As I drove back home after the daily drop-off of my kids, I finally got a chance to listen to the news. After hearing the latest, however, I almost wished I hadn’t turned off my son’s favourite CD.
In a span of 24 hours, there had been one attempted and one actual abduction of children in the Toronto area. First, a 9 year-old boy was kidnapped on his way to school, taken to a house and repeatedly assaulted for four to five hours. Within the same 24 hours, a young girl was grabbed by a man while walking alone in broad daylight. Thank God, she bit the man’s hand and was able to get away.
Almost immediately, I thought of how I had just dropped off my own daughters at school. I ran through the daily routine in my head. My eldest, a second grader, and her younger sister, a proud Kindergarten student, are dropped off by car each day to school. My usual routine is to walk them to the walkway that leads to the front doors, but not to actually accompany them into the school itself. I would say they walk about nine meters on school property alone, along with other students and parents. The two hold hands – sometimes grudgingly depending on how the morning has unfolded so far – and meet their teachers in the gymnasium for the morning line-up.
After hearing the morning news, my mind quickly filled up with several “what ifs.” But here is the one I still can’t shake. What if a stranger presented her or himself on the way in as a parent of the school, greeted my daughters with salams and convinced them to return to their car. Maybe they would tell them that I needed to give them something and was waiting for them, maybe they would tell them they needed their help bringing something into the school or maybe they would say that they had won a prize in one of the numerous school contests their school holds or maybe …Clearly, my imagination got the better of me that morning, but nevertheless, a few very real issues linger in my mind. When our children attend an Islamic school as mine do, they often fall into a high comfort zone with the school’s teachers, administrators and parents. The school essentially becomes part of their family – their community. As a result, the lines between friend, family, teacher and uncle/aunt can become blurred.
Although it’s reassuring to see our children feel so safe in their learning environments, we cannot ignore the need to speak to our daughters and sons about strangers – both within and outside of the Muslim community. How to do this without alarming them unnecessarily and shaking their trust in the people around them is something I continue to wonder about.
Mihad Fahmy is a London Ontario mother of three. She practices human rights and labour law and is always on the lookout for the perfect novel to escape into at the end of a busy day.