Monday, April 5, 2010

Strangers with Candy

We received an email and phone message from our school district alerting us of two scarier than hell incidents that happened two weeks ago. I'm not sure why it took them so long to spread the word to parents and I'll hold my judgement as to whether this could hamper any investigation.

The first incident took place on a residential tree-lined street. Broad daylight. A group of students, age unknown, were approached by a man who requested they get into his car. They refused but the man followed them in his car for a period of time.

The second event happened just two days later. Apparently a few kids were on the track of what I assume is the middle/high school field when a car pulled over and started taking pictures of them.

All hyperbole aside, this is some scary shit for parents. After hearing about this I immediately conjure up this fantasy of how it would go down if my incredibly sweet and trusting six year old daughter were approached by some sick fuck looking to do her harm. He'd pull over and ask her if she could help him find his lost dog (a DOG?! Yes, of course random person! I'd love to help you find Mr. Beaujangles!). I think back to an ancient Oprah episode titled "Child Lures" I caught when I was just a child myself.

The mother of that girl on the playground laughed. But I want to cry. I assume she was laughing out of sheer incredulous disappointment that her seemingly shy daughter went off with the strange man (played by Ken Wooden, author and children's safety advocate).
At eight, I bet that mother had talked with her child many times about what she ought to do if approached by someone she didn't know. The thing is -- as parents we can only fill our brains with hope and tamp down the fear. We never know how our kids will act when we're not around, or when we're preoccupied for all of one minute while outside playing on a gorgeous spring afternoon. We tell ourselves that our frequent reminders and gentle lecturing will ultimately quell most of their impulsive decision making for if they are, god forbid, ever propositioned. We tell ourselves this because the alternative scenario is too heart wrenching to even consider.

In the book Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe (and Parents Sane) Gavin de Becker makes this brilliant observation:
...[The Rule} is intended to provide protection in the event the child is alone somewhere, because if a parent is present, then what difference does it make if a young child speaks with a stranger? The irony is that if your child is ever lost in public, the ability to talk to strangers is actually the single greatest asset he could have. To seek assistance, to describe one’s situation, to give a phone number, to ask advice, to say No – all these interactions require the child to speak with strangers. If kids view talking to strangers as the threshold they mustn’t cross, then when they do cross it (and they will), they have no further tools. Talking is just talking, after all, but since what we really want to avoid is our child going somewhere with someone, that’s the thing to teach them about.

This is what I tell my daughter. I try to remind her as frequently as I can while keeping in mind that there's the chance my quizzing her on what she would do in such a situation could ultimately lead to an unhealthy fear of strangers. But maybe a little fear is a good thing?
What I tell her is that she should never, under any circumstances, go somewhere with another person unless her father or I am with her or we have given her permission ahead of time. I tell that if she is approached by someone she has not met before to come find me. If I am not around she should immediately find the closest mother with children. If no moms are around she needs to run, fast, and get to a house with a car in the driveway. Knock LOUDLY on the door and yell for help.

What else is there to say?
What do YOU say to your kids about this subject? How do they react? Do you provide different information as they get older?

Friday, March 19, 2010


Spring has SPRUNG.

I keep finding myself confused. Is this March or late May? Consistent days as lovely this are a rarity in this part of the country, especially so early in the season. We're taking full advantage of it -- long morning walks and late afternoon cul de sac bike riding and ball kicking. It does the spirit good.

Of course the pessimist in me can't stop thinking about what's next.

Next week: Frogs falling from the sky à la Magnolia.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Remembering Bill

Inspired by a thread over at Ta-Nehisi Coates' place ~

God, it must be about ten years since I last saw Bill. I'd known him since high school. He was the strange smarmy one out of a group of skater boys I sweated back then. They were a couple of years older and were clearly out to take advantage of my less than desirable reputation. I let them hang out in my bedroom when my parents were out even though I knew they didn't respect me...hell, they probably didn't like me much, if at all. They wrote on my walls with magic marker as was customary when people came to visit. My room was a veritable den of graffiti, covered from top to bottom with spools of thought, off-colored jokes, and pathetic attempts at erotic art. My parents gave me carte blanche for decorating my personal space and as a result, I chose the most garish way I could think of to make it my own.

Anyway, Bill and his friends would come over on Saturday nights when my parents were doing dinner and a movie. I remember one time in spring they came around. I was probably in tenth grade, the boys were Seniors. They trashed my room and one of them left their underwear in my closet. I was mortified but probably would've let them come back again to re-trash my entire house had they wanted to. But they never did. I guess they got bored of how easy it was to treat me like shit.

I never saw any of them again. Except for Bill. I don't recall how or where I ran into him. All I remember is how nice he was. How unbelievably real he seemed. Like a man. A humble and genuinely sweet person. He had been such a fucking asshole back in high school, always up to no good. Always up to the task of making someone else feel like crap. But now there was maturity. There was integrity. There was addiction. Both his and mine.

It's odd to think that someone could develop an intense drug habit while simultaneously re-emerging as a good guy. It's antithetical.

My recollection of details is hazy but suffice it say we came to the rather easy agreement that I'd drive the car-less Bill down to the shadiest parts of the city a few times per week and in exchange for the ride, he'd score me some cocaine.

I didn't want to watch him shoot up his Heroin in my car. It wasn't so much that I even contemplating someone seeing us, in broad daylight. That would've been smart. No, I didn't want to see it, with my own eyes. I didn't want to watch the beautifully concise steps involved in getting the vein ready. I didn't want to watch the needle go in. I didn't want to watch the release. Mostly, I didn't want to watch his face as the immediate and intense warmth coursed through his bloodstream. I didn't want to know how good it was.

I couldn't say no. He asked so nicely. So unlike the Bill I had known in school. So I let him. And it wasn't at all how I feared it would be. Prepping the vein seemed clumsy. With the way he was positioned in my passenger seat I couldn't see the needle go in. His face was expressionless. He smiled at me and his shoulders slumped backwards. He handed me a few bags of coke as I put the car into drive.

We did this a few times that summer. Sometimes we'd go back to his apartment before he shot up. His place was in a complex across the street from my middle school. I'd also spent a few afternoons there in a sweet classmate's apartment when I was 12. I vividly remember my classmate's mom and how hard her life seemed. Two kids, husband long gone, living paycheck to paycheck. Those apartments and the lives inside them seemed like a different world compared to my comfortable house in the cookie cutter development just a few miles down the road.

I'd do a few lines with Bill and we'd talk. We never talked about high school or any of those difficult memories from my childhood bedroom that were permanently etched into my brain. Mostly we talked about music and films and random things I'd probably bring up with someone on a date. It all seemed so easy. No expectations, other than the high. We did our thing, chatted for a bit, and then went our separate ways.

He stopped calling me, out of the blue. I let it go and didn't look back. I felt myself getting too close to a full-blown, no turning back addiction. I was using it to keep boredom at bay, going at it alone, making me not like what I was becoming. I needed to separate myself from people who hadn't come to that realization in their journey. I was successful. I was fortunate.

I used to read the obituaries back then on Sundays while eating breakfast. I'm not sure what I was looking for. Perhaps I was unwittingly attempting to quell my fear of death. Or maybe it was simple curiosity about the world around me and the people in it.
Naturally, most of the write ups were for senior citizens but every now and then I'd come across someone much younger. Like the day I saw Bill's name listed. I must've re-read his name five times before it registered. His family members were listed as well as choices for places to send donations in lieu of flowers. No mention of cause of death. There didn't need to be. I knew.

Here one day, gone the next. Just like that.
I'm glad I got to know the other Bill, if even just for that blip of time. It was nice to know the different side. Sometimes I look back at these experiences of mine and it gives me a chill. The incredible amount of luck and safety bestowed upon me by fate. Internally I work hard at owning these memories and achieving a sense of peace that they all add up to my LIFE, good and bad and in between.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Dead of Winter

I feel sluggish. Can't get the chill out of my hands. My mom tells me that as soon as she went through "The Change" she ceased to feel that cold gnawing at her bones each and every winter. So maybe it's part hormonal, as most everything seems to be. Estrogen balance sure is precarious -- one little smidge off and're a cold, raving lunatic who enjoys nothing more than a potato chip and chocolate bar sandwich.

The tiny bit of motivation I muster up on good days dwindles to chronic idleness when the winter drags on. Everything is dead outside. I need signs of life to live life to it's fullest -- I need sprouts sprouting and sun blaring down on my freckled nose. I often wonder if my ancient relatives were desert dwellers. I'd thrive in such a climate. Living on the West Coast was like utopia. The East Coast outdoors has perks, no doubt...but it doesn't feed my soul the same way a drier climate does.

We're indoors mostly and fresh air is in limited quantities. Every few weeks some plague or other -- head cold or stomach flu -- bears down on our home and makes us all wish we had never been born. Yes, I'm being overly dramatic, but tell me...when your sinuses feel like they're ready to explode or you stomach lurches in pain, don't you also wish to be taken out of your misery?

Mark my words. When the season does change and we can finally say Sayonara to this record-breaking craptastic winter, I will be posting cheerier rants.

Pinky swear.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Mid Year Conferences

Sorry for the lag in posts. I'm back and ready to share my soul. Or something like that.

I don't put a whole lot of stock in kindergarten. I view it as an extension of pre-school. Or at least that was what I thought of it before I had children. Now it seems like Kindergarten is the new first grade. A hundred years ago when I was a kindergartner our classroom time was primarily social. Now the focus is on rote learning even though the school staff spins it to make it seem like they incorporate creativity in their teaching methods. I'm not so sure. From what I gather all the kids in the entire school receive the same homework, week after week. Nothing fancy, straight out of some guidebook text.

So it's with this knowledge that I went into today's conference. It was the third time I'd be talking with the teacher. The first was when we met at orientation and the second was for the first conference. Frankly, I was unimpressed both times. The initial meeting I chalked up to new teacher in a roomful of parents nervousness. I cut her some slack. Between then we emailed a few times about little things and she was always prompt in answering my queries. Definitely a plus. But then there was the first conference where I had to practically dig any information out of her. I know my kid is sweet...can you tell me anything else? Anything specific that lets me know you have separated her from every other one of her classmates? I left that meeting feeling thinking my kid got the shit teacher out of the bunch, particularly since so many other parents I know who have kids at the school have marveled over how fantastic their experience has been.
I held out hope and waiting until our next meeting. Today. It was pretty much the same deal as the first conference. She went over my daughter's work, ticking off percentages and highlights. It took all of three minutes. Told me she's a sweetheart and very social. Asked if I had any questions. If I hadn't rolled off a series of them, that would've been it. And even with my questions, she gave me no emotion. I had the suspicion she would've rather been anywhere else but meeting with me. And it's not like she's been at this for 30 years and is plumb tired of it. She's young and this is her second year. Who knows? Maybe she had the realization that she chose the wrong career path. Then get out or at least suck it up and pretend like you love it. Especially for my sake. I'm not asking much, or at least I don't think I am. I just want to know what my daughter is up to during the day. Share some cute anecdotes. Don't make the entire focus of our meeting about whether she's up to par with other kindergartners in terms of skills. Tell me what you guys do all day because I don't really know. My kid isn't much of a sharer. She tells me bits and pieces but I have to basically rip it out of her.

Luckily this IS only kindergarten. I just hope this isn't a sign of what's to come.