My 25-year-old daughter doesn’t have her driver license. If you’re from New York City and you just read that sentence, you probably aren’t too shocked. Many New Yorkers never learn to drive. There’s no need to. Subways and buses, which go to most parts of the five boroughs, run 24/7. (Or not, depending on the on-going service disruptions due subway construction. This recent article from the New York Times captures our sense of entitlement, frustration and dependence.) In fact, I had a much easier time of the teen years than did my friends in the suburbs, ex-urbs or car-dependent urban areas: I did not have to worry about my kids driving drunk. Sure I had to worry about all the other things parents of teens do — teens do stupid things and can end up in trouble, or, worse, hurt. And it wasn’t until my son was in college that he mentioned that one night their senior year of high school, his friend Ben had taken his grandparents’ car (with permission) and driven them all to Great Adventure down in Jersey. But back to my daughter. While many New York City non-driving kids do learn in college because getting off campus becomes imperative, my daughter went to school outside of Boston, and was within walking distance of the “T.” (My daughter had one friend in college at Emory who owned a car before she managed to get her license, and got in trouble at a routine traffic check because she was driving without a license. As I said, young people can have lousy judgment.) So here she is, at age 25, without a driver license and maybe about to move out of New York City. (Yes, I wrote those words, and I’m sick over it, but that’s another blog.) Her permit had actually run out. But she took care of that. And now we (and her boyfriend) have been giving her driving lessons. I must say that this time around–she actually did try half-heartedly several years ago–she is fantastic. She steers well, keeps to the speed limit, and shows great confidence and determination. She came upstate for a few days and drove the long way to the supermarket (six miles) and the very long way back. We had even thought of making a trip to the outlet mall in Lee, MA on Friday. I90 may be one of the easiest interstates around. But we woke Friday morning to snow, and that killed our outing. No more driving lessons from us for a while. No outlet bargains for us.
“People just don’t disappear,” Robby Spierer said at a news conference about the search for his 20-year-old daughter Lauren, who vanished in the early morning hours of June 3, 2011.
Unfortunately, Robby is wrong. Young woman, girls, go missing every day, all over the world. And what we Americans don’t like to see is that young women and girls get abducted and forced into sex slavery here in the United States of America all the time. Amy Fine Collins wrote an amazing column about sex trafficking in the online version of Vanity Fair on May 24, 2011. For the women in this story, things mostly turn out OK. They have been rescued. The nightmare they endured is over.
But these particular words from the article haunt me: “Caught in the vice unit’s net was a fragile, ghostly, almost child-like blonde. Barely five feet tall and scarcely 90 pounds . . ..” That could describe Lauren: blond, barely five feet tall, scarcely 90 pounds. I am not positing that a pimp abducted Lauren and has turned her into a sex slave. I’m only calling attention to the fact that girls do go missing, girls just like Lauren. (Here’s the Vanity Fair article. Read it! http://vnty.fr/mSNleY)
As a mom—as a mom who knew Lauren Spierer when she was a child—I have been caught up in the “search,” but from afar. I blog; I tweet; I talk to my daughter, who was best friends in elementary school with Lauren’s older sister. Compared to those on the ground in Indianapolis, what I do barely crosses the threshold of nothing. There are people who put on hiking clothing everyday to search ravines and woods. Law enforcement agents sift through tips. Through this all the Spierer family has been resolute and dignified, eloquent.
Those in the Bloomington community have come to regard Lauren as one of their own, which she is. For them, even the hundreds who do not know her, finding Lauren has become a mission. And then there are the thousands and thousands who are following the blogs and Twitter feed. “What’s pulling them in,” I wonder. The wünderkind New York Times reporter Brian Stelter (twitter handle: @brianstelter) made an important observation in article on the Casey Antony case that the public suffers from a lurid fascination with tot killers. (http://nyti.ms/jP5VRO) To the list of what grabs an audience I would add “attractive young women who disappear into thin air.”
Still, all those people out there who have been tweeting and retweeting Lauren’s information are playing a vital role—because somebody out there knows where she is. Today we call it “crowd-sourcing.” It was through twitter “crowd-sourcing” that NPR reporter Andy Carvin (twitter handle: @acarvin. Follow him) was able to debunk the rumor that Israel was providing bombs to Libya. In 2004 New Yorker writer James Surowiecki called this phenomenon “the wisdom of crowds. This time we hope the crowd will be able to find Lauren. True, Robby was wrong: young women disappear all the time. But Lauren’s mom, Charlene, was right when she admonished: “Shame on you, shame on you” to anyone who knows something and has not come forward. No matter what you did or saw, the more time that goes by, the worse it will be for you. The more time that goes by, the worse it becomes for Lauren’s family. Be a human being. Say what you know.
Before I list a few things that Baby Boomers might want to think about, here are some important resources.
A woman in Indiana, who I’m not sure wants to be named, has been running a blog and twitter feed. Here’s some important information.
1. Twitter feed: @NewsOnLaurenS.
2. To find out how you can help online:
3. For people in Bloomington, to help organize volunteers who want to search: http://newsonlaurens.blogspot.com/2011/06/will-you-become-find-lauren-search.html
4. To remind others of the tip line and the reward. “Any information would be most helpful.”
Malorie Janasek, who is young and hip and beautiful and an IU graduate, has a younger, hipper, more beautiful blog on her site: http://maloriejanasek.com. Read her. Follow her on Twitter at @maloriejanasek.
For a video of the press conference, see http://bit.ly/miCAlk, from Fox News Insider.
Takeaways for Baby Boomers:
- Keep track. Sometimes the best way to stay close is to pull back and let our children have “their space.” But we need to figure out how to know their friends, their habits. Can we somehow be in their lives without being annoying? Suggestions here? (And I am in no way imputing that Robert and Charlene did anything they shouldn’t have or neglected to do something. As I wrote in a previous post, they are about the best people you’d ever want to mee.)
- Do something about young people’s alcohol consumption. Bad things happen to young people when they are very drunk. But young people drink, and, it seems to me, there’s not much parents or even colleges can do to stop this. But any ideas? Are there ways for high schools and colleges to get involved without alienating their students? I remember my daughter had to complete an online course on alcohol before she started college. She made fun of it. But, I consider myself fortunate here, she doesn’t hold her liquor well and prefers being sober to being sick.
- Rally for better safety surveillance. Yeah, this is going to go over big in a country that daily becomes more concerned about Big Brother and Big Government, whether it is healthcare or security cameras. Students won’t want to be watched, but more security guards and cameras might be the ticket.
Please leave your comments. I understand that since I moved the blog from Blogher to my own website, I’ve become impossible to find unless one knows the name of my blog. In other words, when one searches Google for “baby boomers,” I’m on, like, page 10. The more comments on the blog, the better the search engine optimization. I’m not saying I don’t love the emails and Facebook comments. I do! Keep those up too. You can all be my Facebook friends: friend me at www.facebook.com/linda.bernstein; like my page at www.facebook.com/lindabernsteinphd.
Lauren Spierer has been missing for almost a week now. In the wee hours last Friday morning, she left a bar near her apartment in Bloomington, IN, where the 20-year-old is a student, and never arrived home.
A parent’s worst nightmare, this kind of disappearance, usually ending up unsolved or as a murder case happens all too often. (Jaycee Dugard and Elizabeth Smart, kidnap victims who lived to tell their gut-wrenching stories, are exceptions.)
This time it’s particularly hitting home for me because I knew Lauren when she was a little thing. I mean, at 4 foot 11 inches weighing 90 lbs, she remained a little thing as she was growing into a beautiful adult. Her older sister and my daughter were best friends through elementary school, and then the Spierer family moved to Westchester where their girls would be safer. If they stayed in New York City, Rebecca would have had to take the bus through a pretty unsavory area to get to the wonderful middle school she had chosen.
We saw the Spierers now and again for a few years after they moved: the girls’ bat mitzvahs, a playdate here and there. Charlene worked at a high-end Florist, owned by her husband’s cousin, right near my apartment, and although my husband, daughter and I always said Charlene might be the nicest person I knew, somehow we had a hard time getting together. That kind of thing happens, I have discovered time and time again, when people wend their way through the paths of life.
At five Lauren was an amazing chatterbox, a little more outgoing than her serious (but fun-loving) older sister, who at the age of eight was determined to become a pediatrician. One of the perks of being an editor at the now defunct Sesame Street Parents was that we could recruit our friends with little kids to take part in the “toy test.” Every year the magazine editors would examine hundreds of toys. Eventually (in the early summer, actually), we sent out boxes of goodies to lucky children. The moms and dads would record the kids’ reactions, and finally after a few weeks everyone got together for a big focus group. Then I would write up the results. (I chose Tickle Me Elmo one year, even though the laughing doll scared the hell out of the kids, because I knew it would be a winner with the parents.) The article would appear in the November issue, just in time for holiday toy buying. One year Lauren got a beautiful doll in a trunk with lots of clothes. Another year it was tons of Breyer horses and stables and other equipment.
“Say thank you,” Charlene told Lauren when I ran into them.
Lauren just smiled. A huge smile. A much better gift to me than anything I could have given her.
Since the weekend, when the Spierers and the Bloomington police went public with the search, I have been on a Twitter list, @NewsOnLauren, which provides links to press conferences, etc. There is no real news. The Chief of Police said that they’re sure she isn’t in Bloomington. I asked my Twitter followers, some with followers in the thousands, to retweet the link to original “missing” poster and information. The social media community, always generous, retweeted. I believe that the more widespread her picture, the greater chance of finding her, if she is alive. Her parents, however, have asked for more “boots on the ground.”
If you’re on Twitter, again the handle is @NewsOnLauren. There are several hashtags, #FindLauren being the one with the most information. The link to her picture is http://yfrog.com/h2c8x9j. Ryan Seacrest has tweeted it. So can you. This is the link to her poster: http://twitpic.com/5842fw. You can put it on your Facebook page. A Facebook group, Missing Lauren Spierer, is sometimes updated by one of her cousins, but mostly has become a venting ground for spurious theories and expressions of love.
My own kids are at this moment probably safe in their apartments. Have they done unsafe things? Oh, you betcha. Will they do them again? Probably. As my son approaches 28, I think his judgment improves. My daughter is naturally cautious. But still.
Remember how we all used to have to REMEMBER to buckle up our seat belts? Now it comes so naturally that I reached for a seat belt the other day when I sat in the pedicure chair. I’d like young people to adopt safety behavior that becomes so ingrained it’s reflexive. Here are some of my thoughts about what we should be teaching them.
- Always travel in groups, even if you’re walking a block. If you ask them, they say they do it. Evidently, they don’t really actually do so.
- Find an adult you can call anytime, anywhere. Most everyone I know would get up in the middle of the night if a young person we knew called to say he or she needed help.
- Carry a loud, loud whistle. Bloomington, IN unsafe? I guess so. Lauren disappeared in the space of a few blocks. Would one of the shrieking whistles been enough to scare whoever took her away? Maybe. It’s worth a try.
- Pressure bartenders not to serve minors. Yeah right. But why can’t a bouncer make sure young people leave in groups? Why can’t the bar keep check to see the whistle around a person’s neck as he or she walks out of the bar after a late night of partying?
Have any other ideas? I’d love to hear them. I’d love for people to join me in advocacy for keeping young people safe. I’d love for anyone to put this on their Facebook page or Twitter accounts. I’d love for you all to leave comments below.