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
I'm having trouble enjoying the season, because I can't keep myself from thinking about the miserable weather that's sure to be following close on the heels of the crisp, pleasant fall we've been having. I am not at all emotionally prepared to be the parent of two toddlers during a Wisconsin winter.
I've always been a supporter of companies that empower women and girls, and when the creator of such a company is a fellow Wisconsinite, I get even more excited. When Melissa Wardy of Janesville got fed up with stereotypes found in clothing for girls, she started her own company.
Do you have a little reader or an aspiring teenaged writer in your house? If so, you may want to venture to the Wisconsin Book Festival this weekend, to whet their appetite for wonderful words as well as your own.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, my husband and I had two names picked out. Upon her arrival we had not yet come to a conclusion on what that name would be. Everyone told us that when we saw her we would just know. We didn't.
At age 10 months, my kids have seen the zoo a lot already. I was a zoology major in college, and I have something of a zoo addiction still, so the twins (and their dad) are more or less condemned to a future rife with zoo visits.
Home-schooling can be a lonely proposition. Even as a college professor, Juliana Hunt remembers struggling to find support to home-school her now-grown daughter. "I was always hoping to find like-minded people who were in the same position as me," she says. "I know that children learn best through a give-and-take, question-and-answer process of teaching and learning, but where do you find mentors who can make that happen?"
After sleep patterns, I think the next biggest parenting concern I have and hear about revolves around the topic of food. How can I make sure my kids are eating enough vegetables? Did I pack them a lunch that is healthy enough? What can I feed them after school that doesn't come from a box? How many gripes am I going to get about the dinner I'm about to prepare?
As far as places to embark on Baby's First Air Travel go, Dane County Regional Airport is a pretty sound choice, especially at 6 p.m. on a Saturday night. My biggest fear was that my nine-month-old son would start screaming in the airport; my second biggest fear was that my son would start screaming and some of my former Epic colleagues would be around to hear it.
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.