This is Jake around the time we moved from our farmhouse in the country back to the suburbs. Our new neighborhood felt very safe, safer, actually, than the farm. We now had street lights and sidewalks and lots neighbors close by. Sam and I were happy that the kids would be able to walk places rather than relying on the car.
I recall that afternoon was typically busy. I was cooking dinner and trying to keep the triplets occupied and Hannah was at a friend’s house. Jake had gotten back from the neighborhood pool club and complained he was bored. One minute he was in the backyard on the swing set, and when I looked again, he was gone.
I figured he’d gone to go the open loft in our garage, which I told him not to do. The loft was accessed by a ladder and had no safety rail. I sighed, because Jake was impulsive and often did whatever he felt like doing in the moment. On my way to calling him in I got sidetracked. Maybe the phone rang or I started folding laundry, I don’t remember. But some period of time had passed when Jake came running in.
“Mom, can I go to the big lake to catch frogs with the man?”
“What big lake with frogs? What man?”
“I got to hurry if I want to go, Mom.” He was talking a mile a minute, faster than he normally did, which was crazy fast. “I was at the brook trying to find a frog and he stopped his van and asked what I was doing. He said he knows where a big lake is and if I get in his van he’ll take me there to catch lots of frogs. I told him I have to ask you first. Can I go?”
“Come on. I want to meet this guy,” I said, trying to keep my voice calm. Jake and I went out, across our quiet street to the quiet brook. The van was, of course, nowhere in sight.
Jake was upset. And when I finally released him from my stranglehold hug and stopped repeating how smart he was to come to me for permission and just to be clear, he must never, ever get into anyone’s car, I felt weak in the knees.
Occasionally, the gut speaks to us and we listen. That’s what I believe happened. Jake listened to his gut, despite wanting very badly to go to the lake with all those frogs. I wish he had been able to, because that would have meant the frog-filled lake was real, and that Jake and every child in the world is safe; that every stranger they meet has only the best of intentions.