Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Maternal instincts and Jaycee Dugard's story

You know how hearing something in the news will bother you for weeks? Maybe months or longer? That's how I feel about Jaycee Dugard's story. Not only do I feel so achingly hurt by what happened to her, but I also feel her story will change me and the way I parent. And it might not be the way you think.

Even while pregnant with my first child, I didn't think of myself as very maternal. I liked kids, or at least the idea of there being children in the world. What got me into writing was my desire to write children's books (even though I haven't yet). But I didn't know what it would take to be someone's mother. I kind of applauded myself for keeping my firstborn alive after four weeks.

Then there are some women who are mothers to everyone. They look out for all children and don't think twice about speaking up when something needs to be said or wiping a random kid's gooey face or pulling a choking hazard out of the mouth of a baby whose mother is unknown to them. They truly have eyes in the back of their heads. I know a woman like that. She complained about a rude boy at her community pool but said, "Next time I see him, I think I'm going to give him a hug." You probably know a maternal mama too -- maybe you are one.

I was thinking about this last week when I saw a group of kids watch a boy of about 11 stomp something on the ground at a park. I was focused on getting my boys safely across the parking lot and into the car as we were leaving. After we passed the other kids, I heard one of them say something about a baby snake. Were they giving a snake a slow, painful death? I hoped not, but if they were, I told myself there was nothing I could have done to save the snake by that point. For a whole day, though, I wondered if I should have stopped to see what was going on with that group rather than mind my own business and just take care of my own kids.

And then Sunday night when I watched the Diane Sawyer interview with Jaycee Dugard, the 11-year-old California girl who was kidnapped on her walk to school and held captive for 18 years, I thought about my maternal instincts again. My human instincts. As Diane Sawyer pointed out, it wasn't the state parole officers who saved Jaycee -- even though it was their job to keep tabs on her creepy captor and even though they visited the house 60 times. It wasn't the local police that caught him -- although they had been called to his house when a concerned neighbor reported girls (he fathered two daughters with Jaycee) living in the backyard in tents. It was two women working in campus security who knew something just didn't seem right about Phillip Garrido, preaching his unusual religious views at the university with the young women in tow. In just minutes, the campus police -- both moms -- checked his background and called the parole board, which didn't know of the daughters and had Garrido come to a meeting with them and Jaycee.

That was how Jaycee was discovered after 18 years -- two women acting on what they called their maternal instinct when they observed Jaycee and her daughters being manipulated by a madman. Two years later, her own mother (who never gave up looking for Jaycee), seems to have used her maternal instincts to nurture Jaycee back into a normal life.

For some people, their takeaway from Jaycee's story will be not to let children go anywhere alone. (Garrido used a stun gun on Jaycee on her walk to school, then put her in the back of his car.) For me, Jaycee's story makes me wish to be more like those campus police officers. More like my friend who wants to hug the neighbor kid who acts out. I need to let my maternal instincts be more proactive, because even though I couldn't save that snake, maybe I could have encouraged the boy to respect wildlife. Or maybe someday I could save someone's life, like in Jaycee's situation, or merely intervene enough when something doesn't pass the sniff test to prevent some kind of disaster.

I hope those maternal instincts will embrace and protect my own children, of course, because I'm the only mother they have. If karma is real, though, and I look out for other children, then maybe someone else will look out for mine when I cannot. Maybe if we all act on our maternal, or human, instincts, the world will be a better place for everyone.

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Blogger Nicole said...

I needed this kick in the pants. I too often don't speak up, don't jump in or lend a hand. A few months ago I was in my front yard and down a street a ways I saw a little boy running with just one shoe on. He was probably about 5. My gut told me that was strange and he shouldn't be out alone, running across the street. But I figured his mom was close behind and had an eye on him. Several minutes later a couple of neighbors came running up the street with that panicked look and I instantly knew they were looking for that little boy-the little boy I saw and couldn't grabbed and held onto and helped him find his mom.

I did run down to the neighbors and told them which direction the boy had run. He had run around the corner to the play ground, which is where they found him and he was fine. But what if he hadn't been. The park was across a busy street-what if he had been hit. What if a stranger had taken advantage of the fact that he was alone? What if? What if?

Wow-that was a long reply! Sometimes I start typing and can't shut up.

July 13, 2011 at 7:02 PM  
Blogger Mrs. Potts said...

This is a really excellent post, and I hate to be the devil's advocate, but I have to throw out a word of caution here. It's definitely important to use our instincts to keep kids safe, but it's also important to avoid jumping to conclusions. When it's possible, look into the situation before you report or judge anybody. I was recently on the receiving end of someone who (COMPLETELY ERRONEOUSLY) thought that my son was in danger and without looking into the situation at all, they called the cops. Let's just say that it was a really traumatic experience for me as a mother.

July 14, 2011 at 2:45 PM  
Blogger CaraBee said...

I think about this a lot. Wanting to be a part of that village that we need to raise and protect our kids. I don't know how we've gotten so far from that practice. Sometimes I worry that it is irretrievable.

The Jaycee Dougard story both saddens and lifts me. Saddens because SO many people failed to see what was going on right under their noses and lifts because at least two did. Maybe there is hope.

Beautiful post, Holly.

July 18, 2011 at 10:39 PM  
Blogger LceeL said...

Beautiful. This is why I come here - because this is exactly who you are.

July 20, 2011 at 10:12 AM  

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