Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Remembering Madeleine

It was one year ago that Madeleine McCann went missing while vacationing with her parents in Portugal. I remember watching the news in utter shock (I think when you have young children you feel a mother’s pain even more) and thinking to myself, “How could those parents have left their children 50 meters away while having dinner? What kind of parents are they?” Then I realized how hypocritical my thoughts were.

It was five years ago this past April when I left Rachel, my daughter, who was two at the time, playing in the backyard by herself when I walked into the kitchen to grab her a juice box. I was in the house no more than a couple of minutes when I returned to find that she had vanished. After screaming for her and doing a quick search around our property, I called 911. They dispatched a team of police and emergency crews in an effort to locate my missing girl. It was 25 minutes later when she was found, face down in the pond of the golf club behind our home. She was not breathing. She was blue in the face with a very cold body temperature.

With help from my neighbour and two wonderful constables from 22 Division, Rachel was revived at the scene. She was then rushed to the Hospital for Sick Children, where a team of doctors and specialists brought my little girl to a full recovery. It was determined by her body temperature that she had been in the water at least 15 minutes. After a few short days at Sick Kids, she was home again playing with her dolls and toys. No injuries were sustained, no brain damage, nothing. I had left my daughter alone for two minutes, that’s all.

Rachel survived a terrible accident. I lived through a parent’s worst nightmare that ended up being a miracle (actually, it was hypothermia that saved her, but I’d like to think God had something to do with it, too!). But not all incidents like this end up with a happy ending. The McCanns know full well that their innocent action led to the biggest mistake of their lives. They left their children in what they thought was a safe environment not too far from where they were dining. It sounds all too familiar.

Madeleine’s parents aren’t villains. They are victims. On the one-year anniversary of this little girl’s disappearance, let’s also remember her parents who have to live with their actions every single day of their lives.

I could have easily been that Mom you would have referred to as the mother who neglected her child. Instead, I’m the blessed mom with the very, very lucky little girl.

I’m grateful that Rachel has no recollection of the incident. I, on the other hand, will never forget it for as long as I live.


Donna Papacosta said...

Oh my God, Julie. Thank God your daughter was OK. Your story sent chills down my spine.

You are right; we can be quick to judge other parents, when most of us have had a close call or two. Judith Timson wrote about this in her column in the Globe today: http://tinyurl.com/6r8toz

I think I'll hug my daughters extra close tonight!

Seeker said...

Good for you for having the honesty to acknowledge that we are all human! And thank God your daughter was okay!

In the months following Madeleine's disappearance, I was a reader of several online forums where the hatred for her parents had to be seen to be believed! Where's the compassion in these people?

Bob said...

What a story! Thankfully, it has turned out OK for you.

We're childless (or is that child-free), but nearly lost a dear, dear young friend to meningitis and encephalitis in '06.

It's a shattering experience. And I applaud you for seeing some of the nastiness that has surrounded the McCann case. I recently read the book "Flat Earth News" (and have to review it on the blog), and one of my big takeaways is the utter poison that can characterize the British media. I suspect that's part of the backlash in the Madeleine case.

Anonymous said...

I think you need to browse this forum for the true public feeling on the McCann's and their irresponsible parenting.


Anonymous said...


Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW (Social Worker)says the McCann's are "culpable" for the disappearance of their daughter. Watch the video here:-


Anonymous said...

I wept for Kate but still blame her

I WAS glued to ITV's two-hour documentary about Kate and Gerry McCann. I also watched their interview on News At Ten and I read all their tormented revelations which dominated last week's front pages.

The upshot is I'm now more confused than ever about how I feel.

However some things have become clearer. My feelings for Kate McCann for a start. Because while you can sympathise with the gut-wrenching horror of what these people have been through, while you can pray for the safe return of their little girl, you don't have to like them.

And I didn't. Kate in particular seemed cold, detached, lacking in warmth and, even though I understand she was riven by grief, the fact is when you want to galvanise millions of people to look for your daughter YOUR feelings have to take second place.

But on Wednesday, for the first time, I saw the real Kate McCann.

I saw her fear, but I also saw her determination to fight for her little girl and do whatever's required to get her back. I saw that she isn't a whinger or a woman who expects others to do what she won't. I saw how insane it was for anyone ever to have suspected she or Gerry had been involved in Madeleine's disappearance.

I listened while she talked about what life will be like if Maddie never comes home. How they will never greet another day without wondering, "Is today the day they'll find her?"

And yes, I wept for them — for what was. And for what their lives will be if Maddie is gone forever. But what will never change for me is the circumstances in which she disappeared. I cannot get past the fact that if this little girl hadn't been left on her own, for five nights in a row, if she and the twins had been with a babysitter which would have cost these well-off doctors just ten quid, she'd be with them today. And, one year on, the McCanns can't just dismiss that, saying: "It's done. We can't change it. We have to move on."

Because how do you move on from that? They can't just say, "We didn't think there was a danger," because anyone with half a brain knows there's danger everywhere.

The fact remains the McCanns could still be charged with neglect for leaving their three young children alone on that fateful night.

And while they've admitted they made a mistake, while it's clear no one blames Kate for leaving her kids more than Kate herself, this is actually more than a mistake.

Screaming at someone you shouldn't is a mistake. Eating a Mars bar when you're dieting is a mistake. Leaving three little kids alone in an unlocked apartment while you go eating and drinking with your mates is irresponsible.

And we can't dance around that any more. We can't NOT say what we think when the McCanns continue to ask for publicity and money to help find their little girl. They got us involved and they have to accept that we might have an opinion about what they did.

I've asked every parent I know if they've ever left their kids alone in an unlocked apartment on holiday. From most the answer was, "Absolutely never." The few who said, "Yes, we've done it and there's nothing wrong with it," are just trying to assuage their own guilt.


Because if they say the McCanns were wrong they'd have to admit they too had been negligent and stupid— albeit luckier. Because, never mind paedophiles and kidnappers. Three kids under the age of four alone in an apartment is a disaster waiting to happen—however you cut it.

They could have set themselves alight. The twins could have fallen out of their cots. Maddie (having watched Mum do it) might have tried to put the kettle on and scalded herself.

Susan Healy, Maddie's grandmother, said what we all wanted to say when Kate and Gerry told her Maddie was missing: "Where were you? And why did you think it was OK to leave them?"

And why DID they think it was OK to leave them on the very day Madeleine asked where they'd been the previous night when she'd woken up crying?

We must all keep looking for Madeleine and we must applaud the McCanns for their determination NEVER to give up hope of finding her.

But there's a lesson here for ALL parents. And no one, especially the McCanns, should dismiss what happened as a mere mistake.

It's much more serious than that!

Julie Rusciolelli said...

Thank you all for your comments. This is an interesting discussion and I welcome all comments. So much has been written, documented and exploited in the media about this case and I agree with Bob that the British press went after the McCanns like a pinata. Whether we like the McCanns or not, does not matter. They lost a child. Period. And yes, where is the compassion?

Naheed said...

This is a very moving post, Julie. I remember the horrible event and hearing about it in the office the next day.

As a PR person I have to say that the McCanns have been subjected to a needless assault. The spokesperson they have hired is doing an exemplary job of setting the record straight. It is sad though that they had to go to the lengths of doing PR for themselves. I think the media (social, print and broadcast) should back off .