Jessica Ridgeway's disappearance will impact how my tween gets to elementary school

Jessica Ridgeway's disappearance will impact how my tween gets to elementary school
Westminster Colorado Police Department photo

Sad update: On Fri., Oct. 12, authorities identified the body found in the park as Jessica Ridgeway's body.

Jessica Ridgeway disappeared on the way to school last Friday. She never appeared at the neighborhood park where she was  to meet friends for the one-mile walk to her elementary school.

When I read that a body has been found in Colorado a few miles from where Jessica Ridgeway went missing, I got a lump in my throat. News reports cite unidentified sources as saying that  investigators have reasons to believe it is the missing 10 year-old girl, even though authorities have not yet said that they believe it is her.

The story of a missing child puts a pit in my stomach, but this case hits close to home.

My tween is 10 years old, just like Jessica Ridgeway.

We live a mile and a half from our suburban elementary school, about the same distance that Jessica Ridgeway lived from her school.

Since school began in mid-August, I have debated  the best way for my tween to get to and from school as she is not eligible to ride the school bus. There are children in our neighborhood who bike to school and my tween has done so a couple times with a friend. It makes me nervous. The friend has a cell phone and notifies her mother upon reaching the school. I would know if they did not arrive, but would that be enough? I worried months before Jessica Ridgeway disappeared whether a cell phone would save my tween and her friend if they encountered a stranger who was out to commit an evil act.

I don't feel like my tween is as secure as I would like when walking or biking, even when with a friend. That feeling is likely enhanced by knowing that a tween experienced stranger danger in a neighboring community early this school year. While that tween girl was okay (although I do not know her and wonder what the incident did to her emotionally), the incident was similar to one in which a man in a car approached an unaccompanied tween girl in our neighborhood, prompting the school and police to notify parents of the encounter. There were a similar notices sent to parents of my child's school when we lived in the city. It can happen anywhere. I knew that before Jessica Ridgeway disappeared, but I am now even more acutely aware.

I've wondered if I'm overly protective in worrying about her trek to school. I've wondered if driving my tween deprives her of  the benefit from the increased independence of transporting herself to school.  I have weighed the environmental impact of our car rides with the added time to review vocabulary words before a test or to hear the happenings of the school day.

My internal debate is over. Driving may not be best for the ozone or our wallet, but it is for my child's safety and for my piece of mind. I will drive her to and from school. If that makes me a helicopter mom, so be it.

An added benefit is that I love those extra minutes with my girl. She enjoys them, too, although  maybe a bit less when we are reviewing spelling words on Friday morning before her test.  She smiles when she sees my car in the parent pick up lane, and I know that won't last forever. If she was lobbying to head to school solo, or if I was unable to provide transportation, perhaps I would have a different viewpoint, but that's not the case.  I love that my job makes it possible for me to do school transportation.  Ideally, my job would make it possible for me to walk or bike with her to school, but the time required for that doesn't fit with my work schedule. I do the best I can, and right now, that means driving.

I realize that bad things happen.  All the time. In all kinds of place. I know that I cannot completely insulate my child from harm, and driving her to school does not mean that I'm preventing all bad things from happening to her. But I will do what I can. I will savor the smile of my tween as she tosses her heavy floral backpack into the back seat. And I will keep Jessica Ridgeway's family in my thoughts and prayers.

Leave a comment