Something About Nothing by Julie Seedorf
posted the week of July 9, 2018 in the Albert Lea Tribune and The Courier Sentenel
Growing up in a small town I felt a sense of safety most of the time. It was during my childhood I learned about the “what-ifs” of life. It was taught to me unknowingly by my mother. She had no idea her anxiety about the evils of the world lent itself to my childhood fears.
Of course I was scared of the dark. What child isn’t? That was not anything my mother worried about. She worried about my health — what if you eat that and you get sick? She worried about my having an accident —what if you go with another family and they are in a car accident? And she worried about someone snatching me even if in those times kidnapping wasn’t a well-known problem.
We lived by the railroad tracks, and it wasn’t uncommon for hoboes to stop by and ask for money or food. They would often talk to my uncle when he was across the street with the horses or cows in the pasture. I was never allowed out when they were near. I was told they might kidnap me, and my parents would never see me again.
Gypsies were someone else to be afraid of in those days, at least from what I garnered from my mom. I was told they stole kids and did terrible things to them. I was terrified. I remember one time when I was home alone with my wheelchair-bound grandmother — I was around 9, a woman who dressed somewhat like I thought a Gypsy would dress, came to our door. I was afraid to go to the door. I opened the inside door but left the outside door latched.
The woman wanted to know if my mother was home. Of course I didn’t know what to answer. She wasn’t, but did I tell the woman that? The woman tried to get me to come outside, but I refused. She finally went away, but I was scared the rest of the day with visions of me being pulled out of the house and stolen.
Another time while in kindergarten, my mom wasn’t on the corner where she usually met me to walk me uptown to my dad’s store. I was terrified, because of the anxiety of what-ifs that mom wasn’t there. What if she had an accident? What if someone kidnapped me off the street?
Having been taught by a loving overprotective mother about what-ifs, my life continued and still does to this day to be fraught with scenarios when presented with something out of the ordinary or scary — scenarios that the majority of the time never come to pass but in my mind they are bigger than life and make me react out of fear to a situation, rather than thinking it through and coming to a sensible conclusion.
Right now I am in a book study which helps us confront our what-ifs and it is helping me immensely overcome those messages. But the vibes and messages of what-ifs and fear unknowingly sent to me in my childhood by my mother have had lasting consequences.
The other evening I attended a community meeting. A Level 3 sex offender is moving to my community onto a street with many children, close to parks and near the school. The community meeting was to give us information to make our community stronger and to alert us what to watch out for when it comes to our neighborhoods and children.
I thought it was well presented and felt the monitoring system in place was well thought out, along with the fact, well known in a small community, we all know what our neighbors are doing before they know it. We look out for each other. But the level of panic and anger outweighed any information attained to help us deal with the situation.
The “what ifs” were rampant. “He’s going to rape someone.” “What happens when he kidnaps one of my children?” “My son won’t be able to ride his bike safely to the pool anymore.” “My children won’t be safe in their own yard.” “He’ll grab a child and put them in his car and we’ll never see them again.”
The tears fell, the anger built and some were out of control with their accusations. Some blamed our law enforcement for letting this person move into our community but the law is the law and they had no say in the decision.
I experienced something similar when my children were growing up in a different community from where I live now. The difference is the person hadn’t been caught yet and lived next door to me in a very old house. As neighbors, we watched as the men in the house enticed middle age school children to their home. I watched one day as one took a knife to another’s throat. The entire neighborhood was concerned, and we worked with the local police. This was a person detrimental to children but because he had not been charged, etc. we received no warning he was moving in.
Our neighborhood banded together. We calmly talked to our children. We took to the street. By that I mean, the kids went out into the street to play and we adults went out with our lawn chairs when we saw activity we were suspicious about at the house. We could track everyone coming and going because we were having neighborhood picnics. Soon, the neighbor moved because we were interfering with his activities. Soon after he moved he was arrested.
Were we angry? Yes. Were we scared for our kids? Yes. Were our kids scared? No. They were not scared because we worked together and the neighborhood did not show our children our fear.
We have a Level 3 sex offender coming to our community. We should be worried. We should be upset. We should have a plan, and we should be watchful. What we shouldn’t do is let our fear and what-ifs change our behavior so we teach our children that fear. Our fear should not be so out of control that it makes us act irrationally because that could have dire consequences not just on our future, but on the future of our children.
We as a community have to work to put safeguards in place to make our children safer and stronger. We need to work with local law enforcement to change laws in our community and with our legislature so offenders are not put within a close distance to day cares, schools and parks. In the meantime, new community residents need to know that small town residents watch out for one another. They care. Remember the “Sesame Street” song, “Who are the people in your neighborhood?” In my community we know the answer to that question.