I served up dinner to the kids last night but didn’t sit down with them at the table – I was not hungry, and was too tired to chat over the blare of Cartoon Network playing in the background, and even too tired to turn off Cartoon Network. So they happily ate their pasta and salad and dinner rolls while some bug-eyed animated child entertained them while I sat and read on the computer.



Ah. There’s an alert on the TV. I am usually not alerted by an alert on the TV because it is always just THIS IS A TEST OF THE EMERGENCY BROADCASTING SYSTEM…IF THIS WERE A REAL EMERGENCY YOU WOULD BE INSTRUCTED TO WEAR CLEAN UNDERWEAR AND RUN INTO THE STREETS BEGGING FORGIVENESS FROM ANYONE WHO WOULD STOP TO LISTEN TO YOUR FOAMY MADNESS. Or something like that. Right away, MissSix leaves the dinner table and runs to me. She has tears in her eyes, sensitive to the harsh sound and knowing there is something going on that is bad, but she can’t read enough of the words on the screen to find out what it is.

MissSix:(agitated) Oh! Oh! What is happening?

Me: I’m sure it is just a test of the emergency system. It’s OK.

She relaxes, but I hear unfamiliar words drifting in, more than usual, so I get up and walk over to the television. Maybe there is something going on with the heat wave here – a power outage or something I should know about. When I see the screen, it is black with white words: AMBER ALERT. We all stare at it for a second.

Mr11: What’s an Amber Alert?

Me:(pause, sigh) Well, it’s when a kid has been taken or is missing from their home. They put out an alert to let everyone know so the child might be found faster.

MissSix:(alarmed) Who would take a child? Why?

Ah, shit. I look at her, and at Mr11. I wish this weren’t part of my job. It always feels so sad and uncomfortable.

Me: I think most of the time it is a divorced parent who just didn’t return the child back to the other parent on-time. Sometimes it is just a miscommunication.

MissSix: I don’t get it. Why would one parent have to give the child back to another parent?

Me: In a divorce, the parents usually split custody of the children. That means that the kids spend time with each parent separately, and they have to go to their parents’ different houses. They go back and forth, usually.

MissSix: Do they have to do that?

Me: The kids or the parents?

MissSix: Anyone.

Me: Well, most parents really love their kids and want to keep seeing them no matter what happens with other things. A judge usually arranges the time each parent spends with the kids. They try to work it out. Everyone has to do what the judge decides.

Mr11: How could we even help with the alert? There’s no picture! We don’t even know what the kid looks like!

Me: If you listen, they give a description of the child and whom they think might have taken him.

MissSix: Or her.

The alert screen ends, and the screen pops up to be some blue-suited bore droning on at C-SPAN. Mr11 protests, but in a second or two with some magic pixel action Cartoon Network returns, and all is well again.

As I tuck MissSix into bed a few hours later, snuggling under her pink-and-white blanket with a pink bunny all pink-cheeked from the hot day, she turns her face up to me.

MissSix: What if a bad man comes to our town and tries to take me?

Me: You don’t have to worry. You are safe here. I am here, your brothers are here, we have a good alarm system, and Ellie would bark and bite him, I bet.

MissSix: But what if it happened?

Me: Honey, it is really really rare and very unlikely to ever happen to you or anyone you know. All I can tell you is that you’d have lots of people working to help you, good people who would not ever give up. OK?

MissSix: OK. Goodnight, Mama, I love you.

Me: I love you, too, punkin.

As I thought, the Amber Alert last night turned out to be a parental abduction, two little boys taken by their mother, all found safe in Nevada soon afterwards.

The kids didn’t ask about it this morning, as Cartoon Network droned on over their breakfasts of waffles and yogurt and blueberries, safe at home.