Tuesday, May 22, 2007


The little girl missing from the rented condo in Portugal? On vacation with her family from Great Britain? She is a child of such exquisite, large blue eyes and wonderfully natural blond hair, she takes my breath with her innocent beauty. The story is a heart breaker.

The parents were just about 40 yards away at a restaurant eating dinner after putting lovely Madelyn and her two younger siblings to bed for the night. They say they checked on the sleeping children every half hour to make sure all was well there.

From news reports we learn a window was facing the street. We understand a suspected local man living nearby with a record of abusive behavior towards children may have snatched Madelyn. She hasn't been seen in three weeks.

That beautiful little face haunts my thoughts.

At first, like many American parents, I imagine, I thought to myself, what do you mean the parents were off having dinner leaving those very young children on their own? They are in a foreign country. Do the children speak Portuguese if an adult was to speak to them?

Then I experienced a little flashback. For non-American parents, it is not so unusual of an action. Sometimes parents in other countries seem a bit naive about keeping a watchful eye on their children. It happens here, too, of course, but I've seen it elsewhere.

When we moved to Venezuela, our son was but 16 months old. As we became friendly with neighbors in our apartment building offers came of dinner parties. We were encouraged to put our son to bed and just hop on the elevator and come down to join in the fun. They were adamant that everything would be perfectly fine. These were well traveled people, college educated in San Francisco, the husband of the couple owned a retail shoe store in town. His parents were long time established residents in this town.

Well, I am a typical overprotective American mother. And I was a fairly new mother in those days. Add to the mix I am an 'older' mom, his birth coming in my 34th year. I was shocked that our new friends thought this would be normal behavior.

I watched him like a hawk. Once on a trip to visit relatives in Indiana, my own family teased me for my habit of following my son from room to room, supervising him. They couldn't believe I wouldn't just assume others would keep an eye on him. Well, I didn't and still don't. He is my responsibility and I take it seriously.

So, while I think the parents made a poor choice, I don't judge them too harshly. I think it is a kind of naive way of looking at parenthood.

My husband and I never accepted those dinner invitations. I could never have just left our son and gone to another apartment for an evening. Probably nothing would have happened, but I just couldn't have lived with myself...


AC said...

I'm with you on the ever-watchfulness. I ALWAYS took Jenny out of the carseat when paying for gas though I saw people leaving babies and kids in RUNNING cars while they went in to pay. The horror stories I imagined (and some would come true on the news)!

This is such a sad story. I always remember during these reportings how Adam Walsh was found and the absolute fear and anguish that I felt then.

Paul is a Hermit said...

It's not their fault the world is as it is, but that's all I'll give them.

Fellow American said...

In today's world you just have to watch your kids. Not to do so risks their safety, which is a parent's main responsibility.

Anonymous said...

I've read only recently accounts of Europeans leaving strollers lined up on the sidewalks outside cafes and bistros, leaving the babes to sun and sleep while the parents eat and drink. It is apparently completely natural a thing to do in some cultures.

The sad thing here is that it SHOULD be a natural thing to do; in a perfect world, it would be perfectly okay to be so trusting and at ease with the inherent goodness of your fellow man. The tragedy is that, instead, that has become nothing but a naive and stupid perspective in the scheme of reality.