This week I visited my son and his family – they just had a new baby boy whom we wanted to meet. My son is in the military, and lives in off-base military housing. I’d seen a picture of their house, which was beautiful. They live across from the pool, down the street from a playground, and within walking distance to the elementary school. Perfect, right?
We drove into their subdivision, and it was beautiful – large two-story townhomes, spacious and well maintained. The streets and yards were clean; it was a gorgeous neighborhood. I still didn’t understand why it wasn’t the neighborhood my son and his wife wanted their kids growing up in.
And then we heard the stories.
Every house in their neighborhood has kids (a “families only” subdivision). And at least three out of four of those families let their kids run wild. My daughter has been their surrogate mother on many occasions.
Are the fathers deployed and overseas? I don’t know. But what I do know is that many of the mothers in that community don’t work – they’re stay-at-home moms. But what are they doing? They’re not taking care of their kids, but leaving that task to parents who just can’t stand to see child neglect.
It seems as if the neighborhood is inhabited by only children. Rarely are there ever any parents in sight.
At least twice, kids were “dumped at the door” after being picked up from school; their rides driving away before they even found out no one was home. Once, after being told that their kids COULD NOT spend the night, the kids were dropped off at one parent’s house anyway, with the parents driving away and being MIA until the next day.
My daughter has had kids surrounding her kitchen table after school – all of them needing help with homework that they say they don’t get at home. All of them wanting food – they’re hungry.
My daughter has walked other people’s kids to school with her own. She’s been called before school by the kids, saying they can’t wake their mothers up to help them get ready for school. Could she please wait while they get ready and run to catch up?
Once there was a little five year old who was walking by himself to school, crying. My daughter asked him what was wrong, and he said he was hungry. His mother didn’t feed him, and he had no money to buy school food, and had used his freebie the day before.
The playground is a notorious place to visit. The older kids are cursing bullies who take your toys, or who try to hurt and intimidate the smaller kids. Again, no parents .
And what about the angry elementary school child on the playground, getting a butcher knife and an ax from home, then chasing the other kids, and threatening to cut them? The police were called but they couldn’t locate his mother. MIA. Again.
My son and daughter have been warned that they haven’t even experienced the real test with the parentless kids in the neighborhood. Summer. The pool won’t let anyone under sixteen in without a parent. So the children swarm the area, begging any adult they see heading for the pool if they can go in with them. Like the hungry child beggars in Mexico swarming tourists. But these kids are begging for attention, not money.
Where are their mothers?
My smaller kids were playing with some neighborhood children during our visit, and were appalled to find out they’d never jumped rope, or thrown a Frisbee. Normal kid-things to do, but no one had taught them.
So the great revelation during my visit to the beautiful military housing neighborhood where my son and daughter live: Once again, looks can always be deceiving. Military camouflage can cover military child neglect (just like it’s disguised in the non-military world.)
Maybe the military should create another special ops team – Child Protective Forces. Sounds like they need it.
K. L. loves noisy clocks, fuzzy blankets, anything pink, and all things Santa Claus. And she HATES the word normal. She is a member of International Thriller Writers, Inc., the Women’s Fiction Writers’ Association, and National Book Critics' Circle. Please visit her at www.klromo.com, @klromo on Twitter, or k.l.romo on Instagram.
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