Etan Patz Did Not Die in Vain

Source

How this one little boy changed parenting forever

In May of 1979 I had three months in mothering.

Overwhelmed with the emotions and exhaustion of first-time parenting, the news of the little boy who disappeared the first time his mother let him walk to the bus stop alone hit me like a cyclone.

I was a product of a generation that didn't lock their doors even at night. As a child, not much older than Etan, I roamed my medium-sized town at will and my neighborhood at all hours of the day and well into the night with no fear from me or my parents. I was rarely alone, but wouldn't have thought twice about it when I was. This was back before the days of subdivisions and gated communities. Back in the days before Etan Patz.

At first I thought the impact of this child's disappearance hit me so hard because I was a brand new mother. But as the days turned into months, the news was full of not only Etan, but also the Atlanta child murders, and then the disappearance from a department store of Adam Walsh. These combined, well-publicized tragedies changed parents. Instead of thinking such terrible things couldn't possibly happen to them, they started to imagine that indeed they could.

Truth was, these occurrences were still highly improbable. The chances of one of the monsters among us striking our own loved ones were still smaller than our being struck by lightning. Still, we changed. We didn't use babysitters unless they were referred by someone we knew. We put our children in approved safety car seats. We started buying helmets along with bicycles. We told our children, not just not to talk to a stranger, but specifically that a stranger was someone who had not been to our house. We called our body parts by their correct names and talked to our children about personal privacy. My perfectly good parents had done none of these things. Times changed, and they changed because of Etan Patz.

There is no way to know how many children have been saved from every manner of harm in the ensuing thirty years since that reluctant mother conceded to her son the freedom to walk to the bus stop. That she had to lose her child in order for the next generation of parents to implement so many safety measures is unfair to an unlimited degree for her and her family. But her nightmare has allowed many moms and dads to sleep better at night knowing they have done better than their parents did in order to keep their precious children safe in a world where monsters are sometimes not under the bed.

Sometimes they are waiting near a bus stop.


Join us at HubPages by going to http://hubpages.com/_2nckpc2qm2tl7/user/new/


More by this Author


Comments 23 comments

Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Apologies to the first nine who read this for the botched editing of the last paragragh. I usually post then re-read again. As an old newspaper editor, I find mistakes jump out at me once they are in print. (It's a curse.) Y'all are too quick for me!


Mr Nice profile image

Mr Nice 4 years ago from North America

Hi Kathleen Cochran,

Interesting Hub but your editor missed some grammar mistakes again.

These tragedies made parents believe what they had once considered impossible were....

OR

This tragedy made parents believe what they had once considered impossible was....

And loose should be lose.

Happy hubbing.


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Thank you. Thank you for this. I wrote this one in too much of a hurry to finish a difficult subject but with a pressing need to do it. Thank goodness I no longer write for a living or have to see my work after the presses have run. Thank you.


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

29 folks have read this hub in three hours. No one cares to comment? I'd love to hear your impressions.


SPK5367 profile image

SPK5367 4 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

I read this just before I ran out the door, but I wanted to come back and comment. This was quite a strong article. You've drawn connections that I hadn't thought about but that are so true. I do remember the breaking story, but I was not a parent yet. I was raised as you were and at times I find it frustrating to be so very safety-conscious with my children. But far better to be a bit frustrated than to endure the tragedies some parents have suffered.

Excellent article...important topic and very well expressed.


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

SPK5367: Thanks. When my daughter, who I refer to in this hub, went to college they had a special orientation session for the girls. They hated to scare them but felt they had to inform them of some safety precautions because they felt the first six weeks at college was one of the most dangerous times in a woman's life. They are inexperienced and too trusting and find themselves in dangerous situations. My daughter called me after and said she had really led a sheltered life. I said, you're welcome.

It's a fine line between common sense safety and overprotection. In Mrs. Patz' day there was nothing reckless about letting a child walk 2 blocks to the school bus. God protect us all.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

A powerful essay about how childhood and parenting have changed radically in the last two generations.None of us can have anything but the deepest sympathy and sorrow for Etan and his parents. What a terrible tragedy and there are others like it.

But you are right these horrible events have led to a generation of parents that not only watch their own children more carefully, they also watch out for other people's children. Thank you doe wrestling with this sensitive and difficult subject. Sharing.


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Thanks for commenting phdast7. This is a difficult subject, but there is no ignoring it these days.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM

Excellent piece of writing. I can imagine the horror of this story as you were a brand new parent. The world has become a cruel, scary place to children. Strangers and perverts lurk around every corner. What has happened to this world and our society? Why are we as a society so violent towards innocent, helpless, children? Your essay does tell us that little Etan's death was not in vain. Thank you!


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

suzettenaples: Welcome to my hubs. They are not all this forbidding, I promise. Thanks for commenting. Many are reading this, but I think it is hard to respond in words. Thanks.


sligobay profile image

sligobay 4 years ago from east of the equator

Thanks for the follow Kathleen. I am honored to be colleagues in our Journey and for your interest in my work. I scanned your titles and was drawn to this most difficult subject matter handled with aplomb. I was never aware of the timeline you assign to this cultural phenomenon.

The confluence of the Atlanta child murders localizes the threat. Adam Walsh was not connected to the locality in my mind. I was not conscious of the convergence of these tragic events in Georgia. With an economy of words, your thoughts traverse the lifespan of your daughter and speak to every parent's most dreaded fear.


cherylvanhoorn profile image

cherylvanhoorn 4 years ago from Sydney

I remember the Jamie Bulger case in the 90's and the profound shock that swept around the world that two twelve year old boys could perpertrate such a heinous act on a three year old child, snatching him in sight of his mother is inexcusable. What I find worse is that one of these men (they are now grown) was released from prison leading him to reoffend; not so violently or fatally but he still did.

It is so hard when the perpertrators are children themselves. It is like what do you do? How can you excuse this? This case was premeditated and meticulously planned. This was evident with the CCTV of the shopping center where the child had been abducted from showed these two boys attempting to take other children.

This raised the question of how do we deal with juvinile offenders who perpertrate horrendous acts? Also who was noting the warning signals? This kind of thing does not come anywhere near close to erupting with out there being warning signs. Three families were devestated by this horrendous act. How does one account for that? And with each and every thing that occurs with in the family of our society it is impossible to recover from this.

It leaves scars on the world, you loose trust in others around us and in the inherant beauty and purity of children.

The children that perpetrated this crime were divested of their innocence way before these crimes. But an entire world lost its innocence when Jamie Bulger died. By the nature of innocence once it is lost it can not be retrieve.

The mere trust of turning away from your child in a shopping center, where you would not dream that other children would pose this kind of threat was gone. Everything was gone. We lost a part of selves the day that Jamie Bulger died.


Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

Gypsy Rose Lee 4 years ago from Riga, Latvia

Voted up and interesting. I was still living in N.Y.C. when Etan Patz disappeared. I was in my 20s and I too had been born at a time when life was a bit less complicated and not so cruel. However growing up in such a big city I was taught early on how to be careful and I didn't venture forth into the unknown. I felt very sad about hearing about Etan and remembering my dad walking me back and forth from kindergarten which was just a couple of blocks from our apartment in the quiet of the neighborhood of Bay Ridge Brooklyn I knew if we had lived in Manhattan my parent's would never have let me go anywhere alone. This is not to say I blame Etan's parents I mean who knew? But my heart hurts for them because they lost their precious son to a decision made so that he could feel like a big boy. That makes me hate such child snatching monsters even more. Very interesting and thought provoking hub. Passing this on.


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Gypsy Rose Lee: Intereting name! Thank you for commenting on this difficult subject, especially for who lived there and shared the same experience.

cherylvanhoorn: Some of these cases just stay with us. Thanks for commenting on a subject that is hard to discuss.


RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 4 years ago from the short journey

It's difficult to comment--there aren't enough words, and then again, words aren't enough. I've been compelled to write about some difficult topics so I know that when that happens the writing isn't as difficult. Knowing how best to comment on such a post, though, is a different story. this is at least my second try here.

That said, I'm glad you highlighted Etan and the other lives lost because we should not forget what happened to them even though everything in us wants to forget.


Debby Bruck profile image

Debby Bruck 4 years ago

Dear Kathleen ~ Sad. So sad. The loss of innocence of a nation, of parents and children. Our world has changed forever. We are no longer "free" and "carefree." We must all be vigilant and on guard. Whether in the streets, our own neighborhoods or even 'on-line.' Blessings, Debby


Melovy profile image

Melovy 4 years ago from UK

In Scotland, along with the Jamie Bulger case already referred to, it was probably the mass murder of several school children in Dunblane that led to massive changes in how children are cared for. The biggest effect of Dunblane was less in parenting than in schools - the doors of our daughters' primary school were always locked. (The same is not true of their high school.)

But to some extent, as you point out, the dangers are a matter of perception. My mother grew up during World War 2, and German bombers sometimes flew overhead as she walked to school or as kids played in the playground. She remembers feeling afraid, and once an adult was shot at as he stepped out the door of her house. But school carried on.

There have always been child murders, usually by relatives of the child, and I not convinced it's getting worse. In the 19th century it was not that unusual for children born illegitimately to be murdered to avoid shame. This happened to a relative of mine some generations back.

What goes through the minds of people who commit these atrocities? How desperate they must feel, and how sad, as cherylvanhoorn says that so many lives are altered forever by a terrible act that takes minutes. My feeling is that we all need to look to where we react with anger instead of kindness, where we lose patience instead of listening, where we try to avoid feelings instead of facing them. Only when the way the vast majority of us look at life changes are these casualties of our societies likely to mend.

Thanks for a very thought provoking article!


Pavlo Badovskyy profile image

Pavlo Badovskyy 4 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

Thank you for this hub! As long as kids keep desappearig this topic will always be a painful subject. It is actually hard to say how much of our efforts do help to avoid such situations. But this is all we can do... If a thief wants to steal the car , no matter how well you defend it with alarms and locks - he will steal it earlier or later. The same with those who steal children. These people are posessed. They can think of nothing else and , alas, they can achieve what they want... We must warn our children and we must do all possible to protect them. This world is often a horrible place to live and they should be aware of that...


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

RTalloni, Debby, Melovy and Pavio: This hub has been sitting here for a while. Don't know what prompted so much response at once, but thank you for contributing to this discussion. It is a painful one to face, write about and comment on. Melovy, the Dunblane murders were brought to memory here this summer with Wimbleton. It's so much easier to believe this could happen in NYC than in such an idyllic village. We can't live in constant fear, but these things do change us. Hope some good comes from these tragedies. Thanks to each of you.


Pavlo Badovskyy profile image

Pavlo Badovskyy 4 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

You should thank phdast7 for sharing this hub among her followers :)


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

I thank phdast7 for that all the time. She is a very generous hubber and a friend I have been grateful to have most of my life.


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 3 years ago from New York

This is a hub that hits close to home to any mother. I had four children at the time but living in upstate NY felt far removed from this tragedy...however, it was unfortunately only the beginning of. So many horrible crimes against children that have led us all to being protective and suspicious. We have no choice but to be that way with our most precious gifts.

This was beautifully done Kathleen.

Voted up, useful, and interesting.


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

tillsontitan: Don't know how you stumbled across this one, but it is an honor to get such a comment from another mother from that time to this.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working