What's You Beef? What About the Children?!
Growing up in the late 80s/early 90s was such a different time. In the summers, we ran our town on our bikes or barefoot even; it didn’t matter. From after breakfast until we heard Mom holler “Lunch!”, then again until she yelled that dinner was ready, we were playing games, having races, riding to Big Creek to swim, begging for rides to the town pool a few miles away. Cell phones, wi-fi, Netflix – none of it existed back then, but we did have the best TGIF Friday line-up and Saturday morning cartoons a kid could ask for! And these little pleasures were seemingly enough to get us through the void of summer without driving ourselves or our parents too crazy!
Moms and Dads trusted their neighbors and neighborhoods with curious children running about; if there was something wrong, there was a sense of responsibility within the community to help, or if you were causing trouble, to tell your parents that you were being a little sh*t! The sense of village was strong, and the term “love thy neighbor” was a reality, not just a wish. May Day baskets were put on porches by giggling neighborhood children, block parties with barbecues were held often, and if someone had a baby or lost a family member, everyone brought them something to eat, usually in a pie or casserole form. It seems as if, 30 or so years later, we’ve lost some of this sentiment and humanity towards each other, our neighbors, our community as a whole.
I’m reminded of this often, as recently as yesterday, when we were at Lindley Park for the Farmer’s Market. There were so many kids on the one little playground there, and a younger kiddo flew out of the tube slide and into the woodchips too fast, hitting his face. Mom or Dad are nowhere, friendly faces are all around but no one came to the rescue, no sense of responsibility from other parents/lookers-on. Dad comes flying out from around the other side of the playset; he just couldn’t see that his kid had wiggled through the crowd on the bridge and down the slide already;he wasn’t there in time to catch him as planned. Dad felt horrible, but I’d be willing to bet that had someone just pitched in, perhaps the grandma that was standing right there at the opening of the slide waiting for her own precious cargo to come hurling out of the plastic tube, that a few less tears would have been shed by all. As with kids climbing on top of the slide, endangering themselves, modeling less-than-desirable behavior for smaller kiddos, no parents in sight, no other neighbor/community member chiming in to give a friendly “that doesn’t look very safe!” It’s like watching those candid-camera shows that create this scenario in which a person needs help, trying to see how many, if any, people would help at all.
I see similar situations in the supermarket: A mom is with her kids, obviously struggling with just trying to get the shopping done so she can get home to make dinner, while trying to navigate the full-of-people aisles in a bulky shopping cart holding a four-year old having an epic meltdown over an unaffordable toy he had to put back. She’s exhausted and embarrassed, wishing she had a friend or significant other there to help her deescalate the situation. He’s overstimulated and overwhelmed by emotion, not understanding why Mommy would say no. But people just pass, staring and judging but never offering a smile, a word of encouragement, a distraction for the four-year-old. Even employees stocking shelves seem to turn a blind eye; no one wants to get involved. In moments like these, would you be the passerby, or would you win the money on the candid camera show for offering your help?
This change through time of our sense of whether to offer a helping hand or not, especially when it comes to children, seems to be very polarized in our society, community, and neighborhoods. As a single mom of a special needs child, this realization has affected our family in many ways. My son is very much a runner and seeker, curious about the world around him and how fast he can run through it! If given the opportunity, he would run laps around this city, and someday I have no doubt that he will. But right now, it honestly scares the ever-living crap out of me. His special needs also contribute to a complete lack of awareness or concept of safety, meaning he will run, full boar, into Langhor Creek streaming down Hyalite like a raging river of death, because he loves to swim and it looks fun! So you can imagine how complicated taking him to something like Music on Main would be; instead of losing him in raging water, there is a possibility of losing him in a huge gathering of people.
This almost happened recently. We were in Washington at The Gorge, on Vendor Street. He somehow slipped out of my hand and took off like a bullet, running like a bat-out-of-hell down this dirt path full of festival-goers. I was chasing after him, screaming “STOP THAT KID” and “GRAB THAT KID,” but no one would oblige; they thought nothing of this small child booking it past them by himself. He finally wiped out in the dust, giving me the chance to catch up to him and grab him. He wasn’t even phased, just worried about the scratches and scrapes he’d received from the path. I was livid, scared, and shaking – had he not fallen, would there have been no one to help me catch him? Why didn’t anyone think to grab him? These thoughts keep bouncing around my head, and this reality affects how we can participate in the community activities that our amazing Valley puts on. Needless to say, we don’t go to anything now without his highly-researched, quickly-delivered harness backpack with safety leash.
We are doing such a disservice to each other and our families, but especially our children when we carry these ideas of “someone else will help,” “that parent should do something,” or “I’m not getting involved.” A healthy level of involvement in your community, your neighborhood, in the welfare and safety of our neighbors and their children is more than okay – it models that behavior for children. It gives them little glimpses into the way that we were raised and cared for when we were kids - it lets them know it’s okay to help others, to be brave and compassionate. Dissect the reasons why we have this disconnect now all you want, but what matters is the behavior that we are showing to our children, and the inherent support we all offer to one another. As social media rules our worlds, either bringing us closer to or pushing us further away from in-person connection, it has become more important than ever to keep the sense of community alive, so families have actual support when life calls for it. Our Valley may be growing exponentially, but helping keeping each other’s kids safe and looking out for one another should never be something that we grow out of.
Missy Glenn lives here in Bozeman with her son DJ, two dogs, and her cat Ginger. She is a licensed Esthetician and Patient Care Specialist, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.