Guest Post: “Caylee’s Law” Could Make Me a Criminal

Hi Readers! I’m busy filming my TV show, so I was glad to get this pithy guest post on Caylee’s Law. It’s a proposed law I’ve been disturbed by, mostly because often when we make laws named for tragic children, they seem to make sense only in very specific situations, and retroactively, to boot. Like, “If only we’d had a law against moms buying duct tape, this never would have happened!” Then we get saddled with a law that doesn’t keep anyone safer, but does impinge on everyone’s freedom.
So here’s an essay by suburban Chicago dad Mark Buldak, who says his motto is, “Common sense isn’t as common as it used to be,” and is active in the Facebook group “Ban Dihydrogen Oxide.” — L
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“CAYLEE’S LAW” COULD MAKE ME A CRIMINAL, by Mark Buldak
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The knee-jerk reaction to bad motherhood being proposed, labeled Caylee’s Law, is a blow to Free-Range Kids.
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As proposed, the law would make failure to report a missing child in a timely manner a felony.
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I’ve received numerous requests from friends on Facebook to “join the cause” and sign the online petition favoring the passage of this bill. I refuse.
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I have problems with “in a timely manner.”  That’s vague and open to whims of interpretation. For example: My 13-year-old daughter tells me, “Dad, I’m going over to Brittney’s house for the afternoon.  I’ll call you later.”
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Four hours have gone by.  I haven’t heard from my daughter, so I call Brittney’s mom.  She tells me, no, my daughter isn’t there and, in fact, has not been there all afternoon.
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I call my daughter’s cellphone; no answer–only voicemail.  Of course I don’t have Brittney’s number—why would I need that?
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Seven hours after she left, my daughter walks in.  I’m relieved, and a little angry.  I demand to know where she’s been.
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“Dad, I’m sorry!  We ran into Madison and decided to spend the afternoon at the mall.  I tried calling, but I forgot to charge my phone.  It was dead, and Madison’s and Brittney’s couldn’t get signals.  You know the mall took out its pay phones last year.”
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With Caylee’s Law and an eager district attorney, I could be charged.  After all, my daughter was missing for seven hours.
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Granted, Casey Anthony did not graduate from the June Cleaver School of Motherhood.  That’s no call to punish all other mothers and fathers out there. — M.B.

Made Me Think!

Hi Readers! There have been so many thoughtful comments about the post below this one — the one about the mom charged with neglect because her toddler slipped out of the house while she was napping. Here’s the one that gave me a jolt of insight. Two jolts, in fact: 

By SKL: I am just saying, and not to anyone in particular, that the mindset “kid did ______, need to buy a safety product” is becoming the kneejerk reaction, and it concerns me.

When this exact sort of thing happened decades ago, the parents’ first thought was usually, “How do I teach her better?”  It was even common practice for all preschoolers to be taught how to find their way home safely, just in case.

What I’m saying is, before, safety solutions were child development solutions.  And now, safety solutions are child restraint solutions.  Anyone else see why this is troubling?

(I’m not talking about a precociously mobile infant who is really too young to learn to choose well.  And yes, I support a mom’s right to pee in peace, even if that means having baby gates for a while.)

Lenore here again: Yes, yes! I see how we have moved from “teach” to “buy” and/or “restrain” in many parenting situations. In fact, “buy those door handle thingies” was my solution, too. Thanks for this reality check: Why DO we automatically think of new things to BUY or activities to CURTAIL every time we parents worry for our kids? — L

WWAFD? (What Would Atticus Finch Do?)

Hi Readers! Normally I just tweet the lovely essays that come my way, linked from other sites. This one I have to recommend right HERE, to make sure everyone knows about it. It’s titled, “The Best Parenting Book You Will Ever Read,” which happens to be “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The piece (from Australia!) addresses several situations in a Then vs. Now way, such as:

• There’s a reclusive man living in your street. Widely believed to have stabbed his elderly father in the leg with scissors. Probably kills and eats cats.

What we do now: Sadly the police can’t do much unless someone found bloody scissors or saw a cat in a sandwich, so the next step would be to get the media to investigate. Then we’d get a petition together to have the man moved. Possibly via a Facebook page. Only then would children be allowed out unaccompanied.

What Atticus did: He told Scout and Jem to respect the man’s privacy. Also, they were not to refer to him by his nickname, ‘Boo’ but as ‘Mr Arthur.’ When the kids tried to lure him from his home and were chased by Arthur’s father with a gun, Atticus sided with the old man.

• Six year old daughter complains twelve year old brother bosses her around. She asks ‘do I have to do what he says?’

What we do now: Investigate what is causing the conflict. Is daughter not being given enough attention? Is son being bullied and is therefore exhibiting bullying behavior? Are the children unsettled because their father is a single parent? Are they spending too much time together? Should separate schools be considered?

What Atticus did: He took Scout on his lap and said, ‘Let’s leave it at this: you mind Jem whenever he can make you. Fair enough?’ That gave both kids a something think about.

The rest of the essay is just as good. I loved it. — L.

Outrage of the Week: Mom Arrested for Letting Kids Go to the Mall

Readers: This article makes me so angry, I’d love us all to start thinking what we can do to change a society where danger-hallucinating authorities persecute and prosecute those of us still sane. Suggestions welcome. This piece originally appeared in Brain, Child.

By Bridget Kevane

On Saturday, June 16, 2007, I was charged with endangering the welfare of my children, a criminal charge that, in the city where I live, Bozeman, Montana, can lead to imprisonment in the county jail. The Montana Code 46-16-130(3) states that a parent can be charged with this offense if she “knowingly endangers the child’s welfare by violating a duty of care, protection, or support.”

Typically, prosecution is pursued when an adult supplies a child younger than eighteen with drugs, prostitutes the child, abandons the child’s home, or engages in sexual conduct with the child. A violation of duty of care is described as cruel treatment, abuse, infliction of unnecessary and cruel punishment, abandonment, neglect, lack of proper medical care, clothing, shelter, and food, and evidence of bodily injury.

I was charged with this crime because I dropped my three children and their two friends off at the Bozeman Gallatin Valley Mall.
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“Free-Range” Live Chat on Washington Post on Monday Morn

Hi, Free-Rangers! I wrote that headline as if I’m so used to “live chats.” As if this is something I do all the time. In truth, this is my first and I have no idea what it’ll be like. But if YOU know what I’m getting myself into and would like to join in, here is the URL:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/discussion/2009/04/24/DI2009042402113.html

I’ll be on from 11 a.m. – noon, Eastern Standard Time, on Monday. Somehow answering questions. If I figure out the techonology. I do thank the Post’s parenting blogger, Stacey Garfinkle, for this opportunity.

I just hope it works.

You can submit questions and comments during the chat or ahead of time, if you’d like. Even now. Meantime, have a lovely rest of your weekend! (Not worrying about YOUR live chat.) L.

Mom Orders Bickering Kids Out of Car — Ruining Them for Life?

Yowza. A mom fed up with her bickering daughters, age 10 and 12, ordered them out of the car in the downtown district of an upscale suburb, White Plains, New York. Then she drove off. They were three miles from home.

One kid made it home on her own. The other was picked up by a Good Samaritan who found her outside, upset. Now the mom has been arrested. There’s a temporary order of protection against her. And, of course, at least one psychologist has already been found and quoted by the press, warning of the deep and lasting scars that mom has inflicted on her kids.

 Now, listen, I have no doubt that those kids will remember this incident for the rest of their lives. I have no doubt the mom will remember it, too. But can we give kids – and parents – a little bit of credit for resilience? The idea that a bad day, even a scary awful day, means a child is scarred for life just means that every day in every way we could be ruining our kids forever. God forbid we do or say something stupid, the gig is up. Our kids are damaged goods, the human equivalent of those dented cans of pineapple you get at the 99-store. (Or at least that I get at the 99-cent store. Is this why no one comes for dinner?)

 Naturally, I do not think that this mom handled her kids in a truly optimal way. But most of us have days when we don’t. That doesn’t make us criminal parents. It makes us human parents. And kids are built to live with humans, not Robo-Mamas.

 It was not physical abuse, which I don’t condone. It was not even particularly dangerous, though parents who never let their kids out of their sight will argue otherwise. What it was was a dramatic gesture – a wigged out one, indeed – but I could see myself, some day, doing something just about as dramatic. One night I was so mad my tween-age son hadn’t taken out the garbage after being asked 18 times (at least) that I said, “I’m going to scream.” And then I did. Bloody murder.

He cried hysterically for about a half hour after that, he was so shaken. So was I.

Tonight I’m sure the White Plains mom is shaken to the core. I’m sure the kids are too, especially if they think now mommy is going to Sing Sing all because they were fighting in the back seat about who was hogging the arm rest or breathing too loud. But I’m also sure that this alone is no reason to lock the mom up. The kids will be okay after some hugs, an apology from mom and also an apology from the girls for being annoying enough to drive mom up the wall.

 I know, I know. Kids are supposed to be blameless. Parents are supposed to be in perfect control all the time. And it is so fun to point fingers when they’re not.

But let’s just say no one’s perfect, and dropping your kids off in a suburban shopping district and expecting them to deal is not the same as driving them into the Mojave and leaving them with a half-filled bottle of Vitamin Water.

We all have our moments. Let’s assume children and parents both can get over them, maybe even learn from them, and then go on to live decent lives. — Lenore

Are Most of Us “Bad Parents?”

It’s official: Imperfect parents are the next proud, new minority to come out of the closet. Or, rather, out of the toy chest – the one NOT filled with Swedish, hardwood, hand-lathed toys. The one filled with games missing cards, Barbies missing hair and educational toys missing batteries because (sorry, kid)  they were just so LOUD! What does the duck say?

Nothing! Not one single quack. Mute piggy, too! Mute chick! Moo-less cow!

And what does the parent say?

“Yay!”

In an article meriting front page status in the Wall Street Journal (http://tinyurl.com/c5rkzj), reporter Ellen Gamerman writes about a bumper crop of new books and websites by parents confessing their kiddie crimes, from using paper towels instead of diapers, to letting the dog clean up the baby vomit in the way only dogs can. (Good dog!)

The stories are great and the interest is greater. The online magazine Babble gets 1.8 million visitors a month — a number that tripled, according to the article, when the site began its “Bad Parent” column ( www.babble.com ). Truu Mom Confessions (www.truumomconfessions.com) is popular for the same reason: true moms, confessin’. And now really big name writers like Ayelet Waldman (www.ayeletwaldman.com) and Michael Lewis are writing books about their imperfect mothering and fathering, respectively, in part because they are sick of a culture that expects parents to spend all their waking moments enriching their children’s lives and being enriched by same.

It’s easy to see why the time is ripe for all this truth. We are swimming in a culture that exults – and often scrapbooks – every parenting moment. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying parenthood. I sure do. Often. (Not today, maybe, but that’s because it’s spring vacation and both my boys are home and I’m trying to WRITE THIS SO SHUT MY DOOR, PLEASE, GUYS! OR GO OUTSIDE! IT’S BEAUTIFUL OUT THERE! WHY AREN’T YOU PLAYING?)

…what was I saying? Oh yes, much of parenting is marvelous. But there’s nothing wrong with saying some of it is tedious and overblown. And one of the reasons it has become so tedious is that we are expected to be involved with every baby step our kids take – literally and figuratively. (GUYS, IT IS SO SUNNY OUT! GO!)

So now “bad” parents are the ones who don’t get down there on the floor and play patty cake all day, every day, no matter how pooped they are. “Bad” parents are the ones who don’t help boil the solution for the science fair. “Bad” parents drop junior off at soccer practice but don’t necessarily stay to cheer every kick, and bond with the coach afterward. “Bad” parents may even bring non-organic grapes (or Drake’s Cakes!) when it’s their snack day.

In other words bad parents are the ones who parent the way OUR parents did – loving and encouraging us, but not hovering over every outing and stressing over every issue.

These days it’s called “bad” parenting but really, this all seems to be a rallying crying for, ahem, Free-Range parenting – parenting that is a little less obsessive and a little more ready to let kids fend for themselves. The kind of parenting that not only builds more self-reliant kids but also less exhausted, frustrated (BOYS, CLOSE MY DOOR!) self-neglecting parents, too.

Call us bad parents, busy parents, realistic parents, Free-Range parents – what we all share is the realization we’re not perfect and our kids don’t have to be either. That means we can sit back and breathe deep. And — who’da guessed? When you feel less overwhelmed you can even enjoy it a little more.

A little.

(GUYS! HOMEWORK OR BIKE RIDE? I THOUGHT SO. BYE-BYE!)

Ahh. — Lenore

 

 

Raw Cookie Dough: Death On a Spoon?

At last, the video age is upon us. Click on this if you’re wondering if you can let your kids eat raw cookie dough (one of the many parental fears I examine in “Free-Range Kids” — the book):

Hey Scholastic: Don’t Sell Our Kids Product Tie-In Dreck

Here’s a campaign it’s easy to get behind, “Tell Scholastic: Put the Book Back in Book Clubs.”

It’s sponsored by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood http://www.commercialexploitation.org/ , which noticed that a whole lot of the items for sale through those little Scholastic book club flyers were either NOT books, or were books that come with little doodads like jewelry or toys.  Let’s call them “Happy Meal” books.

Scholastic enjoys a very privileged position in childhood in that it is allowed to advertise in the schools, via those flyers. You don’t see Toys R Us handing out catalogs during reading workshop, and yet the two companies are selling a lot of the same stuff.  Scholastic’s “book club” items include the M&M’s Kart Racing Wii video game, a Princess Room Alarm, a Monopoly SpongeBob SquarePants computer game and that great educational tool: Lip gloss.

This is not to mention a Hannah Montana bracelet.

Scholastic should be flush with the profits from Harry Potter, for God’s sake. Using the schools to sell our kids on dreck like an M&M Wii game is like selling pina coladas in the cafeteria instead of milk.

Although I guess if schools did that, they might have a lot more parent volunteers at lunch.

Here’s the campaign’s Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Campaign-for-a-Commercial-Free-Childhood/43207060421

— Lenore