By now, you probably have seen the shocking video of 7-year-old Brittney Baxter fighting off a would-be kidnapper in the toy aisle of the Bremen, Ga., Walmart.
What you may not realize is that this is a scene you will be seeing forever -- replayed on the news and then reimagined on "Law & Order" (though the show will change the name of the store, or maybe the guy will be kidnapping twins). Then you will see it playing again in your very own brain when you wonder to yourself, "Is it safe to let my child play in the toy aisle while I get some fruit?"
And the answer may well be: "No! Are you kidding? It only takes a second for someone to snatch a child! Let's go to the videotape!" And your brain will be right -- and also very wrong.
First, let's give props where props are due. Brittney did everything right. Snatched by a stranger, she screamed and kicked, making the guy almost immediately drop her and run.
This is a textbook case of a kid realizing that someone was out to hurt her and making a big scene. Most criminals hate scenes. So what I've taught my kids and others is to recognize abuse and resist it. This same knowledge also will help them in the 93 percent of abuse cases that involve not a stranger, but someone they know. So that's all good.
What is not so good is the fact that Brittney's attempted abduction is going to be the file many parents call up when they think about whether their kids are ever safe apart from them. As Brittney's mom said in an interview, she doesn't want to take her eyes off her daughter ever again.
That's understandable; what a horrible thing the whole family just lived through! The other thing they just lived through, however, is proof that their little girl can handle herself in a terrible situation that is, thank goodness, rare. How rare?
Rare enough to make news across this country and, thanks to that video, the world.
When we base our everyday decisions on exceedingly rare events, we are not making ourselves safer.
In fact, as David Ropeik -- Harvard instructor and author of "How Risky Is It, Really?" -- points out, after the terrorist attacks of 9/1 1, many people canceled their plane reservations. They didn't feel safe flying, even though the attacks were an extremely rare event.
So instead, they drove where they were going. And according to separate studies at Cornell University and the University of Michigan, highway fatalities jumped by roughly 1,000 for the last quarter of 2001. People felt safer taking their cars. But they weren't, because airplanes are safe.
And so are Walmarts. So is turning your head away when you are out with your 7-year-old.
It's hard to believe after seeing this video. It's even hard to write, because I'm so glad the girl is alive and well. But the truth is that there will be millions of Americans at Walmart this weekend, along with millions of kids. They will shop, pay and leave (probably with some extra chips they promised themselves they wouldn't buy).
When we worry about the safety of our loved ones, we won't flash on videos of these mundane shopping excursions, because we never will see them. Never. What we see are the plane crashes. The towers falling. Brittney. And instead of saying a little prayer and going boldly forth, we press rewind and live in fear.