Before John and I retired and moved to Whidbey Island, we lived in the Portland, Oregon metropolitan area. One of the ways I've been dealing with homesickness is by watching Northwest Cable News - http:// www.nwcn.com/ - to keep up on what's going on 'back home.' It's a sweet relief to see Brenda Braxton in the morning, relaying what's new in the Rose City. It makes me feel connected.
I've hated the recent reporting on the disappearance of Kyron Horman, the sweet little guy who will be a third grader at Skyline Elementary School in September. I hate that he was last seen at school, I hate all the gossip that ensues about the family, and I hate it deeply.
Watching the local Portland news these days is painful, and I know that there isn't a mom out there that doesn't share Kyron's birth mother's grief. She hopefully speculates that he is still alive, being 'stashed' somewhere, much like Jaycee Duggar, Elizabeth Smart and other kidnapped children. We all pray that she is right and that providence will bring him home.
It begs the question: "Why do we pray she's right?" What a horrible 'happy ending' to a terrible situation. Where were we before all this happened?
Why do we have to settle for this?
I wrote yesterday about cognitive dissonance, and the havoc it plays with daily mothering. We are seldom prepared for all of the second guessing, posture changing and chaos that goes on in our minds in the course of a normal day. "Should I have grounded Peter from video games, should I have grounded Roger from TV" are my recurrent thoughts during the 90's.
We wonder what we should do in the case of a missing child. Of course, we can pray, we can attend candle-light vigils and do the usual acts of a socially responsible citizen. We can't all search for him; the police need to organize this and collect evidence and protect the absolute reality that Kyron's abductors will be found and prosecuted successfully. It scares me to think that something one of us does could challenge justice.
What we can do is be aware citizens. In the case of Jaycee Duggar, she and her two children were held hostage in a convicted sex offender's back yard for two decades. Elizabeth Smart was paraded in public in a burka. And nobody noticed.
Could we please start noticing things and report it to the authorities? If a neighbor child is regularly bruised, could we ask the parents why? What's wrong with putting that child's safety ahead of our social protocol? And if we don't feel 'comfortable' with the results, could we stand up and say so?
Millie and I go on record of telling other parents to involve school counselors and other members of our childrens' 'safety networks.' Parenting is too serious a vocation to let our fears of 'social retribution' force us to ignore the obvious. And a backyard with a family living in lean-tos is obvious, for heaven's sake!
There used to be a tacit acceptance of drunk driving until MADD forced us to face reality. Too many people looked away from spousal abuse until Nicole Brown Simpson was butchered. And every day, children are neglected, exploited, ignored, beaten, and yes, kidnapped. We have to change how we deal with this.
So become a conscientious adult citizen. If you see children who don't have adequate supervision, speak to the parents. If the neglect goes on, report them. Put aside your personal needs for social status (and we all know that this is what keeps most of us quiet) and call Children's' Services, or whatever local organization helps distressed children.
I'm going sailing for a week. I'll be a new citizen as a result of Kyron Horman. I won't pretend ignorance if I see a child who looks like him, with his sweet smile and thick glasses. And in the future, if my 'mommy alarm' goes off, I'll listen to it. Perhaps a Children's Services investigation is an embarrassment for an innocent family, but we have to trust the authorities over our own fears. And if one innocent child is recovered . . .
The flip side of this, the side that many people fear, is the Nazi mindset of The State as the big brother to whom you go tattling. “Children report your parents; parents report your children; neighbors report each other” is the name of that tune, and it turns everyone into hermits huddled behind their own doors, eying one another with fear and suspicion.
Lance and I have been subjected to unfounded Big Brother-like investigations; once when Lance's children were babies and his MOTHER called in Children's Services (she didn't think the kids should be eating Cheerios—even though the pediatrician had recommended them for a toddler recovering from an upset stomach), and once when a middle school counselor—who was working with us on trying to turn around the sleep habits of a child who simply would NOT get out of bed in the morning—decided that me putting said child on the bus shoeless (but before lunchtime!) one morning warranted an abuse investigation.
School counselors, police officers, teachers and social workers are all fallible human beings. Like any group, there are some wonderful examples, some horrible examples and a whole lot of run-of-the-mill. That's why I really like the way Mollie put it: Speak to the parents.
If you see a frustrated mother yelling at her kid in the grocery store, don't automatically assume that she's beating him with electrical wire at home; talk to her, and I don't mean condescendingly—speak Mom to Mom. If your neighbor kid is covered in bruises all the time, mention it to his parents; for Heaven's sake, DON'T try to play detective and grill the kid! Parenting styles differ. You may put a lot of emphasis on keeping your kid dressed in brand-new clothing and suspect neglect if you see a child who consistently wears torn jeans and unkempt hair. It may be that his parents are trying to let him express himself through his dress, or maybe he's clean but they can't afford Abercrombie and Fitch this year. Don't assume. Get to know them.
Mollie is 100% right: a “safety network” is necessary for ALL our children, and for it to work correctly the adults in their lives must communicate with each other. There will be times when the only right thing to do is to call the police. If it's a situation in which someone is in imminent danger of injury or loss of life, let the professionals handle it. However, if you call Children's Services because the neighbor kid is covered with bruises—and you've never actually TALKED to Neighbor Kid, so you aren't aware that he's recently taken up skateboarding—you're not only clogging up the system, you may be doing very real damage to a family.
We need to talk to each other. We need to know our neighbors. We need to know our kids' teachers, their school counselors and their friends' parents—and just as importantly, THEY need to know US. If it takes a village then we have to BE a village, not just a bunch of nosy old biddies peeping through our curtains with our fingers hovering over “911.” Mollie said it best: Be a conscientious adult citizen.
A final note: Kyron Horman attends school in the same district as my high school students, so we found out about his disappearance via phone tree the same day—before anyone knew it was a “disappearance” and thought it was just a “kid really late getting home after school.” When they said that his stepmother was the last person known to have seen him, my first thought was, “Great . . . blame the Wicked Stepmother!” Now that things are beginning to shape up the way they are I am a little angry about that; even if she turns out not to be involved in his disappearance, her behavior since then has returned America's perception of “stepmom” to the days of Snow White and the Wicked Queen.
You just never hear about the Wonderful Stepmothers. Maybe they're somewhere with the Social Worker who Saved 10 Children's Lives and the Nice DMV Clerks, having doughnuts. I hope so.