People ask me how I came to write a book. It's not like anyone asked me to. Do people ever go out and ask other people to write books on subjects no one has heard of? Maybe somewhere. Not here. My answer is this: I was having a baby and I thought I needed a project.
Clearly a major mistake. Anyone already in possession of an infant would have known, not the ideal time for major undertakings, unless that undertaking is keeping a tiny human being alive. And yet, by accident or design, months after I was barely fitting behind the university microfilm machine, my daughter was born on the 95th anniversary of Catherine Winters' disappearance.
Weird, right? Soon that other little girl was claiming my attention during those first precious Mommy's Day Out programs. She was the other child I turned to when my own had gone to sleep. Because of her I learned how expensive good daycares are. Because of her I learned how to juggle, be distracted, feel torn, do two things badly, do one thing at a time pretty well (or at least significantly faster).
I have to have been exercising some maternal anxiety in the choosing of this topic at this time—in the choosing of a topic at all. I've spent all my free time from parenting minutely examining the absolute worst thing a parent can imagine. But somehow I don't think it has made me a more anxious mother.
In some ways 2013 is scarier than 1913, but in other ways it's not. People a century ago were not more innocent—they were more blessedly ignorant, at least when it comes to a certain kind of danger to children. They didn't give a moment's thought to the possibility of a stranger stealing one of their children, just as I haven't sat up a single night worrying about my daughter catching measles—the disease that had closed Catherine's school and threatened to kill her classmates in March 1913.
It's an old cliche, but we have more in common than not. Two weeks ago I took that stereotypical front-porch photograph, my girl in her new first-day-of-school outfit and pink backpack, squinting into the early-morning light. Our children are borrowed, and there's never enough time. As if I needed the lesson, Catherine taught me that too.