Dear M,

From the backseat this morning, you innocently asked a question that has me stumped. Straight from the mouth of your 4-year old innocence, and from the depths of your kind soul, you cautiously asked, “Mommy, do bad guys live in caves or in houses?”

My initial response wavered somewhere around starting a legend where YES, bad guys only lived in caves. Deep, dark, locked caves below the surface of the earth where their improper thoughts and impure plans never came to fruition because they weren’t able to physically be near you. As a mom to tiny people, do I go legend or drop a truth bomb and blow your mind with the realities of living in the world today? Simply because I don’t have to at this point, I decide against shattering your sense of security. However, I do caution you as I introduce you to life.

Somewhat stumbling over my words, my voice shaking with lack of confidence, I tell you that some bad guys live in caves. But those are the bad guys that we see in movies such as The Grinch. “Other bad guys,” I sheepishly admit, “are bad guys on the inside but try to dress up like a good guy and act like a good guy, so you trust them.”

In her 4-year old matter-of-fact way, she pulls it all together with, “Oh, like a Halloween costume!”

Yes, sweet child of mine, like a Halloween costume. Some bad people cover their evil hearts with the costume of a good guy. They hide their bad guy words with nice guy words, because they try to trick you into thinking they are good, but they aren’t.

Oh, this hurts my heart. I hate that I have to admit that I bore you into an impure world of corruption and evil and hate. I am sad that I have to warn you that I am raising you in a world where I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. With all this uncertainty, here is what I can say without a shadow of a doubt:

I love you. Daddy loves you. We will do everything in our physical power to keep you and your siblings safe. Always. We would give our own lives to protect you and would easily go bad guy to match any amount of evil that comes your way. We are your parents and our #1 job is to keep you safe. Now here comes the hard part. Despite our unending love, our power of prayer, and our unwavering plan to keep you safe, we cannot control things outside of our abilities. Stories of Adam Walsh, pictures of Jacob Wetterling, thoughts of sweet Daniel Bardon creep into my brain, and my eyes begin to mist. Each of their parents loved and prayed and wanted. Each of their parents were faced with a devastating truth of never seeing their child again. Even worse – Living an eternity of thinking about what their child faced and feared in those final moments.

I shake away my inner thoughts and remind myself you just asked a question. You don’t need a thesis on Problems in America. You don’t need research backed theories on how to avoid a serial killer. What you need is to know your parents love you. You need to know that the grown-ups around you, whether at home or school or a public place, will try to keep you safe. You also need to know that you have the power to do things to keep yourself safe as well. Open your eyes to the world around you, little girl. Be optimistic about those you encounter, but if someone or something makes you feel yucky, RUN. If someone offers you candy to get in a car with them, RUN HOME TO ME and I will give you 20 pieces of candy for making the right choice and not going with them. If someone other than a doctor or your parents touches you, SCREAM as loud as you can, and you have permission to KICK and HIT them even if that’s different than what we normally say. If you are somewhere and hear loud scary noises, HIDE and stay QUIET. PRAY to Jesus inside your head, so that your heart and God hears you, but no one else.

This was all very deep for driving to preschool on a Monday morning. Although you started this internal debate in my head, and now have me wanting to wrap our family in a bubble of locked doors and no delivery men, you are now asking about popcorn. “Why can’t we make purple popcorn mommy?”

Your mind has moved on, but mine is stuck. Stuck trying to figure out why we can’t put all bad guys in caves…..