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
This will not (although it could) be a treatise on the value of "alone time" for a healthy marriage, though. Nor will it be an ode to how nice it was for me to have a few days off from lunch-packing, carpool-driving and homework-nagging.
For those of you who haven't yet seen it, the eight-week-long transit campaign, placed both inside and on the outside of buses, features a photo of an orange tabby with a stainless steel bar drilled into its head accompanied by the line "I am not lab equipment. End UW cat experiments!" Just as PETA hopes, the image is shocking and demands an immediate response.
If I had my druthers, I'd sit out the entire shopping week that follows Thanksgiving. Black Friday, for starters, has corrupted the fine art of bargain shopping and turned it into a gladiator sport. There is no percentage off that is worth losing sleep, or even worse an eye, over. Especially if you have kids in tow.
When you shop for toys, there is always the conflict between what you think is appropriate/adorable and what the child being shopped for might actually want/play with.
Many of the pop-culture seasonal touchpoints of my youth are completely lost on my kids. You see, while I may have memorized every word to both the Snow Miser and the Heat Miser's songs from The Year Without a Santa Claus, I'm pretty sure the only Rankin-Bass stop-motion Christmas special my kids have ever seen has been Rudolph.
I am so thrilled that the United Way is sponsoring a Teen Gift Drive this holiday season. Sure, teen "wants" often aren't as fun to shop for as precious baby dolls and sweet Lego sets. But middle and high school kids still "need" to feel valued and loved during this time of year. And helping a family in need to provide this for their child is a wonderful way to get in the spirit.
My 11th-grade and 8th-grade sons have heard "the chant" for years. You know which one I'm talking about -- the ESFY (U?) chant (I'm not sure what the parenting post rules are for writing two of the more forbidden four-letter words in the English language) that appears to have both Barry Alvarez and Chancellor Blank quite concerned.
There are many different criteria parents use when evaluating which pre-school programs will be right for their children. Some parents might be looking for an educational philosophy that stresses creativity and community. Others may desire an option that revolves around learning through play or is more academic in approach.
We spent hours poring over name books and checking for inappropriate initial combinations. We looked at meanings, variant spellings and popularity charts. And, as I am sure every parent does, we thought we'd hit the name jackpot with each of our kids. But there are always surprises.
A generation or two ago, the pediatrician was the guy (yes, they were mostly guys) who gave your kids shots and prescribed big bottles of antibiotics for every sniffle. Madison's Dipesh Navsaria is a different breed of pediatrician.
Gamehole Con will be the premier tabletop gaming convention in the region. And with Wisconsin being the birthplace of Dungeons and Dragons, as well as the nation's leader in gaming stores per capita, it kind of makes sense that the convention's organizers want the Dairy State to be known for more than just cheese, beer and bratwurst.
This year I will also try to ease up some of my previous costume concerns. Sure, the world is rife with inappropriate dress up choices for our kids; there is no parent out there that is keen on his or her child dressing like a pint-sized prostitute, even for one night.
This past Saturday, I took my youngest to hear Caldecott award-winning author/illustrator Kevin Henkes read from his latest work, The Year of Billy Miller, a short novel for the early elementary grades.
I was greeted at the door by Tom Moen, who has served as executive director of what he likes to call "Madison's best kept secret", for the past 39 of the center's 47 years. Located in the middle of the subsidized Truax Park apartment complex, EMCC, with its vast array of offerings for kids, seniors and everyone in between, is unquestionably the heart of the neighborhood.
Madison's Kashmira Sheth has written four award-winning novels for middle grade and teen readers, and a popular chapter book for six- to nine-year-olds, but right now her picture books are what she's excited to talk about.
A few summers back, my daughter, maybe 8 or 9 at the time, decided to take part in our swimming pool's annual water ballet show. I'm not really sure what initially piqued her interest in the somewhat under-the-radar, very much under-the-water sport of synchronized swimming.
We rarely included a stop at the Central Library as part of our regular outing. For those of you who've been in Madison for a while, I'm sure you'd agree that the old building was pretty run down. Not to mention, dark, cavernous and depressing. Libraries, at their best, should be portals to discovery, right?
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Despite celebrating 30 years in business this year, Knowledge Unlimited Inc. remains relatively unknown in the community. Those concerned with closing the achievement gap in Madison's schools, however, may want to take note. This award-winning educational-materials producer, based in Middleton, is unique in emphasizing multiculturalism throughout its lines of educational posters, DVDs and children's books.