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
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.
Last week, for the first time, I made my way up to one of the open gallery nights during Madison West's Fine Arts Week, the school's annual showcase for all things creative. The scope of the event is huge, with nearly 1,600 students participating, and the quality of the presented works is phenomenal. It's almost as if the school had been lifted off its perch on Regent Street and traveled back in time to Belle Époque Paris.
If you have aspiring authors in your house, this summer offers a fabulous opportunity for them refine their writing skills. For its second summer, the Greater Madison Writing Project, in partnership with Olbrich Botanical Gardens, is sponsoring two week-long camps in August for young writers entering grades 3-8.
There are lots of benefits to living in a college town. First and foremost, there is always something going on -- a lecture, a film series. Maybe even a protest, if you're lucky. And since becoming a Madisonian, I, for the first time in my life, find myself interested in college football.
My passion for the talent show clearly runs deep, but I'm more than just a fangirl. This year marked my second as one of the "Ziegfelds" of the Follies, Hamilton's annual showcase for singers, musicians, dancers and other varied forms of entertainment. Trust me, when you are part of the spectacle's "producing/directing" team you get a new-found appreciation for how hard the kids worked to get up on stage.
My daughter, who turned twelve just this past week, is not legally "of age" when it comes to social media. But I guess, in many respects, especially in those that involve screens, I am a permissive pushover. I've allowed her join some networks.
What adults love about camping -- sleeping under the stars, getting away from it all, the sounds of nature -- can be scary for children. It's dark in a tent. Nothing is familiar. Of course, camping with kids is more work for adults, too. Stay cool, live in the moment. Forget about that lost fork. Making s'mores, spotting wildlife, that's what kids will remember.
I have just returned from a whirlwind, five-day, four-city college tour with my son. You know those "101 Things to Know Before Visiting Disney World" guidebooks that experienced theme park travelers have written to help the uninitiated? I think I am now officially seasoned enough in information sessions and campus tours to give some serious thought to penning a similar "insiders guide" for the junior-year parent.
This past week, against both my will and better judgement, I accompanied 50 or so middle school kids to the Future Problem Solvers Wisconsin State Bowl, a popular academic and skit-writing competition.
It may be a bigger waste of breath than electricity to ask my kids to turn off the lights when they leave a room. If I've nagged them once, I've nagged them a thousand times. No, I've never noticed anything amiss with their fingers. But it appears they are physically incapable of flipping a switch to the "off" position.
I want to say thank you to the Board of Education for allowing Maia to return to class, unquestionably the place she belongs, as well as to thank them for adopting the new policies. But just as importantly, I also want to thank Maia and her family for their willingness to come forward with their story.