Some bullies never grow up, they just transfer their search for dominance from school to the workplace and other venues like the Internet. As parents we have a game plan for helping our kids cope, but what are we to do when Mommy gets bullied at work and comes home carrying the weight of that stress?
In the work place, bullying is like a vampire that drains victims of morale and self-confidence, sapping away their productive energy and increasing employee turnover. Which is pretty much what it does to our kids when it happens in the schoolyard or on the bus.
According to The Associated Press: “Half the employers in a 2011 survey by the management association reported incidents of bullying in their workplace, and about a fourth of human resource professionals themselves said they had been bullied.”
The website BullyingStatistics.org explains bullying as, “purposeful attempts to control another person through verbal abuse — which can be in tone of voice or in content such as teasing or threats — exclusion, or physical bullying or violence, which the victim does not want.”
The site adds, “Cyber bullying can take many forms: Sending mean messages or threats to a person's email account or cell phone. Spreading rumors online or through texts and posting hurtful or threatening messages on social networking sites or web pages.”
"It's usually the manager or senior executive who's just a complete out-of-control jerk," Margaret Fiester, who experienced workplace bullying, told the AP. "Everyone's going to be walking around on eggshells around somebody like that. You're afraid to make mistakes, you're afraid to speak up, you're afraid to challenge."
More than a dozen states have considered anti-bullying laws in the past year that would allow litigants to pursue lost wages, benefits, and medical expenses, and compel employers to prevent an "abusive work environment," according to the AP report.
Unfortunately, while we wait for legislation, we still face the bully every day and then come home to our kids and look them in the eye and tell them and ourselves, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”
As Poet Shane Koyczan's “To This Day” video project showed the world last week, the scars of bullying don't fade, they deepen. Workers get gun shy, feel less valuable, and perhaps even fall into the same patterns they had if they were bullied as children: shrink, fade, try to be invisible in order to survive another day at the office.
Bullying that comes to you upon your daily route to earning a living is no less distracting and harmful than when it happens to you as a child. Our kids know that school is their job and they have no alternative to getting on the school bus where a bully waits or going to recess where bullies make their lives a misery.
When I was bullied in the workplace, in a non journalistic setting, by a man who physically towered over me and routinely shouted at and demeaned workers to get his way. I ended up quitting my full-time job and moving my workplace to cyberspace.
However, I discovered this week that the issue of bullying can get even worse when you have an online job, such as being a journalist, and run into the occupational hazard of cyber-bullies.
Unlike a tangible work environment where I would have a chance of either standing up to the bully or reporting the person to a higher authority, Internet Trolls lurk in the shadows, using false names, dummy email and social media accounts, and have a legion of equally invisible, hostile, untouchable cronies behind them.
I learned this week there are few effective laws in place to try to fight people we can't see or even put a name to. Unless the bully actually threatens physical harm or openly tells others to do something destructive, you pretty much have to sit back and ignore it until it plays itself out.
I have been instructed not to respond to emails, tweets, and an entire web page and YouTube video recorded by cyber bullies trying to harass, defame, and intimidate me out of my profession and volunteer work with African American children. The group zeroed-in on the religion of my ancestors and the fact that the children I help through a chess program are largely African American.
Free speech is essential and something that makes our nation great, until someone generates hate out of thin air and on a thinner premise.
I'm a mom, though. Moms find solutions, work-arounds. I'm also a chess player and we like to look at the board and our opponent from all angles, so I tried to look at the board from my opponent's side. On the other side of the board from me is someone who's still thinking like a child. A bully.
This adult knows the rules, or lack thereof, and uses them to their advantage to bully with impunity. I can get behind that kind of strategy. Knowing it's completely legal to generate hate means it is just as legal to spread love and tolerance.
So I'm facing my bully in the workplace right here and now, where we first met, to tell him a few important things:
“I don't hate you. I'm not angry or frightened. I understand you feel the need to promote your mission to build a level of fear, intolerance, race, and religion hating and that's your constitutional right. I am sorry that I have to continue to make you angry and frustrated by being the daughter of a Jewish man. It's just not something I can control, nor would I ever hide it. Women still take their husband's name when they get married. Also, my great-grandfather was the magnificent Yiddish “Poet of the Ghetto” Morris Rosenfeld and I am incredibly blessed and proud to be part of his legacy.
I understand my belief, that race, skin tone, and religion are not something by which we should judge others in the year 2013, is making you grind your teeth. On the bright side, my being here to rage against has given you something to make profitable YouTube videos about and so that kind of makes me part of your income stream. It makes me very happy knowing that you need me much more than I need your bullying.”
I'm not going to lie, the last two paragraphs felt gorgeous.
I was driven from one job by a bully and will not make that mistake again. It's a recession out there folks and if you are in a job with a bully for a boss or co-worker it's time to take back your confidence, pride, and power by supporting anti-bullying legislation. Until it comes through you have to remember the person you are at home with your kids and take that feeling to work with you.
As my husband is fond of saying, “When the Mom's not happy, nobody's happy.” Time for the bullies everywhere to know that too.
If LEGOs for girls took us a step in the right direction to help little girls make smarter toy choices that empower them to create, Skechers shoe company just tripped up teens with its high-heeled Daddy's Money sneakers (and they spell it Daddy$). The whole campaign is pretty sketchy, driving a wedge between girls and the belief that money is earned via work and not feminine wiles.
The new commercial, which appears on a host of channels, including kids' HUB channel, is filled with teenage girls striking coy, come-hither poses as the ka-ching sound punctuates the catch phrase, "Get spoiled with Daddy's money, ultra cool shoes that will put you in the spotlight."
Also, the blinged-out, often cheesy animal print shoes have lifts inside that form the “wedge," promising to make girls two-inches taller.
“That's not the child I'm raising,” Amanda Cole Hill, a Norfolk, Va. PTA mom with two boys ages 13 and 11 and an 8-year-old daughter, tells The Christian Science Monitor. “My daughter won't be getting those and I am pretty sure we won't be buying Skechers anymore either. I am very disappointed in the Skechers company for taking this direction.”
Skechers went all the way down the rabbit hole of bad judgment on this campaign, giving names to the shoes themselves: "Gimme Wicked" (a leopard-print), "Gimme Kisses" (a lip-print), "Gimme Starry Skies" (a star-print), and just plain "Gimme" (a flower-print).
Also, I would not want to be around a mom the first time her daughter sashays up to her father and actually uses the word, “Gimme!”
“I think the whole idea of mommy's money vs. daddy's money is dumb,” Ms. Hill said of the marketing. “ But, 'Gimme?' That's truly at the core of what bothers me, is 'Gimme!' It plays into the whole entitlement generation.”
Norfolk's Commissioner of the Revenue agreed that as the mother of girls she was not likely to increase Skechers' coffers with her personal money anytime soon.
“Women have worked so hard for so long to get where we are and then ads like this just bring all of us down,” Sharon McDonald said. “They [Daddy's Money shoes] are insulting and degrading and definitely send the wrong message to teenaged girls.”
It sounds to me like Skechers really put its foot in its mouth with this campaign. I have boys and it looks like Skechers will be off the budget line for us too.
Weather the money is Daddy's or Mommy's, the kids belong to both of us and we are not stepping into something that smells as bad as this idea.
LEGO, the maker of the famous children's building toys, has gone pink during the last 14 months, changing the sex of its figures from all male to female in some sets, gender-typed further with a “dream house” and was rewarded with a 25 percent boost in sales. All that is annoying to those fighting against gender typing, but what many don't realize is that the toys may help girls get past body image issues and focus on seeing themselves in typically male-dominated roles in science, technology, engineering, and math, known as the STEM fields.
While it's true that the toy manufacturer has played to the gender-typing via color and an initial offering of LEGO Friends sets that included Barbie-like scenarios like a beauty parlor, the LEGOs in the pink and purple boxes also offer options for girls to imagine themselves in the roles of scientist, teacher, and veterinarian.
I agree it's pretty minimal, but change has to start somewhere and LEGO is taking kids in a different direction that can, if encouraged by consumers, make our children focus on critical thinking instead of being “Pretty in Pink.”
Not having a daughter myself – mom of four boys here – I fully expected Nicole Newsome executive director of The Geekettes Club, to dislike the LEGOs for their stereotypical pink and beauty shop themes, but she loves them. She has a 10-year-old son, Vance, and a 7-year-old daughter, Kinzee.
“My daughter has them and loves them because they're finally hers, and I love them because finally she's reaching for a scientist in a lab coat and not Barbie in a bikini with a disfigured body image,” Ms. Newsome, of Norfolk, Va. said this morning.
Indeed, LEGO has inadvertently leveled the playing field of body types, leaving girls free to be “Imagineers” who concentrate on building dreams of being grown-up Geekettes instead of imagining ways to reengineer their bodies to fit an impossible image. LEGOs body shapes are more realistically proportioned and less revealing. Compared to a Barbie, they’re universes apart.
The Geekettes Club was founded in 2009 by Sonya Schweitzer to provide a safe and nurturing learning environment in which members help women and girls engage in educational and professional opportunities.
According to The Associated Press, LEGO, the new girl-focused product released in January 2012 has helped sales of the Denmark-based company increase 25 percent. The privately owned company generaed $4.2 billion in revenue last yea, and much of that was due to a simple gender flip for the toys.
The Oscars are over but the apologies continue to eclipse the accolades, with Anne Hathaway’s hand-wringing, repeated apologies for a red carpet dress choice, while The Onion continues an equally hand-wringing “sorry” for bashing a child star on Twitter. These very public choices made me think about how many times my kids use the word “sorry” and reevaluate in what context apologies really belong.
It’s an age-old battle we as parents must continue to fight to teach our kids to take responsibility for their actions and words, making the apologies heartfelt, meaningful, and appropriate to the alleged crime. We try and prompt a child’s understanding of their impact on others, asking, “How do you think that made _____ feel when you did that?”
A Japanese pop star recently shaved her head and made a YouTube video apologizing for going out on a date. Minami Minegishi of AKB48 appears in a tearful mea culpa on YouTube after breaking her band's strict rules on dating, according to The Associated Press. Part of that is rooted in cultural tradition, but it is no less shocking to see the variation in how kids and adults apologize.
We might well ask ourselves how our approach to teaching children to apologize makes them feel. How scary are we when we’re demanding they realize their mistakes and then apologize? How much of our delivery makes them really understand, versus training them to apologize by rote?
Also, do we remember to teach our kids not to apologize for the wrong things like their race, religion, and body type? Do we teach them not to apologize to placate people who are angry with them for things they didn’t do wrong?
Some kids blurt the word ‘sorry’ over and over again in the course of a day to the point where the word is more like a sentence punctuation than an event.
I realized last night while shopping that my kids get their apologist natures from me. A woman bumped into me from behind with her cart as she concentrated on the shelf and not the way ahead. I turned around and blurted, “Oh, sorry!” She said, “No problem.”
Something is definitely not adding up here, I thought. Why did I apologize for getting bumped into? If I do that around my child what’s the message or lesson I’m passing on?
My 9-year-old son cried when a kid was mean to him. He recounted the incident and said, “Sorry. Sorry. Sorry,” while wiping away tears. He was apologizing for crying because someone at school told him big boys don’t cry. That’s not something he should be apologizing for. I have friends who say "sorry" to me about everything and anything to the point where the word has little meaning.
Yahoo’s Oscars blog has a link on it that reads “Anne Hathaway Dress Crisis,” leading to a featured article with the actress pleading forgiveness for wearing a pink Prada gown the critics had picked on in place of the Valentino she’d planned. That’s a good example of a case where apology is made as a shield against our critics rather than something we should actually be sorry for.
No doubt Hathaway is sorry because she’s been whipped in the social stocks for her dress being “a disappointment to fans.” It then spun out of control into the assumption the actress had “snubbed” designer friend Valentino, according to Yahoo News’ Oscar Blog.
Oh, and by the way, she won an Oscar that night, too.
There are times when we really must say "sorry," but only when we actually do something mean, nasty, unethical, abusive, bullying, or harmful to another.
A case in point is a tweet by The Onion, a satirical paper, on Oscar night. According to the AP, The Onion posted a tweet calling the 9-year-old star of "Beasts of the Southern Wild" a vulgar and offensive name on Twitter.
The Onion referred to Quvenzhané Wallis with an expletive intended to denigrate women, the AP reported. "It was crude and offensive — not to mention inconsistent with The Onion's commitment to parody and satire, however biting," The Onion CEO Steve Hannah wrote on Facebook. "No person should be subjected to such a senseless, humorless comment masquerading as satire. Miss Wallis, you are young and talented and deserve better. All of us at The Onion are deeply sorry."
At least The Onion got the apology right, whereas Dov Hikind, a New York state assemblyman, apologized for wearing blackface to a Purim party at his house after at first defending it, the AP reported.
He defended it with rationalizations worthy of a child forced by parental pressure (in this case it was the public and media being the parents) to say “sorry” to someone when he clearly feels put out by having to make the gesture.
Last night’s Daily Show had Jon Stewart running clips of Hikind’s irritated scowl as he tried to rationalize away his choice as something “everybody does” when they dress up for the Jewish holiday. Stewart noted people are intended to dress up as Biblical figures.
The one thing that is hardest for us to handle as parents may be the times we owe our kids an apology. I found a great guide for parents on how and when to say “sorry” to your child here.
It tells you to try and see your action from the child’s point of view and imagine how your child felt when you said something that may have hurt their feelings. After all, a really good apology is about the other person and how we make them feel.
My family had a birthday dinner the other night.
“What do you want for your dinner?” I asked my husband.
“Surprise me,” he answered.
So I concocted a delicious dinner: baked sea bass, homemade macaroni and cheese, green beans sautéed with garlic, salad, bread, and individual cheesecake cups topped by blueberries for dessert. The dinner was a big hit, but the biggest hit was the macaroni and cheese, in which I followed a simple recipe that involved cheddar cheese, Monterey Jack cheese, heavy cream, and elbow macaroni — all of these things both available and pricey in Beijing.
My grown children, who both happen to live in China, could not praise the dish enough.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had this before,” said my son Daniel.
“I remember having this over at Lisa’s house,” said my daughter Joanna.
Wait a minute: I’m sure I remembered making homemade mac and cheese for dinner at least a couple of times during my offspring’s childhood. My husband loyally said he thought he remembered that too.
“Nope, all I remember is Kraft mac and cheese out of the box,” my son said.
As a working mother who also managed to volunteer at school and have my own life not intimately connected to parenthood at the same time, I know I was guilty of a few quickie dinners of mac and cheese and hot dogs from time to time. I guess I figured if I threw in baby carrots, the nutrition couldn’t be all that bad.
But was I entertaining a fantasy of what my children’s childhood was actually like? Was it not the Norman Rockwell idyll of traditional family dinners, arts and crafts extravaganzas on snow days, trips to the beach in the summer, and homemade birthday cakes each year? Is the blurriness of my memory just a cover for what might be more of a slapdash level of parenting that was just good enough but not enough to win me Mother of the Year?
The good news is that both 20-something children today are accomplished, smart, happy people who are on track to do some very interesting things with their lives. But the other side is that now that I search my memory, I seem to remember tears, arguments, homework that didn’t get finished in time, adolescent sullenness, and all the other humdrum pieces of family life.
Just, apparently, no homemade mac and cheese.
But it couldn’t have been all bad. The other day, my daughter, who is a teacher, was telling her high school students about a family tradition that clearly made a big impression. Every Friday we’d have family game night and play Monopoly or Clue or Risk or cards.
And it’s true that although there were a few evenings that ended with somebody storming off in a snit, overall it was lots of fun, until the kids got old enough to have more interesting plans on a Friday night. And the apparent lack of macaroni and cheese didn’t seem to cause any long term harm.
In fact, it made the dish on a chilly February evening in 2013 all the more satisfying.
While the US Coast Guard suspended its search today for a missing family at sea thought to have been lost aboard a 29-foot sailboat Sunday, suggesting either the whole thing is a hoax or the Pacific Ocean had taken them for good, I am reminded of the times I lived aboard a sailboat with my husband and kids. We worried our loved ones to pieces as we had the adventures of a lifetime with our sons.
The crackling, garbled, weak radio distress calls — now being considered a “possible hoax” by the USCG — made from 65 miles off shore and received by the USCG were believed to be coming from a distressed 29-foot sailboat, Charmblow, that was carrying a couple and two children, ages eight and four, says USCG Monterey Bay Station’s Executive Officer Noah Hudson. The USCG was able to pinpoint one of the initial distress calls using a Rescue 21 radio-only line of bearing as coming from the sea, Hudson says.
No sailboat named Charmblow is registered with the federal boat registry, nor had any boat by that name been to call at any marinas along the entire West Coast, Hudson says.
“It’s never an easy decision to suspend a search,” Hudson says. Of the veracity of the radio emergency calls Hudson added, “I’ve heard distress calls that sounded real and very emotional and turned out to be hoaxes and some that sounded completely fake and turned out to be the real thing. That’s why we take them all very seriously.”
My husband and I have been out there on the water with two toddlers, in bad weather, underprepared, and like this couple (real or imagined) without a life boat or emergency position indicating radio beacon, or EPIRB. We were stupid and we learned fast that as wonderful as the adventure can be, it could become terrifying in an instant.
We “lived on the hook,” meaning we were always short on cash and anchored off a town, touching the marinas only as a drive-thru for groceries and diapers.
In fact, I will never forget sailing from Pine Island, Fla. to Key West aboard our Jim Brown designed 37-foot trimaran with two pre-schoolers. We hit a poorly forecast tropical depression on the way back from the Keys.
For those next 12 hours, the most terrifying of my life, we could not make any kind of decent contact with any vessel or land station via our outdated radio. At one point my husband was nearly swept overboard when a hatch cover he stepped on gave way beneath him and he hung by his fingertips to the life rail because he hadn’t secured his lifeline.
Because we were living aboard long-term at that point, the folks at Bob & Annie’s Marina on Pine Island knew us well would have responded to the hearing our story on the media with a call to the Coast Guard.
However, living aboard and cruising is not like living on land. Marinas are not yacht clubs with switchboards. If someone passes through and heads on to another port or says they’re going to live on the hook a while, nobody reports them missing.
People living aboard cruisers aren’t plugged-in to the internet or checking their Twitter and Facebook feeds. Many people with kids who decide to try their hands at “the adventure of a lifetime” will live on a few thousand dollars a year so the kids can swim with manatee, eat fruit off the trees, and see flying fish as our first two boys did. When our baby cried from colic, dolphins would swim up and bump the sides of our boat because they thought one of the hulls might be “in distress.”
It was a beautiful and terrible, amazing and terrifying lifestyle that if I had to live all over again I would, but with far more safety measures and equipment aboard. If this all turns out to be a hoax let it be a cautionary tale for all the parents thinking of taking to the water with their children. While we want our children to have the time of their lives out on the water, we want those lives to be long.
On the chance that it’s a case of a boat from foreign waters, not on our federal boat registries, and perhaps sailing under the social radar, I will still say my own little sailor’s prayer, “Oh God, thy sea is so great and my ship is so small. Watch over me in rough weather and hear my call.”
As the economy continues to eat away at our budgets, struggling families are having to make the decision to tell the kids that a beloved animal companion must be sent to a high-kill shelter because there’s no room for “Fluffy” in the budget. Food stamps for pets is a new idea that can rescue parents from ever having to make that kind of choice.
According to ABC News, there’s a new donation-based program (at the time of posting, the website was down due to high traffic) to help families keep their pets. The Pet Food Stamps program wants to provide food stamps for pets of low-income families and for food stamp recipients who otherwise could not afford to feed their pets. This program helps all kinds of pets, including reptiles, with food aid.
We have four sons (one in college and one about to go in the fall), a big dog, two cats, and a mortgage. This is something I was glad to see happen.
Geauga Humane Society Executive Director Hope Brustein told The News-Herald many animals are brought to Rescue Village in Russell Township because owners have lost their jobs or homes and tight budgets can no longer support them.
“There is no doubt that the economy impacts animals,” Brustein said.
It also impacts our children when we have to make the decision to cut loose a furry or scaly member of the family. I feel like the message a child receives from all this is that when we run out of things and then four-legged loved ones to toss overboard to keep this ship afloat, “You could be next.” It’s like a Shirley Temple movie.
So it’s not a big shock to find Pet Food Stamps is getting 3,000 requests per day and more than 45,000 pets have already been signed up in the past two weeks, the program’s founder and executive director Marc Okon told ABC.
The New York-based program does not give cash to families. Once need and income is verified, the families get pet food each month from pet food retailer Pet Food Direct for a six-month period. The program is not government funded, but works solely via donation.
Our community here in Norfolk, Va. has had another solution for the past several years via the Farm Fresh Supermarkets grocery store chain. Store policy allows shoppers to select a bag of food at the $5 and $10 levels to be donated to either people or pets. Last time I peeked into one of the pet bags (choose dog or cat) there were bags and cans of food and occasionally some treats too.
Since the organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is based here in Norfolk, I thought I’d see what they were up to. It turns out the organization has the Community Animal Project which offers assistance to those pets in need.
“I would tell people who are really down on their luck and considering giving up their companion animal we would urge them to take advantage of programs like these (Food Stamps for Pets) so that families don’t have to be broken up this way,” says PETA Cruelty Investigations senior vice president Daphna Nachminovich. “If this program allows people to keep their companion animals then it’s a very good thing.”
I realize it’s embarrassing and hard to ask for help. However, as bank accounts deplete we do not have to diminish our families by surrendering our animal friends. We can keep our families whole because there are a whole lot more options out there than we may think.
A boy band performs, a music-driven teen powder keg explodes into violence and mayhem, the date is March 17, 1968, the place London's Grosvenor Square and the band is The Rolling Stones protesting the Vietnam war. That was not what happened in a Chicago mall Feb. 23 when the sweet, but unfortunately named boy band “Mindless Behavior” brought together a lot of teens who ended up in a demonstration of primal mob mentality that could have been prevented by “Mom’s Taxi” waiting out in the parking lot.
When the band is named “Mindless Behavior” it seems like a no-brainer to blame the band for the melee, but my biology professor pal, Arthur Bowman, from Norfolk (Virg.) State University, explained the Chicago incident as not something caused by thoughts implanted by lyrics, but rather an animal instinct spreading through a crowd of teens, triggered by a fight that had taken place between two boys.
“That’s the nose-brain at work right there.” What he meant was that the teens were giving in to their baser instincts and being ruled by the part of the brain so ancient it uses scent as a trigger for behavior.
I suppose that could be the basis for a new riff on a Nirvana song we could dub, “Smells like teen riot.”
According to the Associated Press, about 200 teens rioted at the Ford City Mall in Chicago after a fight between two boys escalated into a swarm that spilled into the parking lot, wreaking havoc and destruction on anything in its path. Nineteen youths, ages 13 to 18, were arrested, charged with misdemeanor mob action. A 16-year-old is charged with battery of a mall security guard who was trying to evacuate the mall, AP stated.
Ford City Mall senior general manager John Sarama says the incident wasn't related to an appearance by the boy band Mindless Behavior, which ended about 45 minutes earlier, and I completely agree. Just watch any of the videos by the band and all you will come away with is a sticky feeling from the sweet lyrics of teen love and searching for the one who will understand your soul.
However, back in the day when bands worked hard to create public unrest we had Michael Philip (a.k.a. Mick) Jagger, then 24, striding toward the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square tossing musical matches at the teen powder keg with every step he took.
Jagger and the Stones didn’t sing of finding Mrs. Right; the song largely credited with the London riots 40 years ago was “Street Fighting Man.”
Everywhere I hear the sound of marching, charging feet, boy
'Cause summer's here and the time is right
for fighting in the street, boy
But what can a poor boy do?
Except to sing for a rock'n'roll band
'Cause in sleepy London town
There's just no place for a street fighting man
Hey! Think the time is right for a palace revolution
But where I live the game to play is compromise solution
Well then what can a poor boy do
Except to sing for a rock'n'roll band
'Cause in sleepy London town
There's no place for a street fighting man, no
So when parents say “I smell trouble,” there’s reason to pay attention. As parents we need to sniff out the trouble spots and add some prevention to the mix.
It’s hard to attend the events with your teen, but perhaps the knowledge that a parent awaiting in the parking lot (where most of the damage and animal behavior took place) would have short-circuited the riot, looting and arrests.
I know how hard it is to be “Mom’s Taxi Service” but in the cases like these we need to be more nosy about who’s in the parking lot for our teens. I’d rather drive to the mall for a pickup than the police station for a bail out.
Jenny looks and acts like your average three-year-old. She’s capricious, charming, and curious. She runs back and forth in her Miami apartment with carefree abandon. I have a hard time reconciling that this is the same, emaciated, maggot-infested infant I first met three years earlier when I drove by just as her uncle pulled her nearly lifeless body from a pile of rubble she’d been under for five days following Haiti’s deadly Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake.
The exchange happened in an instant – the three-month-old was handed to be to take to a makeshift hospital – but for the next hour, I was near hysteria, terrified that this infant would not survive long enough for us to get her to help. Driving was already a nightmare, given the dead bodies, smashed cars, and collapsed buildings clogging the roads. A colleague dripped water from a cloth onto Jenny’s lips, and we prayed as we lurched along.
Amidst all of the horror of those days following the quake, this was one of the few things that went right – we managed to make it to a makeshift hospital in time, and a competent staff attended to Jenny. Within hours they put her on an empty plane to Fort Lauderdale where she got the medical attention she needed. If any of these steps had been delayed, Jenny surely would have died.
Meanwhile, I had left the hospital to go back in search of her parents, who, when I found them, could hardly believe their daughter had survived. But it would be more than a month before Nadine Devilme and Junior Alexis would hold Jenny again. It took that long to convince the necessary authorities that they were her parents, and to secure the travel documents they needed to join her.
It’s only now, sitting in their sunny one-bedroom apartment in North Miami, that Nadine apologizes for not telling me that she had left behind a five-year-old son by another man she was with before Junior. She had kept her son’s existence secret from everyone – from immigration and from the organizations helping her leave – for fear of losing her chance to join Jenny.
Not a day goes by that she doesn’t think about him, she says. He’s living with his godmother in Port-au-Prince – his father died in the quake. Nadine doesn’t regret leaving Haiti behind, but she aches for her son, whom she’s seen only once since she left in 2010, and that was just for 10 days last summer. She would go more often if she could, she says with a bit of angst, but money is tight.
After Jenny’s medical treatment ended, Nadine and Junior were able to remain in the US through Temporary Protected Status afforded to Haitians following the quake. This allows them to work and travel, but they’ve had trouble making ends meet. Nadine was recently let go from her job as a chambermaid at a nearby hotel for medical reasons related to her pregnancy – she’s due this July. That leaves Junior to shoulder their bills; his salary from restaurant work barely covers their monthly expenses. The car they had was totaled earlier this year when a truck ran into it. Fortunately no one was seriously hurt.
Despite the daily pressures, they seem settled in a way I could not have predicted; older and wiser than their mid 20s. Nadine is a homebody and says she hasn’t really made any new friends. Junior, a keyboardist, has put together a band similar to the one he left behind and hopes someday to perform in local clubs.
Although their apartment – which costs them more than half of Junior’s salary – has touches of Haiti, a few knickknacks and the scent of Haitian spices, it’s also very American. Toys R Us-type games are scattered about. For a while Jenny went to a daycare facility, but when Nadine lost her job they couldn’t afford to keep sending her, so now she spends time with a Haitian woman who lives just a few doors down, where other kids also play. Jenny walks me down the hallway so I can meet her caretaker.
But mostly, during our visit, Jenny seems concerned about whether or not I’ll eat the glitter-wrapped piece of chocolate Nadine offered me, or if I’ll leave it for her when I go.
I tell her I’ll bring her chocolates of her own next time I visit, and she smiles, then gives me her hand and asks if she can walk me to my car.
America’s first responders had a lot to handle this week, from the heroic to the half-baked. On one hand, two commercial fishermen, one a former first responder, saved two young girls by acting on a hunch, conversely, a 10-year-old boy in Massachusetts called 911 on his mom because he didn't want to go to bed. It reminds us as parents that we need to teach our kids what to do in an emergency and when they are crying wolf.
In the first case it was an adult calling 911 to help rescue two little girls, ages four and two: Scott Beutler – the former first responder, now a commercial fisherman – saw a fresh gash in a tree beside an Oregon highway and his training and instincts told him something was amiss. Mr. Beutler was driving with his co-worker Kraai McClure (who made the 911 call) when they saw a gash in a tree, according to the Associated Press.
What they found was a crash site where a mom died as a result, leaving her two little girls, injured, freezing and out of view of the road. Unlike adults who would have tried to get to the road or be in plain sight to be found, they were huddled under a blanket far from view. The girls finally got help after the two commercial fishermen decided the fresh gash in the tree was probably an indicator of a recent event and decided to turn around to check it out, according to AP.
Meanwhile, in Brockton, Mass. police say a boy, age 10, called 911 to report that his mother was telling him to go to bed at just after 8 p.m. and he didn’t want to go, according to Brockton Det. Lt. Paul Bonanca.
“We get a lot of hangup calls from kids ... but this one, apparently, didn’t want to go to bed, and to him that was an emergency,” Lt. Bonanca said in a phone interview this morning.
Dan Davis, age 10, a fourth grader refused to listen when his mother, Shamayne Rosario, 34, told him it was bedtime, according to The Enterprise News. The boy dialed 911 and hung up when his mother caught him in the act. In the recording of the call from when the 911 operator called back and mom explained, “It was my son...I told him to go to bed he doesn’t want to go to bed. He’s like, ‘I’m gonna call the cops on you, and I’m like ‘Go on. Go ahead!"’ “ Then mom is heard shouting at the child, one of her six children, “Dan! Would yopu like to talk to the police because they’re on the phone! Cause’ you can’t go around calling 911 for no reason when other people need their help for people who really are in trouble...he doesn’t want to come to the phone.”
“We had an officer go by the boy's home and explain when it's appropriate – and when it's not – to call 911. It stretches our resources when we get false reports, and it can get you into trouble or cause someone else not to get the help they need,” Bonanca explained.
The detective said that it’s fairly common for kids to call 911 accidentally and just hang up or to call for inappropriate or non-emergency reasons. “We’re pretty tolerant on the whole as long as it’s not malicious,” Bonanca said.
When our eldest son was two (he’s now 19) and we were living in Florida, he called 911 because he thought a real phone was a play phone and just dialed lucky. We didn’t know what he’d done until half the force was at our doorstep. Since then, I have always been fierce with my boys about 911 protocol.
Still, I looked around the Internet for other cases and, so far, my favorite is the little boy who called 911 because he needed help with his math homework and the kindly operator helped him out. Here’s a snipped of how it went:
Operator: 911 emergencies.
Boy: Yeah I need some help.
Operator: What’s the matter?
Boy: With my math.
Operator: With your mouth?
Boy: No with my math. I have to do it. Will you help me?
Operator: Sure. Where do you live?
Boy: No with my math.
Operator: Yeah I know. Where do you live though?
Boy: No, I want you to talk to me on the phone.
Operator: No I can’t do that. I can send someone else to help you.
Operator: What kind of math do you have that you need help with?
Boy: I have take aways.
Operator: Oh you have to do the take aways.
Operator: Alright, what’s the problem? …
As the 1:34 min call goes on
Operator: No. How old are you?
Boy: I’m only 4.
The best part is when the mom cottons-on to what her child is up to, also on the recording and transcript:
Woman: Johnny what do you think you’re doing?!
Boy: The policeman is helping me with my math.
Woman: What did I tell you about going on the phone?
Operator: It’s the mother…
Boy: You said if I need help to call somebody.
Woman: I didn’t mean the police. (click)
No one was charged in that case or yesterday's bedtime-resistant boy.
When I mentioned the math help incident to Lt. Bonanca he laughed and said, “I couldda used that kind of help when I was a kid. I was terrible at math. That’s why I joined the police force. Seriously though, parents need to explain to their kids about what help 911 is really for.”
The rhyme we used in our house was, “911 is not for fun.” I suppose that with kids using it to try and keep parents in line we might try, “Dial 911 to get out of a chore and you will end up doing many more.”