Signs, Signs, Everywhere A Sign

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Saw something right unusual yesterday afternoon and I wanted to share it with y’all. I expect it’ll be about as divisive as most of my opinions tend to be.

Budge and I were going to lunch on one of the busiest roads in our area and as we passed “the” Super WalMart, I noticed a guy standing on the sidewalk with a sign. Now that in and of itself isn’t unusual for that stretch of road because the homeless of the area often ply this particular region with “will work for food” signs and the like. Luckily, I didn’t dismiss this sign as “usual” and as we got closer, I noticed the holder wasn’t usual either. I’m thankful for the heavy traffic or I might have missed the whole thing.

Turns out, this was a teenaged boy and he was holding a hand lettered poster that read “I stole video games from WalMart. I am a thief.” I looked down below him and saw a woman in dark sunglasses sitting on the hood of her car, arms crossed, ill look on face. I pointed this scene out to Budge and she said, “I’m pulling in and talking to that woman. She is my new best friend.”

Well, we did. The boy was this woman’s 17 year old nephew. She has custody of him because his mother is a drug addict. She’s raised him all his life. From the looks of the pair’s clothes and the Lexus she was sitting on, she had the means to provide for him. Seems the young man celebrated his birthday by shoplifting two expensive video games from the store he was now unwillingly advertising. “Aunt Jane” (identified as such by interspersed tearful, plaintive cries from the sidewalk above) asked (probably more like pleaded with) the store manager not to press charges with the understanding that, “Aunt Jane” would handle it. This sidewalk show, scheduled to last two hours, was step one. A day spent touring our local maximum security prison’s general population was step two.

I should mention that the entire time “Aunt Jane” was explaining all this to us, tears were streaming out from under her Gucci sunglasses. She said, “He thinks I’m a monster, but I have to make him realize what stupid choices can lead to. I’ve taken the day off work to put him through this.” She even asked Budge and I if we thought she was being too harsh. We both told her that, as a pair of educators often working with undisciplined children, she was our newest hero. She smiled at that.

As we drove away, I looked back and saw her climb the bank and stand beside her nephew. She didn’t hug him or pat him on the head and she made him hold the sign up where its big black letters were clearly readable, but she stood beside him in her beige business suit and pumps. To my mind at least, she was doing what Papa called “raising” the boy.

Personally, I thing she was doing something worthwhile and effective. The lad will not likely forget his two hours on display, as Mama would say, “In front of God and everybody.” I know of other parents who wouldn’t have cared that the boy shoplifted at all. I know of others who would have stormed WalMart, retained family of lawyers in tow.

I don’t have children of my own. I have cats and they, by their very nature don’t listen to me because, for those who don’t know, 6000 years ago in Egypt, cats were worshipped as gods. They, as a species, have never forgotten this. I do work with children though and I can say that those with parents who make and enforce rules usually do better than those with Devil-may-care guardians.

I do have one concrete example. My beloved neice who I see entirely too little moved to live with her father, my B-I-L, for the 2007-2008 school year. She was a rebellious 16 year old and somewhat violent towards her stepfather and mother and she’d managed to fall in with a bit of an unsavory bunch. Her grades were Cs at best with more Ds and Fs. She was already a grade behind. She had NO curfew and basically did as she pleased. By the end of the year with her father and stepmother, she was in honors classes, playing varsity soccer, holding a steady afterschool job, and generally showing signs of having her head on straight. She had even started contacting colleges.

Then, she spent two months back with her mother and found out her despised stepfather was going on a six month overseas tour of duty. She promptly moved BACK to her mothers. I spoke with her father at Christmas while she was down visiting. Her grades are in the toilet, she is in general track classes with her “friends”, she’s been caught smoking pot in the back yard twice, and she’s setting her sights on “a local community college or something,” assuming she graduates.

I love this child dearly and Budge hates me for saying this, but I foresee her, barring a miracle, with a GED (maybe), married to and abused by one of the local riff-raff, living in some sort of “project” housing, with at least two children and no future. All because her mother wants to be her “friend.” Well, I realize there’s more to the situation than that, but I do know my niece needs a PARENT not a 30something “BFF!”

So, back to our young man on the street. Is his aunt a monster? Is this a form of child abuse? Is his self-esteem irreparably damaged? What should she have done? What could she have done? What would Dr. Benjamin Spock do? What do y’all think?

I don’t have the answers.

I just know that boy is DEFINATELY going to need to wash his feet!

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3 responses »

  1. Aunt Jane deserves a medal. Far too many ‘parents’ rescue their children from their poor choices, never allowing them to experience the natural consequences that would teach them the important life lessons that they need to learn. I am in my 21st year as a public educator and my fifth/third year as a mother to two beautiful daughters. I know that it hurts terribly to watch your child suffer at all, but better that they suffer the small things and learn from their mistakes at a young age than grow up to be irresponsible adults who suffer much greater pains in the large things later.

  2. There are far too many “Aunt Janes” out there, IMHO. Although others may feel that this young man’s self-esteem is irreparably damaged (give me a break!), this is a lesson that will long stay with him.

    This is my 32nd year of working with teens in public education and I have seen ALL types of parents. The ones who take their role seriously and who love their children enough to make them do well are the ones who are trying to make the world a better place. I applaud parents such as “Aunt Jane” and would love to see them be the majority rather than a minute minority.

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