Monday, May 14, 2007

Bring her home

I CAN’T watch the news any more (not something which bodes well for a journalist, admittedly). I have had to switch off the TV because it breaks my heart to see pictures of Maddy McCann and wonder if she is still alive.
As I write this, she has been missing for six days. For six days my stomach has lurched each time her picture appears on the TV or in a newspaper and I find it unbearable to watch the grief and worry etched on her parents’ faces as they plead for her safe return.
Maddy is three - the same age as my son. I’m not sure if that makes it more real for me, or if it simply because this is the first big missing child case to hit the news since I became a parent.
Last weekend our biggest trauma was that Joseph did not get into our first choice of nursery school (something he was oblivious too, being more concerned with the Thomas the Tank Engine pool we bought for him.).
The McCann family were going through hell wondering whether their child was. Our problems are nothing in comparison to a family who have lost their precious child and have no indication of whether or not they will see her again, alive or dead.
I look at my son - for all his grown-up chatter he is in many ways still a baby. He still sleeps curled up with his wee chubby hands at either side of his head. He still cries for his mammy when he is hurt, or scared, or has a bad dream. He still needs us.
So I wonder how on earth the parent of any three year-old could leave a child in a hotel room while they went off to have a dinner elsewhere?
Perhaps it was the holiday setting that made the McCann’s complacent. Sure don’t we all relax when we are away from it all and let our hair down a bit? And no one ever, ever expects a child to be snatched from their own bed in a resort which prides itself for providing family-friendly accommodation.
But this is a new world - one where danger exists at every turn for our children. Perhaps I’m over-protective but I can’t bring myself to let my wee man out of my sight (or out of the sight of a responsible adult). Last Friday we had a particulary scary incident in Tesco where I turned my back to lift a T-shirt off a rail and turned around to find him missing.
I imagine most parents know that heart-stopping moment when your child disappears off your radar. Your heart starts thumping, the rational side of your brain tries to calm you down while the adrenalin kicks in which transforms you into a screaming harpee shouting their name at the top of your voice. In total Joseph was missing for all of 10 seconds.
A kindly Tesco employee found him drooling over the Lightning McQueen birthday cakes, while I turned to run to him and fell flat on my face in front of assorted shoppers. When I burst into tears as Joseph walked back towards me I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the humiliation of landing on my proverbial that caused it.
It was simply that two seconds inattention could, in theory, have taken away the most important thing in my life. I was 17 when Jamie Bulger was abducted from a shopping centre in Liverpool and led to his death by two 10 year-olds.
His mother had only turned her back for a few seconds, just as I had done in Tesco on Friday - and just like countless parents do every day.
It reinforces the fragility of life and the fact that a split second can change your life irrevocably. I’m sure I don’t need to heap guilt onto the McCann family now. No matter what the outcome they will live with the knowledge that they left their child and in that time an intruder came in and took her. I doubt they will ever forgive themselves for that, but it makes me wonder about the numerous decisions we make each day never expecting them to end in tragedy.
It also makes me wonder will we change? We don’t have eyes in the back of our heads. There are times a child will wander off (it seems to be what children like to do best). And there are parents who will go on holiday this week, next week or whenever and put what has happened to Maddy to the back of their head as they leave their sleeping children to go for a meal, or a quick drink.
No doubt there are countless parents who have done this in the past and not had anything untoward happen, but I’d ask everyone now to consider whether or not it is worth taking this risk? My life would end if anything happened to my child. It is something I find hard to contemplate. Our children are the most precious gift we can be given and it is our duty to do everything in our power to protect them. For now though I’ll keep my head down and keeping praying that Maddy comes home safely to her family.


Anonymous said...

Agree wholeheartedly. Although it's Madeleine, not Maddy. I think her parents were particulary upset by the tabloids referring to her as Maddy.

Claire said...


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