Across the country, you could hear a collective sigh of relief this week when 9-year-old Charlotte Sena was safely returned home, as parents everywhere watched their worst nightmare unfold when the little girl vanished while riding her bike during a family camping trip in New York — just a few short miles from her home.
Thanks to the vigilant work of law enforcement officers committed to finding Charlotte, they did just that after her abductor’s fingerprints were discovered on a ransom note he dropped in the family’s mailbox.
It goes without saying that anyone who messes with kids is the absolute worst kind of low-life garbage human who should never see the light of day again.
At the time of her disappearance, Gov. Kathy Hochul, D-N.Y., said, “Hopefully, there will be a reunion, hopefully, there will be a family that has been traumatized but reunited.”
Hopefully. That’s what many of us were thinking.
But parents anxiously watching last weekend couldn’t help but silently wonder if they’d seen this movie before, and the ending wasn’t always happy.
Thankfully, this was not one of those endings.
In a statement, Charlotte’s family thanked their army of supporters and said, “We are thrilled that she is home, and we understand that the outcome is not what every family gets.”
It certainly isn’t.
Whether you chalk it up to exceptional law enforcement, the grace of God, a happy coincidence (I don’t believe in coincidences) or none of the above, one thing is for sure — her safe return was nothing short of a miracle.
Another case that shook the nation and can’t be explained as anything less than miraculous is the 2002 kidnapping of 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart. After nine months of searching and praying for her, a stunned country that feared the worst celebrated when she was found alive.
But for every Charlotte Sena and Elizabeth Smart there are countless Natalee Holloways who don’t get to go home again.
At 18-years old, Natalee Holloway vanished while on a school trip in Aruba in 2005. While she was declared legally dead in 2012, it’s been nearly two decades and her family still doesn’t have answers.
I distinctly remember her mom’s tireless quest for justice and her heartbreaking pleas that largely went ignored in another country.
I sat watching this unfold while my husband and I were on vacation on an island similar to Aruba. Certainly, this poor mom was going to get some answers soon. Fast-forward 18 years, while there’s a suspect in her disappearance, her mom still doesn’t know what happened to her daughter.
I wasn’t a mom at the time, but I decided after this I’d never let my future kids travel without me. Mitigate the threat. Maybe even get them a bubble to bounce around in.
Insert eye roll. If only our real mom-selves had things figured out as much as our pre-mom selves did.
Now ask me whose kids – to date – have done school trips across the country and to Europe. Actually, don’t. I’d have to take my foot out of my mouth before answering.
Today parents who “free-range” get a bad rap, parents who “helicopter” get a bad wrap, and while we’re all busy pointing fingers at each other, most of us are silently praying we get just enough of this parenting thing right to not land our kids on a shrink’s couch in their adult years.
The fact of the matter is, as parents there is so much that is out of our control. The vast majority of us use our best judgment, and — if we have a belief in a higher power — we wake up each day, put our kids in God’s hands and pray they’ll be OK.
But there are no guarantees in life, and that can be terrifying when it comes to our children.
If you ever want to know how much is really out of your hands — have kids. It’s a humbling way to reform a control freak — super fun.
Times like these are sobering. While there are arguably any number of important things going on in the world right now, when we hear about a Charlotte Sena it mutes the volume on all the outside noise and shifts our focus to what really matters — our kids, our spouse and our faith in something greater than ourselves.
There’s a quote by Mother Teresa hanging in my house, “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.”
I’m so glad Charlotte’s mom and dad are blessed with another day at home to love their little girl.