Doing The Right Thing

[Originally posted to my blog ‘Point of Tears’ on Sep 22, 2005.]

This is a very long post folks. Fair warning given.

This post is dedicated to all the parents out there who are trying to teach their children to do the right thing, even when it’s the hardest thing to do.

I’ve been meaning to write about this for quite a while, but it’s a pretty sensitive subject and I wasn’t quite sure how I wanted to approach the whole thing. See originally, after this took place, I was completely shaken by it. I wasn’t sure if I did the right thing, even though it sounded like the right thing it sure didn’t feel like the right thing. Well, enough rambling along making you guess what the heck I’m talking about, let me tell you my story.

Disclaimer: All names are changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

Once upon a time I met a woman named Laura. Laura has two beautiful little girls, Mary (5) and Becky (9); and a wonderful husband, Todd. Her husband works hard, and Laura is a traditional stay at home mom.

I wasn’t quite sure what to think of Laura the first time I met her. You see, the typical SAHM is not normally the type I hang out with and, on the surface, that’s exactly what Laura was.

You know the type. Her home was sparkling clean, her kids squeaky clean and oh-so polite; and her husband the sweetest smart ass I’ve met in a long while. They were just the typical blended family on the surface.

So when the Brat first started going over to her house to play with the girls all I could see was the face Laura showed to the world; and even though my daughter loved her and her family, and spent hours over at their house playing with the girls, I kept to myself. I figured she was just another of those moms who didn’t really have anything in common with me. She didn’t let me get away with that for long.

I’ll never know what it was that drew Laura to me, but one day I was just passing by and she drew me into conversation. Soon enough she had invited me in for a TGIF drink, and by 8pm I was shnookered. Yep. Under that staid SAHM was a wild child just waiting to lure me in and get me completely shnookered.

It didn’t take long after that first evening of bullshitting and drinking for Laura to become standard fare in my life. I went to parties, picnics, family events, birthday parties, and anything else you could possibly think of with her and her family. We sat at her kitchen table for hours at a time, bullshitting about our past and debating everything from the best place to get a great bargain to the most effective blow job techniques. I had a blast every time and grew to think of her as a close friend. A sister almost.

I guess it’s no wonder that I never recognized it then; but sometimes you just don’t want to see what’s right in front of your eyes. Don’t get me wrong. I could see that Laura was dissatisfied with her life as it was, and I honestly believe that she had been depressed for a long time but didn’t know it. I’m intimately familiar with the symptoms of depression and easily recognized them in Laura. That wasn’t it though.

The Brat was spending a lot of time over at their house with and without me. She loved spending time with the girls and grew very close to them. She also became close to Laura. Laura would always tell me how much she loved the Brat and just go on and on about her. That’s why I was surprised when the Brat started complaining to me about Laura’s behavior towards the girls.

An aware parent loves all children he or she meets and interacts with-

for you are a caretaker for those moments in time. – Doc Childre

At first it was simple stuff. You see, Laura’s family proscribes a stricter, what I would consider an old-fashioned lifestyle for kids that the Brat is not used to. They believe in corporal punishment for major trangressions, along with some severe grounding policies. Our family, to say the very least, does not proscribe to corporal punishment and adheres to talking things out to work things out instead.

So, you might see where the Brat would take a parent punishing a child in an unfamiliar, yet violent way (to her at least), would disconcert her. I mean, these are her friends and she cares about them. Not to mention seeing an adult she cares about treating her children in such a manner must have scared her.

At first then, you might understand why I brushed off the Brat’s accusations that Laura was being abusive in her punishment of the girls. The Brat and I had numerous conversations that centered around how parents deal with their children. We talked of comparasions and contrasts in the many different ways a child might be punished for transgressions in the household. I tried explaining how just because I disagree with how a parent is dealing with their children doesn’t mean they are doing anything wrong.

I argued away pretty much all of it at first.

As time went on though, with each incident the Brat brought to my attention I was less able to argue it away. I asked the Brat all the right questions, looked for all the tell-tale signs of true physical abuse, and in the end I . . . I was almost convinced it was abuse, but didn’t want to admit it to the Brat, or myself. Why? Well, maybe because I truly didn’t know what to do.

Oh sure. In practical terms I knew what I should do. I mean, I should talk to her, right? An intervention sort of thing, right? Adults do that sort of thing, right? Talk to each other about their concerns?

Right. In a perfect world they do anyway.

If you must hold yourself up to your children as an object lesson,

hold yourself up as a warning and not as an example.

~George Bernard Shaw

Anyhoo. I put off talking to Laura. I practically ignored the concerns my daughter was bringing to my attention. I closed my eyes, my ears, and hid in plain sight.

She was my FRIEND!

How could I do that to her? I mean, she has the right to discipline her children the way she deems fit, right? To each their own?

I never saw any abuse. I mean, sure she was harsh. I surely wouldn’t treat the Brat in that manner. Not that I’m perfect folks. Far from it. Regardless, I’m ashamed to tell you that I didn’t do anything.

The talks with the Brat escalated as Laura seem to peak in her {allegedly} abusive behavior after the kids were let out of school for the summer and were now home all day. We talked of the different signs of abuse, child protective services and what they do, the various things that she witnessed . . . she was getting more and more concerned with Laura’s treatment of the girls, and all I wanted to do was get through till we moved.

You see, Laura was watching the Brat over the summer holiday for a very reasonable price and I couldn’t afford to get another childcare provider. Selfish to the Nth degree I know but I was still hiding. I was honestly hoping to just get moved without having to confront her.

But one day it all came to a head. I wish I could say that I came to my senses and finally decided enough was enough. Unfortunately I can’t tell you that.

To bring up a child in the way he should go,

travel that way yourself once in a while. ~Josh Billings

Don’t worry that children never listen to you;

worry that they are always watching you. ~Robert Fulghum

I was at home packing and watching t.v. with the Brat when Laura and Todd knocked on my door and asked to come in. Laura sat down on the couch while we exchanged pleasantries, and Todd stood by the door. Todd didn’t look happy, but then he never really looked happy. Laura, on the other hand, looked downright frightened. The nicities at an end, I finally asked Laura what was wrong.

She was on the verge of tears when she told me that she had overheard the Brat talking to her sister, (who is closer to the Brat’s age than Laura’s), about Laura’s behavior. She had told Laura’s sister that we were going to turn Laura into child protective services for abuse.

Now, quite frankly I won’t tell you that it didn’t occur to me. It *was* a conversation that we had because the Brat wanted to *do* something about the problems with Laura, but at the same time she didn’t want to lose her friends. But I had told the Brat that I was going to try and have a frank conversation with Laura about what was going on in her household before escalating it to doing something like calling child protective services.

The conversation that ensued was a long and tortuous endeavour for us all. The Brat was there throughout the entire thing and cried like her heart was breaking. Laura told me how fearful she was of having her children taken away from her and how her mother was also very fearful of this happening. Todd was angry that I would imply such a thing, and even more so for not coming to them with my concerns.

Me? Well, I tried to show Laura and Todd what their household looked like from my daughter’s eyes. I acknowledged the differences in our parenting styles, and acknowledged that as part of the reason for my daughter’s sensitivity to these things. BUT. I also noted that even the differences between our parenting styles did not account for certain behaviors towards the children.

I haven’t really mentioned my relationship with the girls much yet. My daughter spent way more time with the girls than I did and was much closer to them than I was. Regardless of this I truly adore those girls. Becky is just the funniest kid I have met – ever. But she is such a serious girl all at the same time. And Mary? Mary is a pistol and a half. Both of them beautiful and radiating such spirit and love every time I saw them. I didn’t come home a day when they didn’t run down the walk to give me a huge hug and kiss. Just thinking about them makes me miss them terribly.

So during my conversation with Laura and Todd I mentioned several times how so very much I loved the girls, as well as Laura and Todd, and I told them that my first thought is of the happiness and welfare of the girls. That’s it.

I mentioned several signs of depression I had witnessed in Laura and mentioned some possible things she could do to help this. I noted some small things that *I* had witnessed that denoted possible abuse, as well as some of the more severe things that the Brat had witnessed and told me about.

I told them that I had *not* contacted CPS and, now that we had talked, would not contact them if Laura would look carefully at her household and think about what I was saying to her.

The conversation went on for almost two hours, each party going back and forth with statements, accusations, pleadings . . . it truthfully was a scary thing for all of us I think. In the end we did not part well.

The aftermath of this conversation in my house was a trembling Brat who was in anguish with the realization that she had just lost her two closest friends, and terrified that she had done the wrong thing by speaking out about this matter. As a parent I think that part was the hardest part of the entire thing.

In spite of the six thousand manuals on child raising

in the bookstores, child raising is still a dark continent

and no one really knows anything. You just need a lot

of love and luck – and, of course, courage. ~Bill Cosby

I have always brought up my child to speak out against things she know or thinks are wrong. You don’t let yourself or your friends get picked on or bullied on the playground. Instead you bring it to the attention of an adult, who will help to fix the situation.

I brought my daughter up to believe in justice. I brought her up to believe that everyone has the right to speak out against the wrongs that they see. I brought her up to believe that if we do speak out that those wrongs can be fixed. Not always, but sometimes.

So now she had faced some horrible wrongs done to her friends, and after speaking out, instead of it getting fixed she lost her friends instead.

As adults, we must ask more of our children than they know how to ask of themselves. What can we do to foster their open-hearted hopefulness, engage their need to collaborate, be an incentive to utilize their natural competency and compassion…show them ways they can connect, reach out, weave themselves into the web of relationships that is called community. . – Dawna Markova

How do you convince a nine year old, who has just lost her best friends because of her actions, that she did the right thing? I know I didn’t have a clue. I didn’t have the words to convince her, but I kept telling her anyway. Everytime the subject came up I told her again. Even through her tears and despair I kept telling her. It became my mantra. You did the right thing.

I don’t know if I was trying to convince her, or me.

Fast forward six weeks.

We haven’t talked to Laura or her family this entire time. The Brat would break out in tears while standing out the door, watching Becky and Mary play. I had seen them and watched wistfully as they passed by without giving me my hug and kiss. I was Aunt Cherie no more.

I was in the middle of moving though and just didn’t have the time for more than a wistful glance over my shoulder. Quite frankly I had resigned myself to never speaking to Laura again. I mean, I doubt very much that *I* would forgive me if I was her. I didn’t blame her. I only hoped she was listening when I spoke that night and took something from it other than anger and fear.

It was two days before I moved to Fresno that Laura approached me. I regarded her with wary eyes as I was unsure of her reasons for wanting to talk to me and I refused to be overly optimistic.

As she started to speak, it was as if a bubble of silence formed around us. She began haltingly, and stopped often to gain her composure. I kept silent for most of it, almost holding my breath as if to breathe would scare her away. I wish I could remember every single word, but I’m not an elephant, so I’ll just tell you that she told me that she was listening to me when we last spoke.

She listened to me and then went home and looked at her life. And then she decided that on many points, I was right. She told me that she was going to seek help. She was going to go back to work. She was . . . well, you get the gist.

It could not have been easy for her. It must have taken an almost inhuman fortitude of self for her to come back to me (her betrayer) and admit that I had been even a little bit right. She still looked as scared that day as she had the night she had come to my house. In the end she did not offer me that same friendship back that we had had before; but she did open the door a crack and let me slip my toe in.

Only when we are no longer afraid do we begin to live. – Dorothy Thompson

After she was all done I told her how very very proud I was of her. I told her how so very much the Brat and I regretted being the bearers of bad tidings, and how so very much we hoped that someday we could all be friends again. I reminded her of the love we both have for her and her family, and let her know that it had not lessened for our experience.

And at the end of the day? At the end of the day I was able to tell my daughter everything that Laura had said to me, and finally tell her with conviction, “See? You really *did* do the right thing.”

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