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the neighbor’s kids

For the past three weeks, our house has turned into a safe space for the neighborhood kids. It literally just kind of happened, so we’ve been giving them projects and positive reinforcement to keep them occupied. However, the problems that are occurring are very real and very much making me lose sleep at night. My heart is hurting. I’ve got 6 through 10 year olds talking to me about gangs and drugs and guns, telling me that knives are good for cutting people, and I don’t know how to approach this. We’re not trying to be the “nosy white folks” who go poking our noses around the parents houses (and God forbid I did and found that we had to call CPS) and I have a strong feeling that their home lives are providing more of that negative reinforcement. So what the hell do I do? Obviously the kids aren’t getting the attention they need or want at home, or they wouldn’t keep showing up here, but we can only mentor so much and provide so much positivity. We see where they’re headed, and it isn’t anywhere good.

Please help.

Surrogate Mom

The Rollergirl, with help from the Realistic Idealist says: A close friend of mine, idealistic and eager to give back to society, formed the only black Girl Scout troop in her local council, in an inner-city area (almost all the other troops were very suburban). She is writing a memoir about what happened—it’s a humorous memoir, as it happens, so we know there’s a more or less happy ending—with a lot of heartbreak and frustration along the way. But I repeated your question to her, since it made me think of all she has been through. Her take was that you should keep fighting the good fight: we are all members of this society, and if we want to reap its benefits, we must pitch in to improve it however we can. It’s not possible to change the lives of every young person who has come to you for help—and do remember that and take it to heart, or your heart will be broken too—but you at least can show them that there are other ways to live. And insofar as talk about drugs, violence, and gangs is concerned, a lot of kids talk the talk, because there is pressure to do so—it is cool to sound tough and dangerous. But generally speaking, nobody really wants to get shot or stabbed, or even do any shooting or stabbing themselves. It’s all a game until someone really gets hurt—just like kids anywhere. Not everything is as it seems: the gun-toting, robbery-committing, drug-dealing 15-year-old gang members she spoke to all deliberately shot to miss if they were forced to fire their weapons, because even they did not truly want to hurt anyone. Simply modeling an alternative is all you can do, and the odds are that if these kids see that there are other ways to be, even if they do not take that path, their lives will be the richer for it. Be careful and vigilant, since it is very difficult to know who really walks the walk and who just talks the talk, but be as kind as you can genuinely afford to be—knowing that what satisfaction you can get from doing the best you can is likely to be your only reward. This is the sort of thing Gandhi was talking about when he said you must be the change you wish to see.

The Practical Cogitator says: Is your house the Kool Aid house because you have kids, too? Or are these kids dropping by seeking a safe haven? Either way you need to set up some boundaries. How many crafts and snacks are you willing and able to provide? I can understand a few days a week all the kids can come by and have activity time and free play, but it needs to be time that you have available and are willing to attend to them. Let the kids know when they are permitted to come over and how long they may stay. Now, children ages six to ten have very interesting conversation and they have a lot of questions about the world around them. As long as you are kind and listening and straight forward with the children they will enjoy and respect you and your opinion. Not everyone is a gang member and not everyone cuts people with knives, some people whittle, and others use knives for cooking and cutting appropriate items. Bodily harm toward others is never acceptable and you can tell the children that. If you are concerned you may certainly talk to their parents, but I just don’t understand what your being white has to do with it...sounds to me as though your concern stems from being a concerned adult, not necessarily a concerned white adult.

the phew, the proud

I work in a small office with one restroom. There is no ventilation, and on occasion the odor can be downright abysmal. I have brought in Lysol, but some people haven’t gotten the hint. Any suggestions?



The Sales Guy says: Perhaps a can of bathroom air freshner designed for the task would work better than the caustic smell of Lysol, which, heavily applied, at times can be as bad as what’s masked.

Dining Out says: Perhaps there’s a more organic approach to masking this olfactory aggravating situation...scented candles, incense, potpourri. Or you can always opt for the old-fashioned girl scout method of lighting match sticks.

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