How can I offer a carefree childhood?

Reading about a missing child would slam the reality home to me every time, and it’s that we no longer live in a world where it’s safe to send a child outside without supervision.

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There’s been a series of temporary child disappearances in the past few weeks, none of which amounted to any harm, thankfully. Nevertheless, every incident managed to frighten the concerned parents and cause a ripple of worry to run through a community that prides itself on safety.

Despite not living there, I am a member of the Al Reef Village Facebook group, having joined back when Mr T and I were considering a move there.

A few weeks ago, a 12-year-old boy went missing for a few hours in the late evening, forcing his parents to post a message on the Facebook group asking if anyone had seen him. A few hours and 150 comments later, after dozens of people pitched in to drive around the community looking for him, the boy was located and driven home to his parents.

A few days ago, a teenage girl’s family posted a message to say the girl had been missing since midnight. It seemed, someone’s son was missing as well. Eventually, it became clear that it was a case of reckless, self-indulgent teenagers who had decided to stay out unacceptably late – a message was posted at around 5am to say the girl had returned home safe and sound.

Every time I read about one of these missing kids, I get into a restless panic that does not ease until I know they’re safely back home. It’s an ongoing, online joke to list all the ways you are changed after you become a parent and one item on that list is that you can never read books or watch movies about kids who are missing, kidnapped, harmed or murdered. Absolutely. (Avoid Prisoners with Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal.)

I can’t even imagine the horrible ramifications of a real-life scenario, which is why I reacted so violently every time I read a kid was missing in Al Reef. Mr T and I had seriously considered a move there, assuming a closed community of predominantly family homes like those in Al Reef would be the safest place for a child to grow up. Baby A would be able to ride a bike on the pavement, she could run down the road to a friend’s house, she could go out for an adventure walk with a best friend and live her childhood just as her parents did.

But reading about a missing child would slam the reality home to me every time – that we no longer live in a world where it’s safe to send a child outside without supervision. We’ve become too aware of the dark side of humanity.

As a child, I was sent out to the corner store to fetch a missing grocery item for my mother. I was allowed to go out on walks around our neighbourhood, exploring and creating adventures in my head. But I honestly can’t say I’d be comfortable giving Baby A that much leeway, regardless of where we live in the world. Because no place is safe enough.

I sound like a paranoid parent, I know. Mr T will be around to make sure I don’t turn into the overbearing mother. And after all, those kids in Al Reef were safe and unharmed. Still, I never want to come face to face with a “what if” situation. So, Baby A will never have the carefree childhood of my youth. I’ll have to make it up to her some other way.

Hala Khalaf is a freelance writer based in Abu Dhabi