabled individuals in their group, plus a child who required a car seat. It makes sense they would need a large vehicle.
I still couldn’t shake the tingling feeling that something about this was wrong.
When I returned home, I searched the database provided by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Based on the girl’s approximate age, there was one potential match, but the only picture was from when the potential match was a baby. She had been missing for a year and a half. Children change so quickly, especially when they’re that young, there was really no way for me to know if I was just being paranoid.
The internal debate raged: If I didn’t call the hotline and the girl I saw was the missing girl, she might never be found. If I called the hotline and she wasn’t, I might be subjecting innocent people to a horrible ordeal.
I decided to call but hemmed and hawed, explaining my misgivings. The person I spoke with assured me they would tactfully look into the possible sighting, taking it seriously, but also with a grain of salt. I provided all the details I could and agreed to leave my name and phone number so the caseworker could contact me with any questions.
I hate that such thoughts even crossed my mind. I hate that such things happen frequently enough to require a national database and hotline. As a parent, it’s terrifying.
But we can’t let ourselves be ruled by fear. We can’t be ruled by complacency, either. If we feel deep down inside something is wrong, we must act. We often forget there are ways to act tactfully, but purposefully, regardless of the situation. It is better to err on the side of caution than indifference.
If someone ever saw one of you, my children, and had a gut feeling that something wasn’t right, I pray they would take action. How would I feel if some stranger accused your Grandpa, Lolo or Lola of kidnapping you just because it didn’t “look right?” I would graciously thank them for their concern, then assure them that everything is fine. But if you were ever stolen from us and a stranger’s action resulted in your return, I would be eternally grateful.