What’s Wrong with This Ad?

Take your blood pressure medicine before watching this so-called public service announcement .

The spot shows two women in a coffee shop, one of them with her kid. The three chat for about 15 seconds, the mom buys a coffee and then off the mom and child go, leaving the  other woman — for no apparent reason — with a sneaking suspicion that the mom is a child abuser.

The mom has said nothing harsh to her child. The child is communicative and bears no visible bruises. In other words, the mom and child look like me and my child, or you and your child, or any mom and any child and yet,  for some reason, that is enough for the other woman to feel the prickles of concern. And then she is urged to act: “If you even suspect abuse, call 1 800 4 A CHILD. Trust your instincts.”

Trust your instincts to what? Suspect every seemingly normal parent  is hiding a deep, dark secret? In the ad, the mom  is wearing a t-shirt that says, “CHILD ABUSER,” to show that this other woman’s instincts were right.

Too bad the Ad Council sat out the McCarthy hearings — it could have had a field day! “If you even SUSPECT your neighbor is a Communist…” And it’s really sad we didn’t have 30- second TV spots in Salem in the 1600s: “If thou even  SUSPECTETH sorcery…” 

The problem is: In our commendable desire to keep kids safe, we have gone overboard and turned into a country where all parents are suspected of not being good enough, or — now — even actively bad. Just imagine if this woman had let her kid wait in the car! — Lenore

Letter to the Editor

Hi Readers!
If you’d like to write a letter of support for the parents who let their 9- and 6-year-olds wait in the car for half an hour, only to have the dad be charged with child endangerment (see blog entry, below), here is the email address for the Utica Observe Dispatch’s letters to the editor page:  ddudajek@uticaod.com .

Thanks! — Lenore

Are There Really Lessons to Learn From The Jaycee Abduction?

First off, my heart goes out to Jaycee Dugard, her daughters, her parents, step-parents — everyone in her circle. She was kidnapped 18 years ago and kept imprisoned since then, bearing her rapist/captor two daughters who were also imprisoned until a few days ago, when Jaycee walked into a police station.

This is, of course, every parent’s — every human’s — worst nightmare and her story will  be seared into our memory  forever, along, alas, with the inevitable “advice” we’re now getting on how to avoid this same fate. Advice that makes it seem like abduction/rape/enslavement  is something we just have to be ever-prepared for, like the possibility of an overcharge on our credit card bill. Like it’s a fate we can avoid with some simple tips.

But as Trevor Butterworth at the organization STATS.org has pointed out: Preparing for very unlikely events is impossible — it’s like preparing for the possiblity of being hit by a frozen turkey through the car window while you’re driving on the expressway. Yes, that is something that really happened, at least once. But should you live your life always watching out for flying turkeys? That would be inconvenient, if not insane, because what could you do? Never drive on the expressway again? Get your car window replaced with lead? Sure, you couldn’t see through it. But at least you’d be protected from frozen airborne Butterballs!

Here’s one post-Dugard advice article that suggests that, from now on, we simply “never go anywhere alone.” That’s not asking too much, is it?

This is just the kind of ridiculous suggestion that leads to ridiculous situations, like parents hauled in for “negligence” for letting their kid walk solo to soccer (or wait in a car!). It leads to folks trumping any Free-Range notion with, “Look what happened to Jaycee Dugard!”

“Your child could be abducted just like Jaycee Dugard. Learning from the Jaycee Dugard situation and protecting your kids from predators like Craig Garrido and Nancy Garrido is vital to the health and well-being of your child.”

No, what’s really vital to the well-being of your child is him or her not growing up convinced that stepping  out the  front door  is the equivalent of stepping into a viper-filled pit. What’s vital to the health of your children is their learning to make their own playdates, organize a game of four-square, talk to people instead of being terrified of them. Please do teach your kids to run from anyone trying to lure them away, should that rare thing happen. But teach them to talk to the rest. That’s how they learn stuff, and make friends. That’s how they become human.

“It’s sad our children have to grow up in a world where they have to worry about people like Craig Garrido and Nancy Garrido. All we can do is learn from this tragedy.”

No, I’m afraid, we cannot. Law enforcement officials may be able to learn a thing or two.  They may learn to follow up better on missed parole visits. They may learn to pare down the list of sex offenders from the 674,000 in California to the ones that truly pose a risk,  so theycan concentrate their resources on rapists, instead of guys who peed in public, or had sex at 19 with a girlfriend a few years underage.

But there is no lesson to be learned from Jaycee’s ordeal except that sometimes, terrible things happen to innocent people, randomly. In our blame-, lawsuit- and silly advice-obsessed country, it’s a lesson we find hard to accept.

 — Lenore

Free-Range Friend’s Cartoon!

Hi Readers! My friend Bob Eckstein, a cartoonist for The New Yorker (la-di-dah!), came up with this Free-Range Cartoon: a plea for a little less parental intrusion.

Besides being a whole-hearted supporter of this site, Bob has his own obsession. Snowmen. Yes, really — he is the first and only person to study their history. Did you know, for instance, that in pre-printing press Europe, snowmen were the editorials of their day? A wag might erect a prostitute snow-woman, for instance, in front of the mayor’s house, as a way of hinting at certain improprieties. The perp remained anonymous and his “crime” would melt, so it was just about the best way to get a point across without getting hanged. Anyway, Bob has a  fantastic website devoted to all things snowmen and here it is. Enjoy!

eckstein north korea cartoon

Arrested for Trusting The World & Their 9-Year-Old

Readers – Here is a story that does not surprise me. It does, however, enrage me and I am hoping that maybe someone who reads this blog knows of a pro bono lawyer in or around Mohawk Valley in Central New York who can help this family. Here is the mom’s letter:

I’m not sure if we did something wrong here or not, and I feel myself being pulled every which way.  But the morning we left our nine-year-old daughter with our sleeping six-year-old son in a car in a busy parking lot (windows open), we really thought they’d be okay.  I figured if someone attacked them, they’d be noticed, because a lot of people were in and out constantly.

My daughter had asked me if she could stay in the car and read, and I had exchanged a glance with my partner – the children’s dad — and then said yes, told her to scream the usual (“This stranger’s hurting me!”) if someone who felt skeevy got too friendly, and to use the cell phone to call 911 if anyone tried to open the doors of the car.

When we were paged, I suspected my daughter had reached the end of her book and her brother hadn’t woken yet, so she’d called the store to have us paged, knowing we’d come out and relieve her boredom.  But when we got back to the car after an absence of half an hour, the cops were there.

My partner was charged with endangering the welfare of a minor. 

I immediately started second guessing myself. If nothing else, I’d been dumb to not think that some well-meaning person would call the cops, right?

Especially since we’ve had CPS called on us once before.  Someone reported that our kids were playing a block from our house with no adult supervision and specifically that they had chased a ball into the street.  It was a bogus charge, but now I’m sitting here terrified that CPS will rescind their previous decision and now declare that we were at fault.  And all my friends agree with the cops, that the kids “could’ve been abducted,” and “What were you thinking?” etc. 

But they are also shocked, because they know I’m so protective: no video games, no sugary foods, early bedtime, homeschooling, etc.  But you know I would let my kids play a block away. 

And so I wonder: Are there other Free-Ranging parents I can ask about what to do when they are perceived as nuts – or worse — by those well-meaning CPS callers? And can they tell me what to do when they or their partners are arrested? We had gone into Wal-Mart just to fill a prescription. The pharmacist kept saying, “Five more minutes,” until that fateful half hour had passed.

I never have been afraid before, but now I’m very afraid — and not of abduction.

Outrage of the Week: Law Forbids Kids to Witness Wine Tasting

This is just too weird: Maine passed a law, about to take effect, that forbids stores from allowing any “child” to witness a wine, beer or liquor tasting. According to this piece  on the Maine Public Broadcasting Website:

…as of September 12th, the law will add new restrictions, designed to assure that wine tastings are conducted in a manner that “precludes the possibility of observation by children.”  Hudson [a wine shop owner] says she was unclear what that meant, so she asked a liquor inspector whether she could simply draw the blinds over her doors and windows during a wine tasting.

She says initially she was told no, as an under-aged passerby still might be able to catch a glimpse.  “If a door opened, even though there was a blind on the door, if a door opened in such a way that a child walking by — and a child is defined as someone under 15 — would be walking by and happened to glance in, they might be able to look into the store at that moment when the door is open and see an adult with a glass of wine in their hand.”

Imagine the life-long trauma of that!

Then it turns out the sponsor of the bill didn’t intend this to be the case — he only wanted to prevent kids from witnessing beer and liquor tastings in GROCERIES.

Like, uh, that makes more sense? No one under age 15 should see an adult taking a sip of alcohol? Because we elected the Taliban, fair and square?

I guess this guy assumes kids shouldn’t  pass any bars, either. Or turn on the TV. Or read, I don’t know, Dickens? Shakespeare? Or the Illiad? Unless, that is, now it takes place on the grapejuice-dark sea…     — Lenore

Pastor’s Prayer for Graduates: FAIL!

Hi Readers — We’ve been spending today thinking about what it would mean to be the youngest person to sail solo around the world. In other words, about great success and whether it is worth the peril. Here’s a nice sermon from a pastor named John F. Hudson in Sherborn, Mass., about the value of the opposite: failure. Since I have a whole chapter in my book called, “Fail! It’s The New ‘Succeed!” it naturally appealed to me.

Main points? Defeats and detours can take us to the best places. Life isn’t meant to be a straight line anyway.  And the greatest lesson our kids can learn is that when they do fail, it’s not the end. All they have to do is try, try again.

(Unless they’re in the middle of the ocean. But that’s another blog post.) — Lenore