Saturday, November 22, 2008

With Wild Abandon

It was bound to happen.

Last year, Nebraska passed a safe haven law, allowing parents to drop off children at designated hospitals without fear of legal reprisals. It was the last state to do this, but their law had a different twist: there was no limit on the age of the child being left.

Now, they’re dealing with an influx of parents, even parents from out-of-state, dropping off teenagers.

The only question I have is: why didn’t they see this coming? Is there not one single parent of teenagers in the entire Nebraska legislature?

Because anyone who has ever survived an American adolescent knows that every parent, at some point during those long, long years between 13 and 20, fantasizes about driving his or her offspring out a lonely country road, slowing the car, then pushing the child out the door and speeding away in a cloud of dust and maniacal laughter.

My own daughter was a great kid. Good student, good citizen, athlete and popular. You couldn’t ask for better.

And yet, the year she was fourteen, I thought I was going to have to kill her. To this day, when I ask how old someone’s daughter is, and they reply, “Fourteen,” I automatically respond, “I’m sorry.”

Although I don’t have any deep beliefs against corporal punishment, we didn’t spank her, because she didn’t need it. (With this exception: when she was two years old, she went through a phase where she was out of control at the grocery. She’d grab things off the shelves, try to climb out of the cart and – this was the worst part – hold up her little arms to total strangers and beg to be rescued – “Help me! Help me!” After several humiliating weeks of this, we told her, in the car just before entering the store, that if she did any of these things we would spank her when we returned to the car. That happened two weeks running, after which her behavior improved.)

The year she was fourteen, however, I remember taking her and a friend of hers shopping. I asked the friend something, and Anne, evidently deciding it was an inappropriate question, answered for her. I don’t remember what she said, but I do recall the jut of her hip and the curl of her lip. And I remember hissing “If you ever speak to me in that tone of voice again, I will slap you so hard you will have to pick up your mouth on the other side of this store. Do you hear me?” And I remember her eyes growing huge as she nodded. We never had that conversation again.

My husband tells a story about when one of his daughters was around that age. He asked her to do something, she refused and it escalated. They reached the point where he threatened to spank her and she responded, “You can’t. I’ll call Children’s Services.” Which meant he had to spank her, of course. Afterwards, he handed her the phone. “Call them,” he said. She declined.

The purpose of these child abuse anecdotes is this: both of these teenagers grew up to be wonderful, successful women; good citizens with good jobs who are a source of joy to their parents and pride to their communities.

But if they were growing up in Nebraska today, they’d be on their way to foster care.

1 comment:

Jan said...

I think we have all been there. Thank god these kids do grow up.

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