November might be the prettiest month in Dallas. The intensity of the sunlight glazes the elms, oaks, and pecans to a riot of color; the berries on foliage, the crispness of the air enlivens even the most lethargic of souls.
It’s perfect for sporting events, barbeques and if you’re a kid, for playing outside. Unless, of course, the thought police live in your neighborhood, as they did on Kari Anne Roy’s quiet family street in an upscale part of Austin.
It seems that this mother of three had, like most good moms, sent her kids outdoors to play within her boundaries — which included a nearby park within eyesight of the window where she sat sorting through mail after returning home from a vacation … with her husband and kids. A close family. She writes children’s books. Her middle daughter came home to bring back the dog, leaving her 6-year-old son still playing, which she allows, just as I did my own three kids when we lived in Highland Park West.
The entire block stayed outside with the occasional mom peering out. I walked, at age 5, three blocks to school by myself. Apparently Mrs. Roy is not, mercifully, one of those helicopter mothers who has her children on a short leash, the kind who practically have their kids wear crash helmets in the bathtub.
She was surprised by her doorbell ringing, since everyone uses the back door and it wasn’t time for the UPS truck on her street, as she knows her street’s rhythms. It was an unfamiliar older neighbor, with her scared son in tow, announcing she was “returning” him since he was playing unsupervised. Rather than be confrontational or rude to this condescending woman, she sent her son to play indoors and shrugged the incident off with something like a wan smile and resumed her busy day.
Now you could argue if this woman could grab her son without her seeing it, so could a sex offender. Point made. But Mrs. Roy is trying to raise her children responsibly without the heightened state of alert that has seized so much of society. You could also argue that any kid in a park with an adult can still get grabbed as most adults have their faces in their cell phones. The mother knew her kids, knew the street, knew her rules. What she did not know was this woman. Sadly she didn’t spend a few minutes clearing the air.
So none of this would be an event except that this overly concerned adult then called the police and Child Protective Services, who then for weeks interrogated every member of the family, asking explicit questions about sexual touching, pornography, and whatever menu the Nanny State has cooked up when a call is made.
Everyone in the family was terrified, and there apparently is no recourse, as parents are guilty until proven innocent if anybody makes a report. This entire scenario inflamed a dinner party of baby boomers I hosted, since to a person when we grew up, we were all turned outside daily and told under no uncertain terms we could not come in the house until it was time for dinner. Ah, safer times the parents of this generation will tut-tut. Not necessarily.
I have been known to intercede myself as the grandmother of five that I am. The other day at NorthPark, coming out of a movie theater, I was nearly knocked down by three or four very well-dressed young shrieking kids about 6 or 7, running up the escalator as a throng of us was descending.
In my instinctive schoolmarm voice, I told them in no uncertain terms to turn around and descend quietly before they caused an accident. I glared at the father at the top of the escalator who was smirking while checking his cell phone. Clearly he was thinking that kids will be kids. Incident over. I did not call mall security.
If anything, we are way too involved in each other’s lives due to social media and technology. Mrs. Roy was a mother getting her kids away from iPads and iPods and TV, and her family was subjected to the Gestapo. What’s more, there is a critical lack of CPS people, and inner-city kids are constantly “falling through the cracks,” which I know because I have a family member who works for CASA.
What a waste of resources this was! I know a pediatrician who had a patient bring in a toddler who fell down the stairs to his office rather than the ER because he knew somebody might call in Child Protective Services. What is so very uncommon now is common sense.
I want Kari Anne Roy to name this neighbor so she can also experience a few knocks on her door from “well-meaning” strangers. Except I live in Dallas and not Austin. So I think to work off this anger I’ll just go outside … and take a walk in nature.
Len Bourland can be reached on her blog at email@example.com.