The March 27 disappearance of 8-year-old Sandra Cantu from her Tracy mobile home park, and the subsequent discovery of her body on Monday, has raised a lot of troubling questions, particularly among parents and caregivers.
Us parents and caregivers have definitely asked ourselves (and chimed in our views) about how closely we should monitor our kids. Some people on news websites—including this one—have lambasted the Cantu family for being unaware of this 8-year-old’s whereabouts for several hours on that fateful afternoon and evening of Friday, March 27.
At the same time, there are people springing to the family’s defense, people who describe living in similarly close-knit neighborhoods where kids roam freely—and safely. Or people who themselves grew up in such safe, non-threatening neighborhoods.
I grew up in Walnut Creek, in a neighborhood near downtown. When I was probably 6, 7 or 8 years old--on Saturdays, Sundays, or on summer days--I would be gone from home for hours at a time. I’d tear across my cul-de-sac to play with the neighbor boy across the street. I’d disappear into his big, hilly back yard with its orchards and groves, where the two of us would devise all sorts of amazing imaginary adventures.
My mother, as far as I knew, never worried that I wouldn’t return home by nightfall. And this was when I was pretty young—Sandra’s age, 8 years old, and even younger.
At some point, probably when I was a bit older, I remember how my neighbor friend, Steve, and I—and probably a few other neighborhood kids--would go on half-day summer adventures around our neighborhood, which would take us a half a mile, or a whole mile away from our homes.
We’d sneak behind the fences of people’s backyards, into creek beds that snaked behind their homes. I have a vague memory of being lost in one of those creek beds, searching for tadpoles, and splashing in the shallow pools of the creek, getting all wet, but feeling terrific, because it was a long, hot summer day, and we were feeling amazingly free.
That was then. Some 20—okay 30—years ago.
Now, it’s 2009.
My son is 11, and we're lucky enough to live in the same, safe Walnut Creek neighborhood in which I grew up. Perhaps, with my son at 11, I wouldn’t panic if he hooked up with some friend, and the two of them disappeared for a few hours--to go exploring around the neighborhood, even went trekking up and down those creekbeds behind people’s backyard fences…
Where it’s possible that Walnut Creek’s homeless now have their encampments…
Anyway, I read about the family of Sandra Cantu, being unaware of this 8-year-old’s whereabouts for three, four, five hours on a Friday afternoon and evening.
As a parent of a boy who was once eight and is now 11, I'm asking, WTF?
She was in second grade?
But wait! I’m not familiar with the layout of the Orchard Estates Mobile Home Park in Tracy, where Sandra Cantu lived. Maybe it’s like the cul-de-sac of my youth, where kids wandered in and out of one another homes on school afternoons, on weekends, and on summer days.
Maybe the neighbors in Sandra’s neighborhood aren’t all the best of friends (like the residents of my childhood neighborhood) but they live close enough to one another to share a certain level of trust—and hope—that everyone will look out for one another's kids.
What do you think?