When Elle was injured, Vandenberghe was an executive at Louis Vuitton and knew nothing about the legislative process. In fact, according to Fennell, almost all mothers who become citizen lobbyists are catapulted into their work without any previous training. "I would have thought of myself as a mom who was aware of most aspects of safety," says Katey Taylor, who now pours her energy into abbeyshope.org, the nonprofit that she and Scott started to educate children and families about pool and water safety. "I look at what we've learned in the last two and a half years and how our knowledge has shifted to be not only about pool-drain products, but proper maintenance, education, and overall pool safety."
Identifying so closely with these deeply personal issues can get complicated. Some parents, according to Fennell, get dismissed as "overly emotional zealot moms." When people questioned whether the pool-safety laws the Taylors backed would be effective, the criticisms cut deep. "It's incredibly personal," says Katey Taylor, who admits that their advocacy may have strained some friendships. "I used to feel that when anyone questioned what we're doing, they were attacking Abbey's legacy. I've come to accept that sometimes a question is just that and nothing more."
"You're out there for people to poke holes at," Fennell says. Strangers will actually launch an online attack against the parents, saying the child's death was their fault. "I've never read such mean-spirited and ignorant comments as I have on some of these blogs," she adds.
While the potshots hurt, Raschdorf-Nelson is remarkably insightful about what motivates her detractors. "We're the walking epitome of every parent's nightmare," she says. "If they can blame us, then they can feel like it won't happen to them."
The fact that our culture is so uncomfortable with death and grieving has led to other insensitive, if well-intentioned, advice about how the Nelsons should get on with their lives. It's a suggestion that hurts Raschdorf-Nelson, who is more than engaged juggling her career as a flight attendant with raising the couple's five other children. "Just because we're still talking about our child doesn't mean we aren't moving on," she says. "We are moving on and taking him with us."