Pedantic Over-Helping

While spinning through a recent article published in The Atlantic (linked below), I pulled out a particularly poignant passage that I thought I would share, along with some commentary, of course! ¬†ūüôā ¬†If you are a parent, you owe it to yourself, and your kids, to read and digest the entire thing. ¬†Right now, I will focus on the single paragraph below. ¬†It struck upon one of the main tenets I studied and applied in counseling grown-ups. ¬†In essence, don’t put thoughts in someone’s head that aren’t there. ¬†Everything is open-ended. ¬†All comments are crafted as invitations for the person to talk, explain, reflect, etc., without having to process an implied judgement or expectation. ¬†The below passage is a perfect example of how a well-meaning person/teacher/parent can step in and confuse the shit out of a kid by thinking for him. ¬†Likewise, a well-meaning, “helpful” comment in therapy such as, “wow, you must have been devastated.” ¬†Can instantly degrade your credibility, and impact the comfort of your client. ¬†“No, I wasn’t devastated; I was happy as hell. ¬†I freakin’ hated her; I’m glad she’s dead! ¬†Should I be devastated?”

Think in terms of “tell me more”; “what happened next?”; “What is it that you’re making/drawing/doing there?”; ¬†“tell me about that”; “What do you think about that?”; “help me understand that”; or, you can just repeat his initial comment to keep him moving: “A house, huh?” ¬†You can make up the rest. In essence, the drawing isn’t a house until HE says it’s a house. ¬†What happens in his made-up story is what HE says happens, not what you think should happen, driven by the “blanks” you feel necessary to fill in for him when he hesitates for five seconds. ¬†Speaking of hesitating, let’s talk about silence.

In therapy, with adults or kids, silence is an art you must master. ¬†As a parent, try to provide your kid as much silence as he needs after you have posed a question or comment. ¬†“Tell me about your drawing.” ¬†Then, shut your freakin’ mouth! ¬†Ten, twenty, thirty seconds of pure silence is not a bad thing. ¬†It may suck for you, but bear it, and give your child a chance to process his thoughts. ¬†He is CREATING, don’t interrupt.

All right, that’s my morning rant. ¬†Take a look at the link below, and the pulled paragraph.

Pre-school boot camp


“Consider the difference between a teacher‚Äôs use of a closed statement versus an open-ended question. Imagine that a teacher approaches a child drawing a picture and exclaims, ‚ÄúOh, what a pretty house!‚ÄĚ If the child is not actually drawing a house, she might feel exposed, and even if she is drawing a house, the teacher‚Äôs remark shuts down further discussion: She has labeled the thing and said she likes it. What more is there to add? A much more helpful approach would be to say, ‚ÄúTell me about your drawing,‚ÄĚ inviting the child to be reflective. It‚Äôs never possible to anticipate everything a small person needs to learn, so open-ended inquiry can reveal what is known and unknown. Such a small pedagogic difference can be an important catalyst for a basic, but unbounded, cognitive habit‚ÄĒthe act of thinking out loud.”


Big Boy Missions

Greetings, All,

As has often been said, talk is cheap. ¬†So, how does one effectively put action behind his words when it comes to allowing children the space and opportunity to explore, learn, and gain confidence (and, more importantly,¬†competence)? ¬†In my opinion, you can’t start early enough. ¬† I just watched my five-year-old daughter carefully cross a (non-busy) street, access our curb-parked car, retrieve several items, and safely return to our rental house here in New Orleans. ¬†It was easy, safe, and, just for those who may be gasping with horror, 100% in-sight. ¬†She returned with a smile that said, “I just climbed a mountain!”

For quite some time now, my children (6 and 5) ¬†have been performing what we affectionately call Big Boy Missions. ¬†They are simple and safe, but also exhilarating. ¬†After all, they are¬†missions! ¬†Each mission is supported, of course, by basic safety training, and awareness of the operating environment. ¬†That’s all been built over years and months. ¬†For example, I would never have sent my daughter to cross a street unless I had trained her to do it, and then witnessed her do it on her own, ¬†competently, 100 times before (literally, 100). ¬†By the way, I’m sorry if ¬†much of my terminology sounds very military; that’s because, well…it is. ¬†OK, moving on. ¬†When we go to the grocery story, for example, the kids are active participants. ¬†There is no “sitting in the grocery cart” here. ¬†They drive the cart, they search the shelves for regular items, and they empty the cart onto the check-out counter when we arrive. ¬†My six-year-old now scans all the items with bar codes, and is working on how to weigh and scan the produce, etc. ¬†They’re active participants, and they love it. The most exciting Big Boy Missions (in the grocery store, at least) are the unaccompanied missions to fetch something specific. For example – “Go get the biggest box of Cheerios you can find. ¬†Go!” ¬† The first Cheerios mission began while I was standing 50 feet away from the Cheerios. ¬†After a few successful trips, I crept into the next aisle, and, finally, to wherever I was in the store, completely out of sight. ¬†They can now traverse the entire store, from wherever we are, to the Cheerios and back. ¬†Ditto for the granola bars, cool whip, milk, apples, bread, and a list of other items.

What if they get lost? ¬†What about those creepy strangers laying in wait to kidnap my poor children from the produce department? Good questions. ¬†Whenever we’re out of sight, or even when we’re wandering within sight of each other in a store, we establish what we call a “rally point.” ¬†If the kids turn and don’t see me, or can’t find their way back to where I was standing, they have a 3-step procedure: ¬†Look out; call out; and go. ¬†If they don’t see me, and I don’t answer their call outs, they proceed directly to our rally point. ¬†If the kids don’t show back up in a reasonable time, I head there too. I always make the rally point a very prominent feature of the store (or wherever we are) normally near the front: ¬†The giant red umbrella hanging from the ceiling; the huge ice cream sign; the giant stack of chocolate; whatever is big, visible, and unmistakable. ¬†By the way, this also works when you’re at a zoo, park, parade, flea market, or anywhere you might find a crowd. ¬†In fact, we actually had to invoke a rally point during a Mardi Gras parade last year. ¬†When I arrived at the rally point (the front stairway of a prominent building right behind us), my 4-year-old daughter was standing there with a big smile: ¬†“I went to the rally point, Daddy!” ¬†Good work, Girly! ¬†Yes, kids are capable of this.

The kids are also well-versed in stranger procedures. That is, they can absolutely speak to strangers; most of them are very nice. ¬†In fact, the vast majority of strangers they encounter are simply trying to help them. ¬†They are allowed to ask them for directions to something, or for help in reaching something on the shelf, or to ask them to read a label they don’t understand. ¬†That’s all in-bounds. The important rule is, they simply never go anywhere with them. That’s it. ¬†The rule is simple and unbreakable. ¬†We review it quite often, and even play “who could you go with?” ¬†“Could you go with Uncle Neil? ¬†Yes! ¬†Could you go with Auntie Val? ¬†Yes! ¬†Could you go with the nice lady from the bakery? ¬†No!; how about our neighbor Joe? ¬†No!”, etc. ¬† And if someone lays a strong hand on them to force them to go somewhere? ¬†(I show them what that looks like). ¬†Bite, kick, scream, and become the scariest monster you can imagine. They get it. ¬†Just to let you know, my rant on Stranger Danger is long and “spirited”, and will be preserved for another posting…or six. ¬†You can get a sense for it in my very first blog posting, from Dec ’15: ¬†“Stranger Danger Craziness.”

I’ll close with this: ¬†Big Boy Missions can happen anywhere, and I often don’t have any plan for them until I see one in the making. “Hmmm, how about an unaccompanied trip up and down that department store escalator? ¬† Why can’t he walk down to the hotel front desk and ask what time breakfast starts? ¬† Go speak to that store worker and ask her where we can find the towels.” ¬†Many of them “require” contact with another human. ¬†I always send them off with a reminder – “Best manners.” ¬†That includes the entire spectrum of “please, thank you, excuse me, etc.”, and they’ve become very good at it. ¬†Amazing what some latitude, training, and opportunity can do for their self-reliance. ¬†Easy stuff, but awesome in its impact. Try designing your own big boy missions, and watch the kids ask for more.

Until next time.


Excellence in Roll-Throwing

As I write this, the kids and I are in the midst of a 3-night drive from Michigan to New Orleans in our trusty CX-9. I’m writing because a¬†fun dinner at Lambert’s Cafe in Sikeston, Missouri last night lead to a wonderful discussion with my kids in the car today. ¬†If you’ve never heard of Lambert’s, it is a country-cookin’ sort of place with one unusual specialty. ¬†About every five minutes or so, one of the staff makes a round through the dining room, rolling a cart-full of hot, HUGE dinner rolls. ¬†He calls out like a hot dog guy at Fenway, “Hot rolls! Get your hot rolls!” ¬†If you raise your hand, he will throw one to you. ¬†If you’re three feet away, it’s a quick pitch, but if you’re all the way across the restaurant, he’ll wind up and chuck it as far as it takes. ¬†It’s pretty awesome. ¬†This morning, travelling between Sikeston and Jackson, MS, where we are tonight, my son, Carson (6), said, “that was really fun yesterday, with the flying rolls.” Sydney (5) and I echoed his sentiment. ¬†Carson then said, “the roll-thrower was really small.” ¬†Well, he was. ¬†He was a kid, maybe 18-20, and was about 5’6″, I’m guessing. ¬†That’s where it started. ¬†I said, “well, it really doesn’t matter if he is small or not, as long as he can get the job done well.” Sydney then said, “can girls be roll-throwers?” ¬†OK, here we go.
¬† ¬† ¬†“Yes, anyone can be a roll-thrower. ¬†The most important thing about being a roll-thrower is that you do your job well. ¬†It’s like any other job, or any other mission. ¬†You want your best, most competent people on the job. ¬†It doesn’t matter what they look like, of if they’re a boy or a girl.” ¬†How much more cookie-cutter, Sesame Street can you get, right? ¬†Yeah, I know. ¬†But it really happened, I swear! ūüôā
¬†[After-publish edit about Sesame Street. I guess I should have stipulated: the Sesame Street of the 70’s. ¬†Recent Sesame Street would have a blind roll-thrower, or one who ‘throws’ with his teeth…because he deserved a chance, and that’s just as important as success, right?]
At some point in the conversation I posed the following question. ¬†“What if we were to have a roll-throwing contest for a bunch of roll-throwers? ¬†The competition would be for each roll-thrower to hit a target as many times as he could in a minute. Now, let’s say that you would get a quarter every time the thrower hit the target. ¬†Which thrower would you want throwing?” ¬†The answer was quick and loud: “The best one!” ¬†Bingo. ¬†I parlayed that into explaining why every team, everywhere, wants people who aspire to be the best, including the restaurant owners. ¬†Also, why we should appreciate and respect “the best”, even if we don’t happen to be it. ¬†“Best” is a good thing; “Excellence” is a good thing; “Drive” is a good thing, even for a roll-thrower. ¬†I think that Tom Brady figured in there somewhere, and, at some point, I think I may have used the point to illustrate a general difference between, ahem, Democrats and Republicans…I think. ¬†Not sure.
¬† ¬† ¬†A short time after the conversation, an add on the radio reminded me that it was King’s Birthday weekend, and I cracked a smile: From memory, so I’ll paraphrase: “throw rolls so well that years from now people will pass your house and say ‘there lived the best roll-thrower’…” ¬†I guess I’m in good company. ¬†ūüôā

More outgoing!

Artillery outbound

A reader sent me the below email, which is currently enroute to the senator’s inbox.¬† Outstanding!¬† Again, the senator’s email is:   Drop him a line!

Greetings Senator Raptakis,

I am moved to write to you because I have recently been made aware of legislation you support to make the leaving of children unattended in automobiles a criminal offense. ¬†Although I understand that your support of this legislation may be motivated by a sincere desire to protect our youth (certainly a noble and important goal) I fear you are falling into line with a large portion of our society that, driven by fear and paranoia, is radicalizing child protection to an extent that the traditional role of parents in child rearing is truly threatened.Your proposed bill, as I understand it, would make it Illegal for parents (or any other adult) to leave a child seven or younger in an automobile unattended. If this is incorrect or if there is some other more nuanced interpretation concerning time limits or circumstances that I am unaware of I apologize and would ask that you provide me with a more complete explanation.¬† In the meantime I would like to continue with my comments and hope that you will receive them in the spirit they are intended.I too have concerns about the state of parenting in our society.Frankly I am alarmed at the number of stories generated by the media demonizing parents for making decisions that expose their children to “unacceptable dangers”. ¬†A case in point would be the recent incident in Wrentham Ma. which has led me to your name and the legislation you are supporting. ¬†I have read all the info that has been reported on this incident and see a pattern that is becoming all too familiar in our society. ¬†A stranger who was quite obviously completely unaware of what the situation actually was took it upon themselves to call 911. ¬†Besides the fact that 911 is to be used for Emergencies only (my reading of the circumstances make it fairly clear that no “Emergency” existed)we have to consider that because of this call a mother’s child was temporarily removed from her care and taken to a hospital,a woman’s ability to care for this child will now be called into question in a court of law and she will quite probably have several very difficult sessions with the local DCF which may very well affect her family and the lives of her child/children for an extended period of time. ¬†All this because a stranger who knew neither her nor her family, who had no idea why the car was there or where the parent may be or what the situation truly was, decided that an “Emergency” existed. ¬†When one considers the true established Facts of the incident I hope one would see what the real danger is in this situation.Unfortunately Senator Raptakis these types of stories are growing at an alarming rate. ¬†Children in cars, on the subway, walking home from school, playing on the beach are regularly being identified as children in “danger”. ¬†An increasing number of families are being embroiled in lengthy, expensive and Unnecessary legal actions that threaten their integrity, impugn their ability to care for their own children and most importantly, sustain the fiction that any parent who conducts their family life in a way that is inconsistent with the current popular, media driven conception of parenthood is endangering their children. ¬†The sad fact, a fact easily established by simply reading the true accounts of most of these incidents, is that there is rarely an “Emergency”. ¬† What we have in the vast, vast majority of these cases is a stranger of some description, who invariably has no idea what the real situation is, but takes it upon themselves to declare an”Emergency” and begin a process that can lead a good honest family into an true nightmare. ¬†Children acting in a perfectly safe and normal manner taken into custody by police. ¬†Parents handcuffed and hauled off the beach as criminals. ¬†Officials of some sort arriving at a families door and demanding access to their private family life. ¬†All unnecessary and all very dangerous. ¬†I would like to think I am exaggerating but the sad fact is that I am not.As I see it Senator the law you are supporting (and laws like it that would inevitably follow) will, ultimately, cause a a situation that is already dangerous to become catastrophic. ¬†It would be one more step in a process that would, given time, contribute to what I see as the complete breakdown of the traditional (and in my opinion correct) role of parenting in our society. ¬†Unfortunately, although the sentiment behind this law may be well meant, once in force it will take on a life of it’s own. ¬†The likelihood of any “Child Emergency” being discovered by a police officer, child safety officer or fire man is very small. ¬†In fact it seems to me the possibility of any “Trained and Qualified”official of any kind would ever be likely to discover the “Dangerous Situation” is minuscule at best. ¬†What is far more likely is that some untrained bystander with no training and no knowledge of what the situation may truly be will decide that “AS FAR AS THEY ARE CONCERNED” an emergency exists and that the appropriate action is to call 911. ¬†Given the already alarming frequency of this type of behavior without the support of “laws” I find the prospect of putting the force of law behind it absolutely frightening.¬† What I would ask Senator is that you take a little time to read about some of the incidents of child endangerment that have been covered in the mass media. ¬†Generally the most “sensational” aspects are covered because tha tis where the media lives but with just a little effort one may discover that these dangerous incidents are rarely what is advertised. ¬†In fact you will find that it is only in very rare cases that any danger exists at all.¬† Do we really want the government to be taking a role in the “daily” functioning of families under the guise of “We want to protect the children from danger?”. If that be the case maybe children should not be allowed to go in the water at the beach. ¬†Or maybe they should not be allowed in cars at all until age 10. ¬†Maybe it would be a ¬†good idea to ban children of age 12 or below from eating at McDonalds? ¬†These are all decisions that need to be made by parents. Some parents will be better at it than others but that is the way it has been for thousands of years Senator. ¬†Whether by design or by nature parents have been given the task of raising their children to the best to of their ability. I believe that our best bet is to support them in that effort even knowing they will sometimes make mistakes. Thank you very much for your time and patience.


Neil G. Bur

Outgoing rounds…


OK, so I wrote a long email to RI State Senator Ruptakis regarding his proposed legislation.¬† You can read it below.¬† I don’t exactly know how the links work, so you’ll have to cut and paste until I figure it out.¬† Let me know what you think.

Senator Ruptakis,

Good day, Sir, I hope this note finds you well. My name is Brian Wetzler, a retired military officer, and a stay-at-home dad for a 6-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter. You and I actually spoke at some length on the phone on Friday afternoon, Jan 8th, regarding legislation you are contemplating in the Rhode Island senate. I would like to thank you again for graciously sharing some of your busy time to speak to me about something we both clearly find quite important – legislation addressing parents leaving children in cars unattended. I understand that you intend to make it a punishable offense in RI for any parent, for any reason, to leave a child younger than seven-years-old in a car unattended. I am writing to express some personal and professional opinions in order to make my case for suspending this proposed bill.
Among other things, there are three critical weaknesses that I believe disqualify this bill as effective legislation. First, the apparent need for such a bill is heavily influenced by a growing cultural superstition that our children are in constant danger, even in parked cars, when it simply is not true. Second, the bill is blind with regards to parental intent, and will obliterate the rights of conscientious, capable parents, who make reasonable decisions based on the unique circumstances they encounter while caring for their children. Third, this bill, however well-meaning, will remain ripe for abuse, long after the ephemeral sensation of “feel good” legislation fades into history.
The timing of reintroducing this bill seems understandable, in light of the recent incident in MA, where a RI woman left her 8-month-old child in the car on a very cold day. I think we can all agree that an 8-month-old, unlike a five or six-year-old, is wholly dependent on external care for its welfare, and should probably not have been left alone in the manner that she was. In recognizing this particular distinction, however, we also must embrace the fact that no two children, or situations, are absolutely identical in the arena of parental decision-making. Also, despite what may have been an ill-advised decision, the facts of this case, and many similar cases, should not fall victim to distortion in the name of a pre-packaged narrative.
Luckily, the 10-minute episode in MA was far from being the near-tragedy that is being reported. It was, however, a perfect example of how, in cases like this, sensation trumps fact, outcomes are ignored, and judgment is swift and unflinching. In this particular case, the facts can be summed up this way: mom made a questionable decision, nothing happened, the child is fine. The headlines, however, focused exclusively on the fact that the temperature was freezing (outside, at least, but not in the car), implying that a baby was brazenly left in life-threatening cold due to wanton negligence, and would have met a tragic end, had someone not intervened to save this baby’s life. Not a single element of that media narrative is true. Not a single one. Rather, there were no negative outcomes; no harm was done; and, short of a complete aberration (e.g. Mom has a heart attack in the store), no harm was likely going to be done. The average viewer, however, could come away with only one conclusion: the mom was reckless, and a reasonable explanation for what she did could not possibly exist. Conversely, if a reasonable person were to examine the evident facts, the only conclusion possible is that the entire negative focus of the incident can survive only in the solitary and theoretical world of “something could have happened.‚ÄĚ Was it an advisable decision, on the mom’s part, to leave her child in the car in this case? Probably not. However, the only answer any of us can confidently give with the information we have is, “We don’t know enough to say.” This is hardly a platform from which to launch an invasive new law.

This was not a death-defying spectacle, nor a miraculous rescue event. Rather, it was a false alarm. During my 24 years of commissioned military service, my primary duty was as a search-and-rescue helicopter pilot for the U.S. Coast Guard where, one might say, I became an expert in managing fluid, dangerous, environments, where emotion was often at a life-and-death pitch. It was my job to look past the emotion, past the drama, and focus on the “real.” In my prior life, false alarms were a good thing: the “dead guy” in the boat was just sleeping; the rescue flare was just fireworks; the person drowning in the surf was an empty wet suit. We would ensure everything was OK, and fly home. We were happy nobody was in trouble. Not the case, it seems, with “kids in the car.” Even when a thinking, reasoning parent exercises prudent judgment in a given situation, he is often publicly excoriated in the wake of a completely false alarm. That is fertile ground for undue condemnation, and it invites bad law. False alarms stand in stark contrast to clear cases of negligence, in which a child is placed in predictable, demonstrable danger (heat stroke after hours in a hot car). There is a vital difference to be considered, and this proposed law would obliterate it. Our children simply are not in danger every single moment that we don’t have our eyes on them, even if they are sitting in a parked car unattended.
The MA story, and many like it, is about parental decision making. So, as one contemplates the passage of a bill that effectively usurps the most basic of parental rights – the power of parents to make informed decisions regarding the safety and welfare of their own children – it should not be in response to, or in consideration of, judgmental, inaccurate shock stories masquerading as news. If I were to propose a law that banned all harmful cleaning fluids from private homes, would that be an appropriate “what if” law? Could we ban plastic shopping bags and plastic wrap? Outlaw pools? Ban children from playing outside in their own yards without a parent? As we can see, the world of “what if” has no end. In fact, if we were serious about making an immediate impact on child safety, and saving thousands of lives, we would look directly at the single most dangerous place for children to be in the United States – in a moving car. Without fanfare or exaggeration, we can say with high confidence that the most dangerous thing that the RI mom did that day was to drive her daughter to that parking lot. So, how do we reconcile that? Ban kids from cars? Seems like the right thing to do. Arguments against?
At least one significant court of law has, finally, recognized the absurdity of “what if” law- enforcement. The New Jersey Supreme Court recently heard a case that involved a mom being prosecuted for leaving her child in a car unattended. Like the above case, the parent was competent, no harm was done, and no harm was likely. The court, in a 7-0 decision, reversed a lower court that had denied the mom a hearing to defend herself against charges of abuse. In its opinion, the Supreme Court clearly recognized that every case is unique, and that no blanket judgments can be applied to a decision-making process that, by its very nature, is fact-driven, and far more complex than simply “she left her kids in the car, she is guilty.” Your proposed bill would not survive a judicial review in New Jersey, but I can’t yet speak for RI. You can find some reporting on the NJ case at the below link.

Unfortunately, the phenomenon of “kids left in the car”, is just a singular element of a wider culture that seems to be wallowing in child-safety superstition and hysteria. Moms have actually been arrested for oversleeping, and allowing their children walk to school.

Mom Handcuffed and Arrested for Oversleeping While Son, 8, Walked Self to School

In another well-publicized case, a Maryland couple was charged for allowing their 10 and six-year-olds to walk home from the park.

In that case, the Meitivs may very well have been condemned by law enforcement, and child services, had the case not been championed on the international stage by outraged parents from around the world. The case also triggered a change to Maryland state law, and, for my part, opened my eyes to the ongoing erosion of parental rights in the United States. At this point, I do not fear for the welfare of my children in the traditional sense. I am, like many parents, more afraid of being targeted by agents of a culture that has seemingly lost its common sense. I leave you to contemplate whether your proposed law would add to, or assuage that fear.
We all must be extra careful when we write with archival ink. This law, if passed, will likely outlive my grandchildren. It took an international incident for Maryland law makers to come to their senses, and a Supreme Court ruling in New Jersey. During a recent interview, you said that this law will “send a message.” To whom, and what would it say? Perhaps it would be better to use a “message” instead, rather than create a law that will outlast the faintest echoes of any intended message, crafted for the moment. During our conversation, you said that “we’re not looking to go after the mom who leaves her kids in the car for three minutes to run into Cumberland Farms.” Granted, that may be your intention, and that is admirable. However, if we were to truly believe that the nuances of intention will actually translate to a fair, equitable, and reasonable application of this law, by those who apply it, we are not only sorely mistaken, we are foolhardy. In essence, this law will deputize citizen by-standers to harass and intimidate parents in situations that merit no policing, and where no emergency actually exists. However, that will matter very little once the 911 call is made. As we saw in MA.
The local police, in addition to opportunistic prosecutors, will inevitably see easy, publicity-worthy prosecutions in the offing. When one simply looks at what is happening in your very own chamber, we see political reality in action. Let us consider the “opportunity” to re-energize this bill. This opportunity is fueled by pure emotional appeal, using a case that has been misrepresented by the media, further skewed by other misinformation, and, after all, saw no harm done, and no legitimate threat to the well-being of the child. Basically, nothing happened. Yet, it is helping push this agenda forward. How is that? Do you, or anyone in the chamber (or any living politician anywhere), actually think that other law enforcement officials and bureaucrats, in other places, at other times, will not use this law to advance an agenda or prosecution that conveniently benefits a political or professional ambition, even though ‚Äúnothing happened‚ÄĚ? To believe otherwise is, at best, naive, at worst, it approaches legislative malpractice.
Will prosecutions always happen that way? Of course not. But, as I am sure you have witnessed, bureaucrats reach for the most effective weapon in their arsenal, and this law would be a very convenient and effective one in the wrong hands. Perhaps emotion-fueled, judgmental, angry hands. After all, the ‚Äúlives of children‚ÄĚ are at stake (or are they?). Unfortunately, the person wielding that weapon may not quite agree with your Cumberland Farms exception. And, ultimately, he won’t have to.
In a recent interview you mentioned that RI can fine and imprison someone for leaving a pet in the car, but “kids in the car” gets a verbal warning. You thought that was “crazy”, if I recall. Do you intend to use that fact as supporting evidence for why this newly proposed bill is good law? At the very least, the comment seems to imply that the two laws are somehow related or, perhaps, should be equitable in some way. The comparison is excellent as an attention getter, but that is all. Logic professionals would call it a “false comparison.” A pet law, and all its unique political dynamics, cannot educate a sensible consideration of a separate, stand-alone law that digs deeply into the covenant of parental rights in raising and caring for their own human children. The pet law has nothing to do, and should have nothing to do, with this process.
Genuine tragedies that result in harm to children move us all. As a professional rescuer, I witnessed too many of them. So, as a parent, I understand the intent of this proposed bill, and applaud you for trying to protect the most vulnerable among us. However, the law proposes a ‚Äúfix‚ÄĚ where no fix is necessary. It will not prevent, or even mitigate the damage done when a truly negligent parent makes a horrible decision regarding his children. Unfortunately, parents will make those decisions, and no legislation in the world can prevent it. Instead, this law will effectively raise every conscientious parent to the level of negligent, and leave him exposed to untold legal, familial, and financial chaos, at the hands of deputized citizens who dial first, and ask questions later. I believe it was General Colin Powell who said, ‚Äúone of the most difficult things about being a leader is knowing exactly when to do nothing, and then doing it.‚ÄĚ I sincerely hope that this bill is quietly put to rest, and replaced with common sense. Thank you very much for your time.

Best regards,
CDR Brian Wetzler, USCG (Ret.)

I know, let’s criminalize parents even more!

Mom arrested

Rhode Island state senator over reacts

Well, this was a predictable response to the recent incident of a Rhode Island woman leaving her 8-month-old child in the car for 10 minutes while she ran into a shop in Massachusetts (see my post, “More Kids in cars”). ¬†The sensational headlines focused exclusively on the fact that the weather was “freezing”, and that it was “one of coldest days of the year.” ¬†Missing from all but one report I read was the simple fact that the inside of the car was toasty warm, that the kid was dressed in a snowsuit, and that he was warm enough to be sweating rather than freezing to death.

Well, I actually called and spoke with Senator Raptakis yesterday. To his credit, the senator was gracious with his time, and we had a pleasant 15-minute conversation about the topic. ¬†I tried to gently explain that his proposed bill would, on its face, equate every competent, reasoning parent, who is making measured, situational decisions about the safety and welfare of his children, with those who are guilty of genuine neglect and abuse. ¬†The kids are in the car alone – you’re guilty. ¬†This is simply not good law. ¬† He said that this law would “send a message.” ¬†To whom? ¬†And what would it say? ¬† Ostensibly, I suppose it would have to say, simply “don’t leave your kids in the car, ever.” ¬†When I asked about reasonable parents leaving their kids in perfectly safe circumstances to run into the store, etc., he responded¬†with¬†“I’m not looking to go after every mom who leaves her kids in the car for three minutes while she runs into Cumberland Farms. ¬†(Note: I had to chuckle at his reference to Cumberland Farms…so New England!). ¬†But this woman in Massachusetts left her kid in a freezing car for more than 45 minutes, while she went on a shopping spree.” ¬†Before continuing, I had to point out that¬†every news source I had seen was reporting something completely different, and that security camera footage had confirmed that the woman was away from the car for less than ten minutes, he paused. ¬†I also mentioned that the kid was bundled-up and sweating. ¬† He said he had heard differently, and would look into it.

The point is this, HE may not intend to go after the Cumberland Farms moms, but that won’t be his decision to make. ¬†HE won’t be going after the moms. That would be the officially-empowered busy-bodies, the local police, and over-zealous prosecutors who see easy prosecutions, and populist victories, for the forces of “child protection.” ¬†If the senator thinks that the nuances of his bill, and his selective attentions as to whom would be targeted, will translate into practice, he is sorely mistaken. ¬†Bureaucrats reach for the most effective weapon in their arsenal, and he would be handing them a really good one. ¬† Forgetful parent makes it to the store with only three of her four kids…immediately returns to the car? ¬†Doesn’t matter. ¬†Two minutes to drop a letter in a mailbox? ¬†Doesn’t matter. He would be taking the decision out of the hands of parents, and handing that decision to the government…one that clearly cares more about our children’s safety than we do.

It seems all the more ludicrous when you simply look at what is happening in his very own chamber! ¬†He is jumping on this “opportunity” to push through this law (which he tried to push through last year as well), based on a purely emotional appeal, using a case that has been misrepresented by the media, further skewed by his own misinformation, and, after all, involved no harm done, and no legitimate threat to the well-being of the child! ¬†Does he, or anyone in his chamber, actually think that other bureaucrats, in other places, at other times, will not use his law to advance a similarly sensational, ridiculous, hollow, inaccurate appeal in order to push through a prosecution to further their political or professional ambitions? ¬†Can you disagree with that with a straight face? How long have you been around politics? ¬†Is that your final answer?

He invited me, and anyone else who has something to say about this, to send him an email with all the information and input that we care to pass. ¬†I am constructing that email right now, and will post it in the comments here when I send it. ¬†Meanwhile, I invite YOU to call or email the senator’s office yourself. ¬†Here is the contact information:

Rhode Island State Senator Leo  Raptakis (D):

Email: ¬† ; PH (direct): 401-397-2720 (be ready, he answers his own phone). Debby Cook (Executive Assistant): 401-276-5567. ¬†Both phone numbers are verified, but I haven’t used the email yet.

OK, go forth and love your kids!

Brian W.

Break out the Waterford


So, after dinner tonight, Carson looked over at our china cabinet and asked, “can I look at one of those?”. “Those” being a collection of Waterford crystal flutes, goblets, snifters, etc. ¬†Of course, the stock answer to a 6-year-old would be “uhhh, no.” Perhaps it was that very fact that made me hesitate. ¬†After a moment or two, I said “sure.” Sydney (5), sensing a great opportunity at hand, quickly joined in, “can I look too!?” ¬†So, the next 10 minutes or so found us sitting on the floor, passing the crystal back and forth, plunking each of them with our fingers to hear the different ringing sounds, and even clunking them together gingerly in a few “cheers” practices. ¬†We also pulled out the ice bucket, which was like a giant bell in the crystal orchestra. ¬†It was a complete blast. The kids were great, and they were as gentle as I can imagine a five and six-year-old could be.¬† I never said the stuff was “expensive.” Instead, I simply told them: ¬†“These are very special gifts from Mimi (my mom), and they are from Ireland.” Ohhhhhhh…wow. ¬†They thought that that was just awesome. ¬†Their competence in handling this stuff was no fluke, by the way. ¬†They have always been given wide latitude to practice their “gentleness” with genuinely fragile things…even stuff in stores. ¬†I know they can do it, and I let them do it. ¬†Does that make me crazy? ¬† So, I would invite anyone who may be reading this to reconsider his answer when tempted to deliver the automatic “no” to a “crystal question.” ¬†Now you know that even a five-year-old can do it! ¬†ūüôā


A Guest Post!

standing ovation

Well, well…what do we have here?¬† A guest post!¬† Yes, indeed.¬† This arrived today, along with permission to utilize it (or not) in any manner I saw fit.¬† I see fit to post it here!¬† Thanks so much for taking the time to join the discussion.¬† The essay is in response to¬† Christine Coppa’s recently published piece in the Asbury Park Press – Moms and Dads, can We Talk About Stranger Danger?¬†¬†¬†

My very first post on this blog (Stranger Danger Craziness) discussed the same article.  So, if you want the full story, so to speak, read the article, take a look at my post, and then read below.

As all three of my previous emails to Christine have gone unanswered, I assume my fourth will as well.¬† I’m about to send it.¬† I think it’s only good manners to let her know that another writer has taken up her topic.

OK, without further adieu,  here is the unedited text.  Enjoy!


I would like to thank you Mr. Wetzler for starting this blog and for addressing a problem that has become, in my opinion,epidemic in our society and our culture. ¬†Fear in parenting…how could this possibly become the norm in an endeavor that for millennia has been the joy and the sustaining bright light in the lives of billions upon billions of people? ¬†Articles such as this by Miss. Coppa go a long way towards explaining how an entire¬†generation of parents is learning to turn the joyous adventure of childhood (for parents as well as children) into a fear driven world of paranoia and suspicion.I’m sure Miss. Coppa is sincere in her feelings and may truly believe that the advice she is advocating is the best way for parents in the modern world to protect their children from danger,and for her to protect Jack from all the evil that is lurking around every corner. ¬†What she has obviously not considered at all is the world that these children will live in as adults. ¬†If we, as children,are taught to trust no one, to be suspicious of all strangers, to run and scream when we feel fear then we will grow up to be adults that believe these things, in great measure, to be truths. ¬†How would we learn to trust friends? work associates? doctors and nurses for that matter? ¬†Even worse we would consider it wrong to offer help or assistance to¬†a child in need¬†ourselves because¬† this behavior, by her¬†thinking, would be reason to have someone call the police and¬†have us¬†hauled away as some sort of dangerous weirdo. ¬†Do any¬†of us really want to live in a world where distrust, fear and skepticism¬†have¬†replaced trust, charity and optimism?¬† Are there dangerous people out there? ¬†Of course there are, they have always been there and they will always be there and we should do everything in our power to see they do no harm to us or ours. ¬†But the plain fact of¬†the matter is that the vast majority of people we, and our children, encounter every day are good honest people. ¬†In Miss Coppa’s bio it said she was a researcher. ¬†Well by my estimation she is either a very bad¬†one or a very dishonest one. ¬†She went to great pains to bring up some of¬†the more lurid abduction cases reported in the media over the last few years but either made no¬†effort or purposely neglected to bring up any of the thousands of documented cases from recent history where a “stranger” or onlooker assisted an adult or child in distress or actively prevented harm from coming to an adult or child. I must ask the question, ¬†If Jack were in real imminent danger would Miss Coppa prefer a stranger, even if he was “an older man in dirty jeans with unkempt facial hair” to ignore the situation or to do his best to help out? ¬†She also went out of her way to mention a movie called “Room” which is a “fictitious” story that seems to support some of her points. ¬†Here again, if we are going to bring “fictitious” movies into the discussion do I even have to start listing the candidates for best heroic stranger in a movie?¬†In any case I don’t see how fiction does much to advance this discussion¬†even if it illustrates a point we wish to make.¬† Of course Miss. Coppa is just an other agent of a media¬†machine that preys on fear and glorifies disaster because it is good for their business. ¬†Anyone that watches the news regularly knows that the news is always bad. ¬†Can anyone truly say they remember the last time¬†the lead story of their local six was about a great act of kindness or benevolence? ¬†Maybe some of you can but most of us probably not.With modern technology allowing the media to be omnipresent in our lives I think it is more important than ever to seek out information on our own in order to keep a clear view of what the real truth is. ¬†In this case the truth is born out by facts. ¬†Our children are safer than they have ever been. ¬†Does¬†that mean we should ignore possible dangers?Of course not! ¬†It means¬†that our children have a greater opportunity than ever before to live a safe adventurous childhood that will serve to make them good people and allow them to live a life where trust, fellowship and¬†love trump fear paranoia and distrust. Teach them well, that is your job.

More kids in cars

8-month old left in car

All right, I’ll lead this off by saying that I would likely not have left my 8-month-old in the car in this scenario. ¬†That’s a parenting call. However, because this mom chose another path, does that automatically make her a criminal? ¬†No. ¬†To play devil’s advocate for a minute, it appears that this is yet another case where the authorities seem to look right past the facts at hand and play “what if?” ¬†The reporters and police make a big deal out of the fact that it was freezing outside, but what was the temperature inside the car? ¬† I didn’t see or hear anything about that.

Also, did you see how the cop on camera directly links this incident (where nothing happened) to an overarching: “kids should never be left in cars, even in good weather.” ¬†That’s simply not true. ¬†This is the exact point where parental judgement enters into the equation, and where folks like this police officer seem to just cover their ears and say “nah, nah, nah, nah, I’m not listening.” ¬†If I were a reporter interviewing this officer I would certainly have asked about the temperature inside the car when the mom returned. ¬†To which he would likely reply with something like: ¬†“Well, if much more time had gone by, the internal temperature would have dropped to a dangerous level..”

Yeah, but it didn’t!

That’s the point. ¬†The mom planned to be back in a reasonable amount of time, and she was. ¬†She made a judgement call, and, without the intervention of a busy-body, all would have been well. I also have to ask this. ¬†Did the busy-body think to try and locate the parent? ¬†Did she enter any stores and have them announce the license plate number? ¬†Did she try to ascertain anything at all before she dialed 911? ¬†I’m guessing, based on the timeline, that the woman encountered the child only moments after the mom had departed, and dialed almost immediately. ¬†Why not wait for a minute to see what happened? ¬†Perhaps I’m the crazy one, but does anyone even take a moment to evaluate the situation before calling the police? ¬†And why the police, by the way? ¬†(I’ll have a whole post on “the police”, coming soon). ¬†I would really like to hear some opinions on this one.