It's been a difficult news summer for parents. The media has been rife with story after shocking story of child murders. But, until now, I hesitated to write about any of them.
While incredibly sad, I wasn't sure I had much to add to the discourse. I struggled with what these stories had to do with me.
I never followed the investigation into Caley Anthony's disappearance too closely. It was the summer of 2008, and the story seemed to play out predominantly on cable TV, which I didn't have at the time. From a trashy magazine perspective, I was far more interested in the impeding birth of the Pitt-Jolie twins than I was in the tragic story of a missing three year-old and her strangely callous mother. As the story got weirder, I became even more distant. So distant perhaps, that when every other mom blogger expressed understandable outrage over Casey Anthony's not-guilty verdict earlier this month, I stayed silent. I didn't know the facts of the case and what little I did know didn't lead me to have much sympathy for the defendant. I was content to let my Facebook and Twitter feeds do the work for me.
At almost the same time, equally unsettling stories were unfolding right here in Madison. On Sunday, July 3, a three-year-old south side boy, Luis Vasquez died of a head trauma at UW Hospital. The following Tuesday, his mother was taken into custody on suspicion of first-degree reckless homicide. On Wednesday July 6, the bodies of Kevin McArthur III, 4, and his younger brother, Kemaury, 3 were found dead in a parked car on the east side. In another case of probable domestic violence, their mother's boyfriend, David J. Hoem, was arrested.
I thought longer and harder about writing about these crimes. Murder in Madison is still shocking to me. My family moved here in March of 1998, just days after Rev. Alfred Kunz , a priest in the village of Dane, was found dead in the hallway of the Saint Michael School. I vividly remember how shocked the community, especially local media, was at this still-unsolved crime. Shocked of course because of its brutality, but also because murder in our community was so uncommon.
And now there were three not-even-old-enough-for-kindergarten Madison children dead in the span of a week. But I chose to write about lighter topics, mostly because they come much easier to me. And I wondered if I had anything meaningful to say.
The crimes are horrid, but right or wrong, domestic violence still felt removed from my everyday existence. I mourned the loss of young life and felt terrible for the victims' families, but I didn't feel scared for my own children's safety.
It may have happened miles away, as opposed to across town, but last week's butchering of eight-year-old Leiby Kletzky in Brooklyn, N.Y., touched more than my heart; it kicked me in the gut. I think because it felt so personal. And I felt compelled to write.
The fact that the crime happened in New York's Hasidic community probably has something to do with my reaction. As a Jewish mother, I can't completely discount Leiby's religion as part of my "tribal" sadness. But I think the most salient reason that this particular crime so profoundly affected me was because Mr. and Mrs. Kletzky were letting their only son do,what I was considering letting my only daughter, 9, do this coming fall: Walk home from school without parental supervision.
I have never worried about unsavory characters in the 10-block radius from my house. As a matter of fact, my husband and I have always told our kids that, if you are ever lost, look for someone who looks like a neighborhood mom to help you find your way home. Talking to strangers may never be advisable from a parenting handbook perspective, but realistically, isn't it the only option sometimes? I've helped lost kids who didn't know me from Adam reunite with their parents at shopping malls and amusement parks. I think their parents were happy a stranger intervened.
And that is precisely what Leiby did; ask someone who appeared to be a safe member of his community help him with directions. It wasn't an act of foolishness; it was an act of human nature.
And that seemingly innocuous stranger turned out to be a kidnapper and murderer. I can't think of a parent that doesn't second-guess his or her own child's safety after hearing news like this.
I don't know what I'll do this coming fall. I know the statistics. My kids are far more likely to be harmed in a car crash or drown in a swimming pool than be accosted by a stranger walking home from school. And I still drive. And they still swim.
But part of me says I need to walk her a little longer.
And another part says I need to let go and trust my gut that everything will be fine. A walk home with friends--but without grown-ups-- is a perfectly safe thing to do.
I also trust that choosing to write about these tragedies was the right decision. Words can't do justice to the memories of five young lives. But I hope, in some sort of weird prophetic way, that by finally writing, the chapter can be closed on a terrible news summer.comments powered by Disqus
The recent shift in the weather is just another sign that autumn is fast approaching. That means one of my favorite activities is just around the corner -- apple picking. My husband and I have been picking apples every fall since before our kids were born.
I have a lot of questions about what to put on my eight-month-olds' plates -- and, if I'm honest, a deep and abiding fear of putting the wrong thing there. Did I start them on solid foods at the right time? What's the deal with baby-led weaning -- how much self-feeding should they be doing? At what age should I give them potential allergens like shellfish or nut products?
Lily the potbellied pig arrived at Heartland Farm Sanctuary blind, lethargic and too overweight to walk. The children of Heartland's summer day camp program took it upon themselves to put the curl back in her tail.
Is it just me or does each summer seem to go by quicker than the last? The end of summer is upon us and for many families this means the start of a new school year.
This past week, on the way to the grocery store, my daughter asked what I believed she thought would be a innocuous question, "Mom, when are we going back-to-school shopping?"
Volunteering with the Young Writers Summer Camp this past week really helped me to remember how utterly creative kids can be when encouraged to come up with their own ideas and use their own words.
This past week I gleefully accepted an offer for new job on the UW-Madison campus. My kids are getting are older and I guess I've felt for a while now that it was time to figure out what would be next for me on the professional front.
"Kids spend so much time in and around school, it's the only place where some have a chance to develop an appreciation for a healthy lifestyle," says Katie Hensel, founder and executive director of Tri 4 Schools.
"I'm envious, mom," said my twelve-year-old daughter as she hopped in the car after theater camp last week. "All the other kids in my group seem to really like, and to be really good at, singing, dancing and acting. But I think all those things are just okay."
"People are looking to book space here all the time," says Remy Fernández-O'Brien, communications and facilities coordinator for the Lussier Community Education Center, a private, nonprofit community center on Madison's west side. "They want to throw their child's first birthday party here or hold a Girl Scout meeting. We're really busy year-round, but it's especially lively here in the summer."
Last week, in response to the county-wide Sleep Safe, Sleep Well public health campaign that encourages parents to "share the room, not the bed" with their sleeping infants, Isthmus contributor Ruth Conniff penned a lovely opinion piece in defense of bed sharing entitled "Confessions of a Co-Sleeper."
As much as I'd like to believe there is latent genius in my daughter's early finger paintings, I'm pretty sure her works are not distinguishable from those created by the pointer fingers and pinkies of thousands of other children from across the world.
Seeing Romeo and Juliet this past weekend was a definite reminder that I need to prepare for something that might resemble a (near) West Side Story around our place pretty soon.
All during childhood, we calmly tell our kids they don't need to be afraid of the dark, thunder or the monster under the bed. But it's pretty hard to keep your parental cool when your kid is about to embark on the one thing that terrifies you. I knew the problem wasn't really with him. It was with me.
Last January, when temperatures dipped below minus 30 and most people between the ages of 16 and 24 did anything to stay inside, a small yet sturdy group of at-risk teenage boys and young men stacked wood and managed controlled burns at Festge County Park near Cross Plains. Five months later, following a temperature swing of more than 100 degrees, Isthmus found some of those same guys removing invasive honeysuckle and buckthorn at Lake View Hill County Park on Madison's north side.
The first week of summer break at our place usually comes and goes without incident. At times, one could argue, it even verges on pleasant. I have no school lunches to pack and the kids have no 7 a.m. buses to catch.
Have you tried getting anywhere on either Verona Road or East Johnson lately? I'm pretty sure a six-month old could crawl to Fitchburg, or across the isthmus, in less time that it takes me to drive there these days.
As soon as the door closed behind him, I poured myself a cup of the coffee he had made and took a moment to let the enormity of what just happened sink in. My son was ready that morning despite my inability to properly set an alarm clock. My kid was ready that morning without nudging, cajoling, or reminding. He was ready, even when I wasn't.
For the past 17 years or so (i.e., since I've had kids), I haven't made books the priority in my life I know they should be. It's not that I don't try. Just this past weekend I had the best of intentions of picking up, and even finishing, I am Malala, this year's UW-Madison's Go Big Read pick. But the copy still sits untouched on my nightstand.
The longest day of the year is upon us. For those of you keeping track, the sun will rise at 5:18 a.m. and set at 8:41 p.m. on Saturday, June 21. All that daylight, courtesy of the annual summer solstice, will provide the perfect backdrop for Make Music Madison, a daylong event featuring hours and hours of free performances in nearly every corner of the city.