The other day, I wrote a meditation on Lenore Skenazy's Free Range Kids in which I compared the plight of American mothers to what it must have been like to live in East Germany. I said:
It seems to me that the object of control of all this anxiety is not children, but rather their parents, specifically their mothers. And what Skenazy describes is a three-decades-long process of de-liberating their mothers by insisting that anyone too young to get a driver's license needs direct adult supervision at all times. Further, though Skenazy tries to deal with this cheerfully, there is a kind of police-state-like enforcement of this de-liberation which reminds me of what it might have been like to live in a place like the German Democratic Republic (except that you don't get shot): every one is watching you and anyone can report you to either the authorities or the media at any time. Something innocent can bring Child Protective Services or a Nancy Grace to your door at any moment.
People can and do call the cops on their neighbors for allowing a 9-year-old to leave the yard, and in this day-and-age the police take this seriously. Off-handed and inaccurate statements by children can be used to incriminate the parents. If anything about you makes the parents of your kids' playdates nervous, beware. Someone may make an example of you.
. . . and went on to say . . .
Skenazy is tough and brave and I wish she lived in my neighborhood, but she does not offer much of a solution for the problem of overzealous adults: For American mothers today, to quote Jean Paul Sartre's No Exit, L'enfer, c'est les autres (Hell is other people).
This morning, I happened to look at my blog's Sitemeter before heading off to a Church sale, and I noticed that for some reason that this post had suddenly attracted a huge amount of traffic, though I couldn't tell why.
Now I know what's up. I went over to Skenazy's blog and read about what the Wall Street Journal is calling . . . [drum roll, please] . . . "The Madlyn Primoff Incident."
From the WSJ:
Madlyn Primoff, a 45-year-old mother of 10- and 12-year-old daughters, couldn’t take their squabbling anymore as she drove them on Sunday through a commercial part of White Plains, N.Y., in suburban Westchester County. She ordered them out of the car and drove off. The 12-year-old somehow managed to catch up with Ms. Primoff and get back in, but the 10-year-old, lost and frightened, was found by someone on the street and taken to the police. Ms. Primoff, who had called her town’s police to report her daughter as missing, was directed to the White Plains police, who arrested her on a charge of child endangerment. She has pleaded not guilty.
(John Edwards III, writing for the WSJ, even compared her to Skenazy!)
I seem to have been prophetic. Primoff's parenting transgression, about ten miles from my house, which should have been something for her family, Child Protective Services, and a therapist or three to hash out, has become the Bad Mommy Perfect Media-storm. She's suddenly being treated like the next Andrea Yates over something that is basically none of our business.
Not only did her family's difficult afternoon make the Wall Street Journal, it made The New York Times, ABC, the TimesOnline, USA Today, Fox News (God help her!), MSNBC, etc. And the ever-classy Lower Hudson Journal, managed to weave Primoff's story into an article entitled, "Police: Cortlandt mom used daughter, 12, to shoplift."
The press ran around with TV cameras, and got her neighbors to condemn her, published her mug shot world-wide, and have in essence branded her a Mama bin Laden: a mother terrorist.
And some of the bloggers are , if anything, worse. I found one guy, with a fetish for child abuse stories, who posted her address and a Google map showing how to get to her house. He also published the name of her employer, her office address, and the names of some of the law firm's clients. (A sick man, if you ask me.)
Listen people, the Baader-Meinhof gang used to have to rob a bank and hold the guards hostage to get this kind of coverage. This is a private matter which should be reolved privately, and is none of our business.