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Scaring My Kid Into Being Safe

Photograph by Getty Images

Four hours from now, my 16-year-old daughter will board a plane, by herself, bound for Toronto. I am sincerely (and irrationally) afraid that she will be abducted by a sheik and forced into his harem, never to be seen by her family again.

This makes no sense at all, because my daughter is very mature and responsible, and has flown transcontinental about 26 times, not to mention domestic flights. She’s totally got this, and is excited to visit her best friend, Hanna who just moved to Canada.

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Meanwhile, the movie Taken continually runs through my mind. What if someone slips a mickey into her Sprite on the plane? Or, what if the sheik travels with a syringe of sedative that he sticks my daughter with, as she stands on the moving sidewalk in the Detroit airport, then he guides her outside into his waiting stretch limousine? The ridiculous thoughts just keep streaming.

Last night I made Claire’s favorite—clam chowder in bread bowls. After dinner, she and her 14-year-old sister, Camille helped me with the dishes then we sat on the couch watching the show Catfish together. I was struggling with how much self-defense type of information to share with Claire. I felt that I had to give her some insight in how to be prepared for potential hazards. In hindsight, it may have been better to remind her about the 4-ounce liquid rule for carry-on luggage, or not to wear lace-up shoes because she will have to take them off at security, but I decided to dive right in the scarier, less likely stuff.

Me: “Claire, you know if someone points a gun at you, or even goes so far as to press the gun's muzzle into your ribs, and tells you to go with them—you know that you shouldn’t, right?” There was a pause and my sweet daughter just stared at me, silently; the flash of the TV illuminating her face in the darkened room. Camille leaned forward to see me. She had a look of bewildered horror on her face

Me: “Let me rephrase that. If someone threatens you, with a gun, or a hunting knife, or just an angry, verbal threat even, and tells you that you have to go with them, you have a better chance if you run away from them, than if you go with them. Because, even if they shoot at you, they will most likely miss, unless they are a trained marksman, and even if they hit you, it most likely won’t kill ... you.”

She looked at me in silence again. Then she opened her mouth to speak, rethought, closed her mouth and turned back to watch the show.

It occurs to me that maybe I’m not really afraid of the sheik stealing my baby.

Me: “How are you feeling about your trip tomorrow? Are you excited?”

Claire: “Yes.”

Me: “Are you nervous?”

Claire: “I wasn’t until you told me that a man was going to shoot me.”

Camille: “Yeah. That was stupid, mommy.”

Me: “No one is going to shoot you, it’s just a good piece of information to have, right?”

Claire: “Sure ... you’re so weird.”

Me: “I know. Good night.” I went to bed and dreamed I was Liam Neeson.

This morning I went to the grocery store and bought bags of sunflower seeds, smoked almonds and trail mix. If the plane goes down, and she’s stranded on some unknown island in the middle of ... Lake Ontario ... I want to make sure that she has enough sustenance to nourish her until I can get there in my kayak and save her.

I’m packing all this into her carry-on bag, working myself into state of panic, when it occurs to me that maybe I’m not really afraid of the sheik stealing my baby. Maybe I am actually afraid that in less than two years, I will be packing up her bags for college and that in about 22 months, my eldest daughter, my firstborn, the girl with whom I share the same sense of humor—that person will be moving out of close proximity to me and our family. I won’t get to kiss her cheek every morning or laugh with her at the dinner table every night. And Camille—who is so close with Claire that even though they have their own bedrooms, they choose to share a bed so that they can talk until they fall asleep—will have an even harder time when her sister leaves for college.

A tremendous sense of loss washed over me; my body and heart suddenly felt heavy. I never thought about this time in her life really coming to be. I only have her for a few more years. I sat down on the couch and stared at the wall; the hum of the dryer was the only noise in the house.

I went into the kitchen and opened the junk drawer where I keep a small envelope of money, leftover from cashed paychecks. I picked a $50 bill and tucked it into Claire’s carry-on bag with a note that read, “Go out to lunch in the city with Hanna. Have a blast and if you think of it, take a picture and send it to me. Y.O.L.O.—mommy.”

In just a bit, I’ll drive her to the airport, check her in, then watch as she walks through security, on her own.

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Claire’s Favorite Clam Chowder

4 ounces fat back or bacon, cut into small pieces

3 celery stalks

1 medium/large yellow onion, chopped fine

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup dry white wine

4 cups fish stock (check the seafood department’s freezer section), or clam broth

2 cans Campbell's cream of celery soup

1 can water

2 fish bouillon cubes

2 pounds chopped clams (frozen or fresh, if you can get them)

2 to 3 pounds red skin potatoes, small cube

Pinch of dried thyme

1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

1 soup can of milk

handful of chopped parsley

bread bowls

1. In a large soup pot, sauté the fat back or bacon in a dry pan over medium heat, until most of the fat is rendered, then add in the celery and onion—sauté until soft. Sprinkle in flour and stir to cook for a minute or two then deglaze with wine (scraping up the bits stuck to the bottom of the pot).

2. Add in fish stock, celery soup, 1 can water and fish or clam bouillon. Scrape the bottom of the pot again. Cover and bring just to a simmer. Add in the clams, potatoes, thyme and black pepper. Bring back to a simmer and simmer gently for 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning.

3. When ready to serve, pour in milk and add parsley, stir and cook until hot, but not simmering (definitely not boiling—which will break the milk.)

4. Scoop bread out of bread bowls and ladle soup in. Serve at once!

Makes 10 entrée portions (great leftovers)

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