I read a chilling headline from the detritus clogging my inbox: An Associate Press story read: Mom Sentenced For Using Facebook As Son Drowned. Turns out that, according to the news, “A northern Colorado woman who was playing a game on Facebook while her 13-month-old baby drowned in a full bathtub was sentenced Friday to 10 years in prison.”
Maybe you expect me to wax and wane about how mass media are sucking out our gray matter while I critique poor parenting skills. But that’s not my point.
My point is that, as parents, we continually weigh one set of tasks over another. A baby in the tub is an example that begs for our insistence that the parent remains present. And prescient.
But here’s the thing: There were times when I left my daughters to their own devices. The result? No bathtub drowning, but there are tales of blue hair, shaved eyebrows, and tumbles.
In my defense, I learned from my own parents who, saddled with a busload of kids, let us explore the neighborhood and other kids with little more than a glance over the smoke of their Salem menthols.
Their inattention resulted in broken teeth, a busted skull and one of my sisters driven to the emergency room because she stuck a bean in her ear.
One of my other sisters took off one day on her bicycle to explore the world, later driven home by local police who found her ready to accept a car ride from a stranger. My grandmother, a continually recovering alcoholic from the rez who lived with us between stints in AA and stints with my boozing grandfather, thought the entire narrative humorous as hell, and couldn’t wait to tell my mother when she arrived home from her graveyard shift as a cop.
My daughters still remind me of the day when my inattentiveness could have meant a broken arm or leg, but the story is shaded with remorse, what I associate with Salinger’s book, Raise High the Roofbeams, Carpenters. The story, For Esmé with Love and Squalor, would forever link my thoughts of JD Salinger with my first and second daughter, Wak-O-Apa and Wee-Hey: Megan and Rachel.
They were little, maybe three and four. I had an armload of paperwork to edit and took the kids to the park, where I plunked down on a bench and let the kids wander. I read through the stories I needed to edit, concentrating on the work in my lap, oblivious to distractions.
In the distance I heard a faint cry for Mama. Someone else’s kid, I thought. I continued editing. Then the cry was louder and more plaintive: Mama. I continued editing. Then a robust cry: MAMA! I didn’t let the cries distract me and kept right on editing until I heard someone yell, “CINDY” and looked up to see Rachel hanging from the steps to the slide, her feet dangling as her fingers clung to the rungs of the ladder. Megan was yelling, “Cindy!” and I tore over to the slide to free Rachel from the ladder.
The story reminds me of my poor parenting skills. I didn’t even respond to cries for Mama from Wak-O-Apa. But I never considered my behavior a criminal act, so the Colorado story is upsetting:
“Shannon Johnson, 34, of Fort Lupton, cried as District Judge Thomas Quammen told her he didn’t think she was a bad person or that she killed her son on purpose, the Greeley Tribune reported. But, he added, that doesn’t mean her action wasn’t criminal. ‘You left this little boy in a bathtub so you could entertain yourself on the computer by playing games,’ Quammen said. Johnson is awaiting sentencing which would be four to 12 years, with possible probation.”
I left Megan and Rachel to play on the slide and swings while I attended to my editing. They didn’t take me to court for mindlessness. I imagine my granny would laugh. She always saw the humor in everything.