As I walked our dog the evening of Oct. 22, I noticed all the outside lampposts and house lights that had been turned on in our neighborhood as a show of support for Jacob Wetterling and all missing children. I said a short prayer for them and their families while making a mental note that my 11-year-old son is the same age Jacob was when he was abducted 24 years ago.
I never dreamed I’d be the mother of a boy because both of our children joined us through adoption from India and there’s a misperception that mostly female children are given up for adoption in developing countries. Our 19-year-old daughter was 8 when her brother entered the scene. And I can say now, all of us, including my husband, were not prepared for the whirlwind that lay ahead. From the day he arrived in Minnesota as a rambunctious 17-month-old who hit the tarmac running, I’ve always said my son is all boy – a rough and tumble, guts and glory, devil-may-care boy, through and through. This little boy, who’s so close to becoming a young man now, was definitely made of frogs and snails and puppy-dog tails.
From playing neighborhood football and baseball from dawn to dusk, when not in school; to water-balloon and snowball fights; to chasing toads, bats and fireflies in the dark; to a fast-paced game of “Horse” or “Pig” at the basketball hoop in our driveway, my son’s boundless energy, natural curiosity and enthusiasm of the great outdoors is contagious.
I marvel at teachers, who know boys this age are a challenge because most won’t sit still and conform to the rules, and yet those dedicated teachers are still willing to help mold them while nourishing that love of life. Leonardo da Vinci once claimed the secret to happiness is curiosity; boys, especially pre-teens, have it in spades.
His physical appearance is definitely changing too – from the lowering of his voice and the first signs of a light mustache on his upper lip to his growth spurt this summer when it seemed he grew three inches and three shoe sizes overnight. The other day, he said to us casually over breakfast, “Am I getting puberty?” We laughed but reassured him “yes, but everyone goes through this when they are your age.” Still, the kitchen – and our pocketbook – have taken a beating because the refrigerator and cupboards are forever being opened and raided by him and his friends. His sister, like PigPen in the Peanuts comic strip, says “When is he going to start liking girls so he showers more often and doesn’t just swim in cologne to try to cover up his BO?”
But there is a sweeter side to these pre-teens too – sitting on grandpa’s lap reading the Sunday comics together, sharing corny jokes or sports statistics of his favorite teams with dad, just beginning to understand his sister’s dry sense of humor AND now being able to conjure a quick-witted retort. And though he’d never let mom hug, or (heaven forbid!) kiss him in public, he still likes to cuddle and read a good book or enjoy those hugs and kisses while at home.
“Jacob was only 11 when he disappeared,” says a blog on the Lighting Their Way Home website. “His mother Patty recalls, ‘He was young and sweet and still liked to be hugged. His voice hadn’t changed. He had a girlfriend. He was almost my height.'”
The blog continues, “His family fondly reflects on just how incredible this young man truly was. They share that Jacob could be stubborn, and when he made up his mind, there was no negotiating with him. His mother now believes that stubborn streak just might have worked in Jacob’s favor. It’s amazing what an 11-year-old can do when they make up their minds. They are still too young to worry about what every person on the face of this earth will think about what they do, and yet old enough, smart enough and mature enough to pursue their passions endlessly. “
Jacob’s abduction devastated a family and an entire community. Speaking on behalf of all mothers and fathers, we miss you Jacob – your wit, your laughter, your innocence. And we’ll do the only thing we can in such horrible circumstances. We’ll hope – and we’ll keep the light on.