You Read it Here First: The Deaf Pre-Schooler Story

Hi Readers! Just had to crow. The story about Hunter, the deaf pre-schooler who was told to change his name because it violated the school’s anti-gun policy, was sent to us by a gal in Hunter’s neck of the woods — Nebraska — on Monday night, which is when I posted and tweeted  it. By Tuesday afternoon, the story had gone ’round the world. Google it — you can’t miss it. On Yahoo’s home page alone it got 17,000+ comments. And despite the fact neither this site nor the one where I’m guest-posting this month, The Agitator, are getting credit (see this),   Free-Range Kids was, as far as I can tell, the first to bring it to national attention.

What thrills me about that is knowing that the press is peeking in on us, and ready to take up the anti-stupidity standard. It’s also thrilling to see how obvious it is to most humans that Zero Tolerance too often means Zero Brains. Hunter’s story may go on to achieve “The Lady Who Sued McDonald’s For Hot Coffee” status (but don’t start debating it here!), used as a sort of shorthand for, “Come on — under the pretense of caring, this is just INSANE.”

We could use a story like that, because it is time to re-think so many schools rules and time to remember our kids just aren’t that vulnerable. For me it is also time to thank YOU, readers, for always sending in the best examples of what’s wrong with the way we treat kids, and what’s right.

Keep it up! – L.

Etan: The End

Readers – As I”m sure almost all of you have heard, there has been an arrest, 33 years too late, of a man who confesses to murdering Etan Patz.

In the wake of 6-year-old Etan’s 1979 disappearance came the era we are living in to this day, the “Don’t let your child out of your sight, he could be snatched like that little boy” era. It’s an outlook reinforced daily by the media (“Up next: Children at risk!”) and the marketplace (“Buy this! Your children are at risk!”). It has been embraced by schools (“No walking allowed! Your children are at risk!”), and day care centers (“We have cameras everywhere. Your children are at risk!”), and by the law (“No letting your kids wait in the car. Your children are at risk!”). In short, the fact that we can see Etan even with our eyes closed has allowed the fascism of fear to flourish.

Knowing how he died provides cold comfort. I’m also not sure there’s any way to make a murder “meaningful.” But it does make me want to take action. For the sake of the next 33 years’ of children, I want to help our culture regain  its perspective. We remember this tragedy more than a generation later precisely because things like this do not, thank God, happen all the time. We cannot raise our children as if they do. And we can’t organize our lives around avoiding random, rare, heartbreaking events. Lisa Belkin makes this point movingly in her Huffington Post piece today.

Let me repeat the words another writer sent here a few weeks back: Fear does not prevent death. It prevents life.

Let’s not prevent it in Etan’s name anymore. – L.

Sad Memories, Overprotective Impulses, and Keeping Things in Perspective

Hi Readers — By now I’m sure you’ve heard of new leads in the Etan Patz case, the missing child case that may have marked the beginning of our obsession with stranger-danger. Now comes this “follow up” in Psychology Today, of all places, reminding parents to be worried all the time about abduction.

As if this fear had slipped most parents’ minds. As if it’s helpful for anyone to focus on the idea of their children being murdered. As if stranger-danger is even a valid concept, considering that the vast majority of crimes against children are committed by people they know.

It is SO EASY to send parents into a tailspin of terror by mentioning the Patz case. I’m one of them. That’s why I try not to think about it too much. Not out of any “denial.” Just out of emotional self-preservation, which in turn allows me to preserve my children’s freedom.

At some point I’ll address the latest iteration of this stranger-danger obsession of ours: A recent magazine show featuring a creepy ice cream man trying to lure children into his clutches. The idea that there are any non-psychopathic ice cream men in America is becoming increasingly hard to grasp.

But that’s for another post. Right now, let’s just take one quick glimpse at the Psychology Today piece, by a woman named Susan Newman, who writes:

“Yes, childhood is supposed to be a period of innocence, but as long as people who prey on children exist, parents must be watchful…. Reopening the public to the Etan Patz case hopefully will caution parents to dangers sadly still present.

Leave it to others to parse why a crime that happened 33 years ago is a good way to remind parents of dangers “still present,” I’m going to go get some ice cream. (If I don’t ever post again, alert the police. And Psychology Today.) — L.

Outrage of the Week: School Bans Soccer Balls

Hi Folks! At a school for 7- to 11-year-olds in England, says the BBC, they’ve banned leather footballs (that is, soccer balls)  at what sounds like recess and perhaps before and after school. Leather balls can be for “football club” and “specific” P.E. lessons. But otherwise, all regulation balls will be replaced by balls made out of sponge.

Sort of like childhood itself: That time of daring and doing gradually being replaced with a squishy-safe facsimile of adventure.

And while we’re on the topic of Safety First, Last & Always, to the point of no return, here’s a marvelous letter by Mike, the host of Dirty Jobs, responding to a viewer complaining about a time he did not wear goggles.

Couldn’t have said it better myself! — Lenore

“The Seemingly Inexorable Transfer of Authority from Parents to the State”

Hi Readers — As you know, I am a big fan of helmets. Have been since I first started this blog, as you can see right there, on the left of this post. I also make my kids wear helmets when they ski and snowboard.

BUT I am also a big fan of this helmet veto, just signed by Gov. Brown of California, for the very reason he cited. Voila the actual letter. And here’s what it says:

To the Members of the California State Senate:

I am returning Senate Bill 105 without my signature.

This measure would impose criminal penalites on a child under the age of 18 and his or her parents if the child skis or snowboards without a helmet.

While I appreciate the value of wearing a ski helmet, I am concerned about the continuing and seemingly inexorable transfer of authority from parents to the state. Not every human problem deserves a law.

I believe parents have the ability and the responsibility to make good choices for their children.

Sincerely,

Edmund G. Brown

I applaud this because when the government gets to decide how we parent, it sometimes criminalizes things IT considers “unsafe” that a lot of US do consider safe, whether that’s allowing a child of a certain age to stay home alone, wait in the car, bike to school (yes, I’ll address that Tennessee case very soon),  operate a lemonade stand or play unsupervised outside.

I am all for child safety, but I am also for parent safety. And when parents can be criminalized for believing in their kids or community, we are all at risk. — Lenore

Remember Leiby Thru “Acts of Lovingkindness” — Statement By His Parents

Hello, Readers: This is a wonderful thing, this statement by Leiby’s parents, asking the world to remember him by doing good deeds for each other. It doesn’t mention anything about distrusting strangers or men or the  “crazy world” we live in, it is about bringing us together, not apart. Bless them and their son’s memory.  – L

UPDATE!! Outrage of the Week: Mom Convicted in Death of Her Son (Who Ran Across the Street)

UPDATE! Readers — Here’s a petition asking Georgia to release the mother from her “vehicular manslaughter” conviction and PUT IN A CROSSWALK! I just signed it! — L. 

Hi Readers — This case is so sickeningly sad, I don’t know where to begin. Fortunately, a blog I’d never heard of before — Transportation for America — does a PERFECT  job of summing up the whole story and why it is such an outrage. Read it right here and kudos to the author, David Goldberg.

In brief: An Atlanta mom and her three kids got off a bus stop that is across a busy highway from her home. She COULD have dragged everyone to the next light,  three tenths of a mile up the road, but it seemed to make sense to try to cross. Not only was her apartment in sight across the way, but the other passengers who disembarked were crossing the highway right there, too.

So she and her kids made it to the median, but then the 4-year-old squirmed away and got killed by a drunk driver. The driver was convicted of a hit and run.  The mom was convicted of vehicular manslaughter. Yep. But as Goldberg says:

What about the highway designers, traffic engineers, transit planners and land use regulators who allowed a bus stop to be placed so far from a signal and made no other provision for a safe crossing; who allowed – even encouraged, with wide, straight lanes – prevailing speeds of 50-plus on a road flanked by houses and apartments; who carved a fifth lane out of a wider median that could have provided more of a safe refuge for pedestrians; who designed the entire landscape to be hostile to people trying to get to work and groceries despite having no access to a car?

They are as innocent as the day is long, according to the solicitor general’s office.

Goldberg also points out that none of the jurors who convicted the mom had ever even taken a public bus in Atlanta. They all had cars. In other words:

They had never taken two buses to go grocery shopping at Wal-Mart with three kids in tow. They had never missed a transfer on the way home that caused them to wait a full hour-and-a-half with tired and hungry kids for the next bus. They had never been let off at a bus stop on a five-lane speedway, with their apartment in sight across the road, and been asked to drag those three little ones an additional half-mile-plus down the road to the nearest traffic signal and back in order to get home at last.

When we prosecute parents who are trying their hardest, who make mistakes, or who misjudge a situation, we are prosecuting them for being what parents have always been: human. Not superheroes with super strength, judgment, fortitude and foresight.

A human parent is what I am and what we all are. Let’s not make that a crime. — Lenore