Stranger Danger (aka: Remember the Milk Cartons)

 

missingLike most kids who grew up in the 1980’s, I was terrified of strangers. The idea was drilled into our heads by paranoid parents and teachers: STRANGER = DANGER. Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t accept candy from strangers. If a stranger asks you to help him search for his missing dog, run away and tell a trusted grownup. Because if you go with a stranger, you may end up with your face on a milk carton, just like poor Etan Patz.

Remember Etan Patz? He was a cute 6 year-old kid who disappeared one morning in 1979 as he was headed to school. His disappearance shocked the nation, and started the milk carton movement. Suddenly, that carton of milk next to our morning bowls of Sugar Crisp cereal became a daily reminder to kids everywhere: Talk to strangers, and you will wind up kidnapped.

Adam Walsh 1981

Adam Walsh, who disappeared from a shopping mall in 1981. His father, John Walsh, later became the host of the television show, America’s Most Wanted. 

Kidnapped. To an 80’s kid, it was pretty much the scariest thing that could happen to you. Besides the news stories filled with sobbing parents and neighbors scouring their communities with flashlights, there were cartoon episodes, chapter books, and school assemblies training kids to be aware of their surroundings, and to act in self-defense if a stranger tries to grab you. There were after-school specials and even full-length movies about real-life kids who got kidnapped and murdered while playing, like Adam Walsh, the boy who went missing without a trace. The names of the kidnapped kids haunted us as we walked to school — Michaela Garecht, Kevin Andrew Collins, Polly Klaas.

face on the milk carton

Was there a single girl who grew up in the 80’s and didn’t read this book?

Now some would say that the whole Stranger Danger safety campaign went a little overboard. After all, the actual risk of a child being abducted by a stranger is pretty low. But thanks to media overexposure (and a ton of commercials reminding us to drink milk), we 80s kids grew up in a culture that compulsively promoted child safety, just short of locking us in the house and making us wear bubble wrap. Today, we try to be a little more relaxed than our own parents, easing off on the phobia-inducing Stranger Danger fear tactics with our kids.

Most of the time, I feel as though I’ve struck just the right balance of educating my kids to be stranger-aware. However, just the other day, my 10 year-old nearly gave me a heart attack. While out riding his bicycle in our neighborhood, he suffered a small crash and scraped his elbow against the pavement. In tears, he called me from a concerned stranger’s cell phone to inform me of what had happened. prevent child abduction

“Wait…whose cell phone?” I asked.

A stranger. And not just a stranger…a strange man who got out of his car and offered a cell phone. Those familiar feelings of childhood panic rose to my throat. My kid did not have proper Stranger Danger training. What if the stranger had been one of the bad guys who steal kids? My little guy’s face could have ended up on a milk carton.

And so, after we’d had a chance to clean up his scraped elbow, I sat my kid down for a good old-fashioned 1980’s fear tactic lesson on the danger of strangers and wolves in sheep’s clothing. It went something like this: If you are away from home and absolutely need help, and there is no police officer, security guard, teacher, or other trusted adult, then this is how to regard strangers:

Green Light: A mom with kids.

Yellow Light: A woman (older women, like grandmothers, because you can outrun them).

Red Light: Men. Just no. Run away.

Stranger Danger

Perhaps some people will consider this type of training to be over-the-top by 2015 standards. But I know that I am not the only grown-up child of the 80’s who still remembers what happened to Kevin Collins. Adam Walsh. Michaela Garecht. Polly Klaas. And many other unfortunate kids whose childhood was stolen from them. In memory of those kids, and of their families whose lives were ripped apart, I would rather pass on such safety lessons to the next generation, so that we will see a lot fewer kids’ faces on milk cartons, and a lot more outside, playing and riding their bikes.

 

Sometimes You Have to Be Your Own Hero

I have wanted to write about the subject of domestic abuse for a very long time. But it is hard to do. I am mostly a humor writer, or writer of stories, poems, and lighthearted topics. However, there are some subjects that I feel need to be brought out of the darkness and into the light. Domestic abuse — physical, emotional, financial, and sexual, can happen to anyone. It happened to me. I do not have the courage to share my story in this very public way. But I would like to say to any women out there who are now where I once was, and feeling trapped and helpless, that:

You are not alone.

There is always a way out.

Sometimes you have to save yourself (and your children).

Don’t buy the lies — it is not your fault!

You are stronger than you think.

You have the right to feel safe in your relationship.

The Five Forms of Domestic Violence

Physical

Inflicting or attempting to inflict physical injury
example: grabbing, pinching, shoving, slapping, hitting, biting, arm-twisting, kicking, punching, hitting with blunt objects, stabbing, shooting

Withholding access to resources necessary to maintain health example: medication, medical care, wheelchair, food or fluids, sleep, hygienic assistance Forcing alcohol or other drug use

Sexual

Coercing or attempting to coerce any sexual contact without consent
example: marital rape, acquaintance rape, forced sex after physical beating, attacks on the sexual parts of the body, forced prostitution, fondling, sodomy, sex with others

Attempting to undermine the victim’ sexuality
example: treating him/her in a sexually derogatory manner, criticizing sexual performance and desirability, accusations of infidelity, withholding sex

Psychological

Instilling or attempting to instill fear
example: intimidation, threatening physical harm to self, victim, and/or others, threatening to harm and/or kidnap children, menacing, blackmail, harassment, destruction of pets and property, mind games, stalking

Isolating or attempting to isolate victim from friends, family, school, and/or work example: withholding access to phone and/or transportation, undermining victim’s personal relationships, harassing others, constant “checking up,” constant accompaniment, use of unfounded accusations, forced imprisonment

Emotional

Undermining or attempting to undermine victim sense of worth
example: constant criticism, belittling victim’s abilities and competency, name-calling, insults, put-downs, silent treatment, manipulating victim’s feelings and emotions to induce guilt, subverting a partner’s relationship with the children, repeatedly making and breaking promises

Economic

Making or attempting to make the victim financially dependent
example: maintaining total control over financial resources including victim’s earned income or resources received through public assistance or social security, withholding money and/or access to money, forbidding attendance at school, forbidding employment, on-the-job harassment, requiring accountability and justification for all money spent, forced welfare fraud, withholding information about family running up bills for which the victim is responsible for payment

Marital Rape | Psych Central.

Types of Domestic Abuse

Guidelines for Leaving an Abusive Relationship

Health Central: Warning Signs

Why Do Abuse Victims Stay?  (Understanding is the key to being supportive)

 

 

I Feel the Earth Move (aka: California Earthquakes)

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I love living in the state of California. There is so much to love about my state – from the breathtaking scenery to the world-class cities, our Hollywood legacy, Disneyland, amazing wines, and even our quirky politics (How many other states can claim that they’ve had both a U.S. president and the Terminator as governor at some point?). Now I know, there are some people out there who are perfectly happy living in cornfields in the middle of nowhere, who think of California and shudder. “But California is so expensive and snooty! And think of the earthquakes!” And okay, yes, you have to pretty much be rich to move here. But I swear that we Californians are not snooty! (Okay fine, maybe the SoCal people are on the pretentious side). But to avoid California for the earthquakes? Come on, where’s your sense of adventure?

“I lived through the Great Loma Prieta Quake of 1989.”

“Oh yeah? Well, I lived through Loma Prieta and the Northridge Quake!”

We Californians wear our earthquakes like scout badges. We love to swap stories about where we were and what we did during each quake. And of course, there are extra points if you managed to ride it out with the same level of cool indifference as the characters in the movie L.A. Story. “Oh please, that quake was barely a 5.0 on the Richter Scale. I slept right through it!”

I have lived through around a half dozen noticeable earthquakes in my life. Most of them were the usual small tremors that strike the Bay Area from time to time, like thunderstorms. Such small quakes did nothing more than cause the walls to shudder and the chandelier to swing back and forth for a few minutes. Big whoop. But then came the Great Loma Prieta Quake. Now that was memorable. Every Northern Californian you meet will have some great story to tell about what they were doing the day of that big earthquake. Epicenter of 1989 Loma Prieta Quake

Let’s see…it was late in the afternoon, and I was in my high school theater, rehearsing for an upcoming musical. Suddenly, the stage floor began to shift, and the lights above our heads quivered dangerously. “Everyone out of the theater! Now!” came our director’s voice. He didn’t have to tell us twice. Everyone in the cast raced outside.

“Wow, it’s like surfing!” someone said. Sure enough, our paved high school corridors were rolling like ocean waves. Forget all that earthquake safety training. We did not drop to the ground and cover our heads. We held out our arms for balance and rode the waves, cheering with enthusiasm. Earthquakes were so awesome! It was almost disappointing when the tremors subsided.  Earthquake Safety Rulesimage

My friends and I headed home on the public bus, chattering with excitement about what had just happened, and singing at the top of our lungs:

I feel the earth move under my feet
I feel the sky tumbling down…

I arrived home, still smiling, and ready to watch the next game in the World Series. At the time, I was a huge Oakland A’s fan, and I was hoping to see them crush the San Francisco Giants and win the series. However, when I turned on the television, there was no baseball game. It seemed that, while my friends and I were busy surfing and singing, the rest of the Bay Area had erupted into chaos. Candlestick Park had been evacuated. Buildings had crumbled. A section of the Bay Bridge had snapped. And the worst part: a mile-long section of the Cypress Freeway had collapsed, trapping hundreds of drivers in the rubble. Collapse of Cypress/Nimitz Freeway

Just like that, the Big Quake stopped being awesome. There’s nothing fun about seeing people get injured or killed. This was far worse than some quivering walls or swinging light fixtures. It was like Mother Nature had attacked our home with a natural bomb. Luckily for our family, my father, by some miracle, had decided to commute home by way of the Golden Gate Bridge that evening, or he, too, may have gotten caught in
the rubble of the Cypress Freeway. But many other people were not so lucky.

Okay, maybe I am not helping to paint a positive image of California here. Oh boy – killer earthquakes and broken freeways! Okay yes, sometimes…but hey, we still have Disneyland. And great beaches, and redwood trees – mustn’t forget those. And amazing wines – although the Napa Valley, where those wines are produced, was just hit pretty hard by a 6.0 earthquake two days ago. Where was I when that big quake hit? Oh, well, I slept right through it. Extra points for me.