Off they go

As the mom of three kids, I know what it is like to say good-bye. All three have left home, they have lives of their own that don’t revolve around Mom and Dad anymore, and my husband Eric and I had to stand back and let them go. That’s what kids are supposed to do, right?

This week, I had a different kind of good-bye. My folks, who have lived a mile from my house for the past nine years, moved back to my hometown of Forest Lake.

Almost 10 years ago, they decided to hunt for a house on a lake. My little clan of Wettschrecks had moved to Avoca in 1995 after Eric got out of the service, and my parents had visited often enough to know they liked the area. They moved from Forest Lake, found a beautiful house on Lime Lake and happily settled into town. Dad ended up on the city council and the fire department, Mom worked part-time at a dollar store in Slayton and got to know everyone in the area, and they made a lot of great friends.

It was great for my kids, because having Nana and Poppy down the road was handy. My mom brought food to school play practice, prompting half of Maggie’s class to refer to her as Nana, Poppy took Matt to get his cast removed because Mom and Dad had to work. When Nick got sick at the fair, it was Nana and Poppy to the rescue. They attended plays, provided a handy ear to a complaining kid, dropped off treats and volunteered in the community.

As the kids got older, some roles reversed.

“Go help Poppy move rocks,” or “Run these tomatoes over to Nana” were easy things to say.

I got in the habit of calling my mom from the grocery store to see if she needed anything, and some days she would call me before I left work.

“Are you going to stop anywhere on the way home?” she would ask. “I’m out of Skittles.”

I was there within moments when my dad had a heart attack, and helped him bully my mom into going to the hospital when she became sick. Turns out her appendix had burst. Eric was used to running over when Dad was putting in his dock or ready to launch his boat. Dad was used to stopping at our place when he needed to escape from Mom, and unbeknownst to him, she was usually on the phone with me tattling by the time he showed up.

It was just part of life. After living so far apart for so many years, they were part of my daily routine again.

They warned me when they moved in they would only stay a couple of years. After the first five, I pretty much forgot about that warning, even when they announced they were putting their house up for sale.

On Tuesday, I stood in front of a house that was no longer theirs and said good-bye. It was really tough. I cried.

I know they are all grown up and ready to be on their own, but I want them here where I can keep an eye on them. I had to let my children go, but I think it is perfectly fair to expect my parents to stay close by.

As I drove away, Eric called. His timing is so uncanny, sometimes I feel like he lives in my head with me.

“Are you sad?” he asked, and hearing that I was fighting tears, he admitted he had a hard time saying good-bye the night before.

“It’s just you and me now, Mama,” he said, making me laugh.

Yikes. At least I still have the dog to run interference.

An eye-opening experience

I guess I’ve known for quite a while what the statistics show in regard to child sexual abuse, but never has that figure hit home the way it did after I attended a Poynter Institute seminar in Florida regarding a crime that is now being termed an epidemic.

According to research by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused by the time they reach the age of 18. Pondering these numbers, I think most of the 35 or so people at the seminar looked around the room, wondering how those statistics translated to the group. I can honestly say each and every person in that room has been affected by child sexual abuse, partly because of the figures and partly because it was a room mostly comprised of reporters who cover crime and courts.

What makes those numbers even scarier is that it is believed only 12 percent of child sexual abuse is reported to authorities.

While attending the seminar, it didn’t take long to realize I was from the smallest media venue. I was among reporters who have newsroom populations of 30 to 200, in cities like San Francisco, Calif., Salt Lake City, Utah, St. Louis, Mo., Las Vegas, Nev. and Phoenix, Ariz. There was a reporter there from Puerto Rico, a freelancer from Alaska and a health correspondent from the Times of London.

I was surprised to learn I had been chosen to attend the event after applying for a grant to do so through the McCormick Foundation. I wondered, after seeing some of the large papers and news stations represented at the seminar, if I would have much to contribute and realistically have the same experience in covering child sex abuse that those from the larger venues had gained.

Sadly, I do.

In the eight years I’ve covered crime for the Daily Globe, there have been numerous reports of child rape and abuse that cross my desk. Each one is heart-breaking, and making the decisions on which to cover and which to leave alone has been a tough call on my part. How do we educate the public if they aren’t aware of how prevalent this crime is, but how do I safely shield the identity of a child who has been raped by a parent, step-parent or family member if charges are filed and the name of the accused is released?

It was interesting to note that all of the reporters in the room struggle with the same issue, as well as what language to use. One of the speakers, a sex abuse victim advocate, wants the media to use more graphic language in an effort to make a big point. Forget about people getting sick over their breakfast, she told us. People need to know.

I agreed with some of her statements, but not all of them. An attorney from Boston, Mass., she wasn’t as informed as she thought about every law in every state. Her points, though valid, were not always justifiable.

I have had people whine about wanting more details in some criminal sexual conduct cases, and I tend to find them creepy and sad. Most people go the opposite direction and don’t want to know, or simply can’t handle the truth. I find the ones who can’t handle it rather sad also. If a grown-up can’t handle reading a sanitized version of such a crime, how are they supposed to turn around and talk to others, especially their own children, about what to guard against, what to look for and what to report? How can a child tell a parent that something happened if the words for basic body parts are treated as secret, dirty or something that makes everyone uncomfortable?

Only about 10 percent of child sex abuse cases involve a stranger. Most perpetrators are family, friends, acquaintances. Coaches, youth leaders, daycare providers, teachers – they come from all walks of life, and are sometimes the respected names in the community. Most habitual offenders find ways to keep themselves surrounded by children, like Jerry Sandusky.

One of the most interesting quotes from the seminar, in my opinion, came from Sara Ganim of the Patriot-News in Pennsylvania. Ganim, who broke the original Sandusky story after a long, difficult investigation, was asked how hard it was to handle the sad facts of child sex abuse and rape.

“I’ve written the Sandusky story a couple of dozen times,” she said.

I know what she means, as did every reporter in the room. We’ve all written the story of an adult in an authority position preying on children. Even here, in Smalltown, U.S.A., child sex abuse exists.

Until we are all ready to “handle it,” it will keep happening.

A representative from the Center for Communicable Diseases called child sex abuse an epidemic – one that touches big cities and small towns, and again, will affect one in four girls and one in six boys before they turn 18.

Eye opening, isn’t it?

Layla’s first Parenteau 4th of July Bash

I think it is safe to say that the fireworks display was not my granddaughter’s favorite part of the annual Parenteau 4th of July Bash. At six months old, the noise proved to be bit too much after two long days of travel, new people and strange environment, especially with two new teeth trying to poke their way through her tender little gums.

Part of it is my fault. Layla was sleeping soundly in my niece’s bedroom when I pulled her out of her travel crib, changed her clothes and carried her outside. She was slightly amazed at being outside in the dark, but unhappy with me for waking her up. Mosquitoes buzzed around us as we settled into a chair next to Grandpa and waited for the show.

The first big BOOM shook the night, she stiffened like a little Layla-shaped board and sucked in her breath. As a beautiful display lit the night, she let out a mighty roar and tried to climb into my skin. I ended up getting up and turning away from the noise, so she could still see the sky and the lights. She settled down and quit wailing, but was giving me some very accusatory looks during the whole thing. Her little lashes were wet, her chin quivered and she occasionally buried her face in my neck, but always ended up looking back up at the sky.

Other than that and the teething issue, I think she had a great time. The Parenteau Bash is a family tradition that has grown to encompass plenty of friends. It goes back a long ways, and has shifted locations several times. My brother Chris and his wife Lara are the current hosts, and they throw one heck of a party. It is a family affair, though, and requires participation from a lot of people. We deep fry turkeys the night before, family friend Dave Faymoville cooks up pork loins each year, and lots of people bring food to share.

This year, the party also included a graduation celebration for my niece Kiki, who earned herself a free ride at Southern Utah University with her amazing gymnastic talents. To cap things off, she and my son Matt won this year’s horseshoe tournament, going head to head with last year’s champs for the third year in a row, but finally coming out on top. It was a close thing, with them down by a few points when my brother (Kiki’s dad) threw a ringer that would have won the game. Kiki threw a ringer that topped his, and brought her and Matt to victory. That means the traveling trophy (yes, there’s a trophy) will spend half the year in South Dakota with Matt, and half the year in Utah with Kiki before heading back for next year’s tourney. My daughter Maggie was so pleased, she announced she is getting married under the darned thing.

Layla had a great time being adored by lots of people, and my great-niece Jordy, who is almost 4 years old, announced that the two of them were sisters and best friends. Layla got to ride a golf cart, tasted all sorts of things her parents probably shouldn’t know about, rolled around on the grass and smiled at everyone. She even, with help from my niece Megan, got to take a swing at the piñata. The sight of my son Nick, all gothic and sporting a Mohawk, carrying a patriotic-dressed chubby baby isn’t one I’ll forget soon.

Watching my brothers, their kids, my awesome sisters-in-law and so many friends work to make such a great party was super. I really love my loud, crazy, quirky family.

A dreaded question

Through a rather weird set of circumstances, I ended up bringing my husband Eric with me to the grocery store twice in one week. He’s a horribly impatient shopper, so it is something I generally try to avoid.

He doesn’t understand the difference that one brand over the other can make. He doesn’t get that even if I’m in the place for three items, I have to cruise the aisles for sales. He has no idea what is acceptable to pay for a loaf of bread or package of brats. No concept of a huge discount when buying in bulk. And he sneaks junk into the cart when he thinks I’m not looking.

In other words, I don’t grocery shop with him because he makes me crazy.

But I had to laugh when I stopped at the grocery store in Slayton the other day. He ended up on the tough end of unloading the cart, because I noticed a sale on pasta at the last minute and left him to his own devices for no more than 45 seconds. He unloaded the items in our cart, then ended up on the confusing end of things.

Not the money end. I got there in time to pull out the debit card before he got cranky. But as we walked out the door, he made a comment that made me laugh, because I have written about this in the past.

“Did I do the right thing?” he asked as we walked out with the bags or groceries.

“What?” I responded, wondering if I should go back for more pasta. The little rings that make such good salad, you know. Especially with tuna and the little peas that get caught up in the pasta loops.

“I had no problem when the pastor asked me if I took this woman to thee wed,” he said, totally losing me.

“What?”

Even after being married for forever, he can still derail my train of thought with a strange remark.

“I said yes right away, with no hesitation,” he said. “But the kid asked me if I wanted paper or plastic and you weren’t there so I said paper. I’m not sure if I gave the right answer. It’s a really hard question. Did I do the right thing?”

I walked out of the store laughing.He was comparing marrying me to choosing bags.

He didn’t question marrying at age 18, having three babies by age 23, moving across the country several times in the service, buying a house in a town we’d never been in after looking at it for an hour or throwing a wedding for our oldest kid in our back yard in a few months, but is baffled over whether we need more paper bags or plastic bags in the house.

It would be easier to make fun of him over this if I wasn’t by his side for all of those decisions, yet still got flustered over the same question. He makes calls every day that could cost thousands of dollars if he screws up and I choose the words that go into a newspaper article regarding some very serious subjects.

Yet the “paper versus plastic” thing gets us every time.

Seriously bugged

I had a day off on Tuesday, partially because of the 14-hour day I put in on Monday, so I spent the day messing around with various chores. I stopped and picked up the shoes I had abandoned at Slayton Shoe Repair a couple of weeks ago (sorry about that, Leroy), ran to the grocery store for one thing and came out with two bags full of stuff, then headed back to Avoca.

Once there, I stopped to visit with the city clerk about the Avoca Veterans Memorial and the latest fundraising efforts for its construction, then headed home (which is a whole two blocks from the city office). I did a few quick household chores, then decided it was time to get some weeding done in the garden.

This year, my husband Eric and I planted stuff far enough apart that he can still get the tiller between plants for quite a while. So while the weeds were under control between rows, there was some weeding that needed to be done right around the plants. We also planted our peas, cucumbers and squash along fence so the plants can climb, and those all needed to be cleaned up.

After visiting with my neighbor for a bit about ways to fancy up a buffet-style taco bar, I headed out to the garden. I started pulling out weeds, singing to myself and chatting with the dog, who was lying nearby and didn’t look inclined to help. Every now and then I would swat at a bug, but nothing that seriously bothered me too much.

Then I noted the tractor that pulled into the field behind my house. It was pulling a sprayer and some kind of chemical was being distributed onto the field. I didn’t give it much thought until the swarm hit. I’m not sure if the spray chased all the bugs out of the field or what, but yikes!

I was diligently weeding away when I was suddenly enveloped in a huge ball of blood-thirsty, evil bugs. Within seconds, I was bitten about 96 times. Mosquitoes were buzzing and biting my neck and ears, and those nasty little biting flies had attacked my ankles. It was a serious assault.

I tried valiantly to finish the row of peas I was weeding, but I just couldn’t. Someone watching me from off would have thought I was doing some strange dance in the middle of the garden, but it was really just me struggling to put my shoes back on while swatting a bazillion  bugs. Then I broke rank and ran for the garage.

The following morning I was one big welt. I have itchy bug bites on my neck, ears, arms, legs, chest and back. Even my toes itch at the moment.

I really hate being bugged.

Politickin’

Normally I’m not a fan of politics, because I feel that most politicians are so caught up in a certain party that they forget they are supposed to be representing actual people, and I find this irritating.

But I watched with interest as a lot of people filed for the various seats at the county commissioner level, which in Minnesota, doesn’t require a political affiliation. I’ve always heard a saying about not being able to complain about a problem unless you were ready to step up and be part of the solution, and I guess a bunch of people took that to heart this time around.

Either that or they were so impressed by the amounts of money all these people were making in office that they decided to jump on board that gravy train. Hard to say.

I think there are a lot of politicians who have good intentions when they start out, but something about putting them collectively in one place brings out the wheeler/dealer in them, lowers their IQ or they start bickering donkeys versus elephants and suddenly lack the sense or ability to get anything done. In most careers, that would lose you a job. But not in politics.

It is a shame, really, because for some reason, even though I’m not the political reporter, I seem to end up dealing with quite a few of them. And I like quite a few of them personally.

I just can’t seem to stem my disdain for the group as a whole, because after a while they all seem to blend together into one big politician. Or two, I guess – one Democrat and one Republican. Every single one of them starts out saying they won’t be a party person, that they’ll vote their mind and not their party. As far as I can tell, none of them really end up that way, because then they don’t get to keep their jobs. If their party doesn’t give them the nod for next time around, they don’t get elected again.

I have yet to hear an aspiring or already seated politician speak this election that does not mention party bickering, or the state shutdown, for that matter. I also have yet to hear one say anything that particularly inspires me to vote for one over the other, other than for personal reasons. Political rhetoric is just as active as the bickering, I guess.

I even told one guy he hadn’t said a single thing I hadn’t heard before. I told him I wasn’t moved by a thing he had to say.

“Convince me,” I requested.

He just repeated everything again. That didn’t work.

Other than an absentee ballot error when my husband was in the service, I have never missed the opportunity to vote. I know that every vote counts, in fact I wrote a story about it once when there was a one-vote separation between candidates in a local primary.

But sometimes, after listening to all the mudslinging, the name calling, the partyline blabber and the rhetoric, a person has to seriously wonder if a bunch of the system doesn’t need revamping. I’m thinking a Jell-O wrestling competition or geometry bee. Or both.

Way to go, humans

I received a letter today from a woman who organized a fundraiser for Renee Giefer, who had a kidney and pancreas transplant in December. She let me know that almost $15,000 was raised to help Renee and her husband Jerry with the expenses involved in such a traumatic surgery. Wow!

A few minutes after I read the letter, I had a visit from Worthington Police Officer Jacki Dawson, who informed me that the Cop on Top fundraiser for Special Olympics Minnesota raised more than $9,200. She had set a goal of $7,500. Awesome!

It is overwhelming to know how generous people can be. In a time in our lives when the economy is weak and people are cutting costs where ever possible, they still have the heart and soul to donate to those in need and support causes they feel are important.

It makes me downright proud to be part of the human race. Way to go, humans.

It is interesting that both of these fundraisers had a way to touch my heart. I have a daughter who has a chronic kidney disease and could likely need a transplant someday, and I used to be a Special Olympics coach. Knowing that there are people out there who care enough about others to maybe sacrifice something they want in order to support something they believe in is a great feeling.

When you spend your day researching and writing about theft, burglary, drugs, selfishness, assault and violence, hearing about acts of kindness is a bit of a balm to the soul. And since I generally don’t get gratitude from the murderers, dealers, crooks and meth heads I write about (although I do get cranky phone calls and anonymous threats), it is nice to get a “thank you” now and then.

The ultimate “baby daddy”

All right, fair warning. I’m going to have a soapbox-kind of moment.

A story broke recently out of Tennessee about a man who is asking his county and state for help to pay for the support of his children. That is because 33-year-old Desmond Hatchett has 30 children with 11 different women. All I could think when I first saw this was, “Wow, someone didn’t pay attention in health class.”

Back in 2009, Hatchett held the county record for having the most kids. He had 21 children at the time and said in an interview he didn’t plan to have any more. If you ask me, not a lot of forethought went into the ones he had already fathered. Alas, the best-laid plans sometimes go awry, because he had nine more kids in the next three years or so. Do the math, and you’ll almost be impressed if you weren’t too busy being outraged.

He still holds the record, and there are no laws against fathering a gaggle of babies. Hatchett admitted to a reporter recently he had twice over the past few years had four children in the same year. Seriously, that’s not parenting – that is collecting. There’s a huge difference between having a large family – I know several people who have a family of 10 or more – and having a collection of illegitimate kids.

Now, you have to wonder what would possess a woman to look at this guy who had already fathered a couple kids from her and think to herself, “Yep, I’m going to hang out with him some more.” It isn’t like his litter of kids is a secret to any of them once they have participated once or twice in his lack of family planning.

I know pregnancy can be unexpected. In this case, I would think after the 16th or 17th child, unexpected is not the right word. “Likely” or “presumed” seems more fitting.

I wonder when the mothers of some of his children first started getting dismayed over the fact he was still adding to the herd. Did it take the one who rounded things up to an even dozen? The one who brought the number up to 20? Did those women ever look around the room at their children and think, “You know, I really ought to keep birth control on hand” or maybe occur to them to not sleep with him again? After all, the guy works a minimum wage job and turns half of it over to the birth mothers because the state says he has to. Some get less than $2 a month per child.

Think about the people who can’t have children, but would give everything they own to have a baby to love.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand the dynamics of family are changing, and that the word “family” isn’t automatically defined as a man, woman and child living together in perfect harmony. Families come in many shapes and sizes, and even people who have a baby but decide not to live as a couple can do a wonderful job at giving the child a safe, secure and loving environment. Single parents do a wonderful job at the same thing, and non-traditional families thrive all over the world. But a situation like this makes a mockery out of so much.

It also brings up something that bugs me. I really dislike the terms “baby daddy” and “baby mommy,” because I think having those titles accepted by society gives people a way to take a step back from the responsibility of being true parents, or being part of a true family. Blithely referring to a parent as a baby mommy or baby daddy like it is no big deal to unintentionally whip out a kid now and then seems irreverent and shallow. Like there was no love involved, just irresponsible gratification.

To be blunt, I think that people need to stop treating sex along the same lines they would treat a handshake. It isn’t an icebreaker or a way to get to know a person you’ve just met. It isn’t a greeting. There’s a responsibility that comes with it, just like there is for driving a car or holding a job. Would a prospective employer hire someone who had been fired 30 times? Would the state laws look away if a person caused 30 fatal accidents?

Some people may disagree, but I think when it became the norm for young women to run around having several kids by several young men without any kind of emotional commitment between the two, a lot of little lives are affected. There are 30 in Tennessee who seem to have come into the world with the odds stacked against them, simply because the two people who created them didn’t take personal responsibility for what they were doing.

Many people say having a baby is never an accident, and in this case, it certainly couldn’t be termed a surprise after Hatchett leapt over double digits as a father. Babies are a joyous thing, and I would imagine the one man and 11 women involved in creating these 30 kids have feelings for their children. Still, that doesn’t make it right.

A rowdy ruckus

Sunday night, after a hectic weekend of yard work, landscaping, gardening and welding, my husband Eric and I sat down to relax a bit. He jumped on the computer to talk to his Internet fishing buddies, and I picked up my Kindel to reread an old favorite book.

Then we were quite startled by the noise right outside our window.

Basically, think of the passage of the “Night Before Christmas,” when the couple was getting ready for a long winter nap, only it was Sunday and not December. There suddenly arose such a clatter, we were startled from our own little worlds to see what was the matter. There was screaming, yelling, fighting and all manner of ruckus. Banging on the windows and everything.

No, it wasn’t the beginning of the zombie apocalypse, we weren’t being invaded by killer tomatoes or marauding meth dealers. It was birds. There was a serious bird fight going on, and they were using the eaves of our house as their arena, tossing each other against the ropes and bouncing off the cedar siding. A birdie free-for-all.

Now, before I go any further in the story, I have to tell you about a running joke between me and my almost-son-in-law Luke. He likes words, so we generally get into a discussion about what words would be fun to work into crime stories. I actually got shenanigans into a headline once just for him. I have this whole list of silly criminal-type words in my head from our weird conversations.

So, sitting on the couch and listening to the bird version of the Sharks and the Jets during the big rumble, I told Eric, “Wow, quite the ruckus.”

“They’re all a bunch of hooligans,” Eric replied without cracking a smile.

Ah, challenge.

We went through comments about shenanigans, high-jinx, tomfoolery and capers, talking in all seriousness about the situation. Then he got me. I cracked like a nut and started laughing when he announced, “That’s just an awful lot of hoopla!”

I sure like him.

Three for three

I went three for three on Mother’s Day, which means I heard from all of my children. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to see any of them, but they all called to wish me a happy day. I didn’t feel too bad about it, since I had gotten the opportunity to see all of them a few weeks ago.

Kid 2, otherwise known as Nicholas, called first. I was out to breakfast with my husband Eric and my parents.

“Hey, Mom. What’s up?” he said when I answered the phone. He always says that. It’s his standard greeting.

We chatted a bit, and he thanked me for giving birth to him.

“Um, no problem,” I answered, because what else do you say to that?

We didn’t talk long, because he works nights and hadn’t been to bed yet.

After breakfast, Eric and I headed to the grocery store. While standing in the frozen food section contemplating ice cream flavors, Kid 3, also known as Matthew or Crayon, called.

“Heeeey,” he said. “Whatcha’ doing?”

Again, standard greeting. He asked what we were up to for the day, and said he was heading off to work in a little bit. He didn’t sound very enthusiastic about the idea.

We talked for a bit, and he thanked me for not letting him die over the past 19 years.

“Yeah, well, I did what I could,” I replied, deciding not to mention all the weird scars he carries from the times I didn’t catch him when he jumped or scoop him up before his bike/skateboard or swing/tree tossed him to the ground. I should have covered him in bubble wrap at birth.

While putting away groceries, Kid 1, Maggie, called.

“Hi Mama,” she said. Wow, I had seriously never noticed they each have their own special greeting for me every time I talk to them. “Happy Mother’s Day!”

“Happy Mother’s Day to you, too,” I said, then laughed. “That sounds way different when I say that back to you. Your brothers found it weird.”

Maggie was celebrating her first official Mother’s Day. She is such an enthusiastic, loving and down-to-earth mom, and Eric and I have enjoyed watching her first five months of motherhood.

She had made me laugh the day before by calling to inform me that my granddaughter Layla was in a “ridiculously good mood,” cooing, chatting and giggling at everything. She is so eager to share all of her own daughter’s accomplishments with us, which we find delightful.

Eric and I spent the rest of the day doing odd chores outside because it was so beautiful out, or just standing around soaking up sunshine and chatting.

All in all, it was a great day. I don’t get the macaroni necklaces anymore, or little hand-printed signs stuck up all over the house proclaiming it my day, but it was great to hear from all of my children. I’m glad they took the time from their often hectic lives to think of me and call.

They make me smile. Especially since they all moved out.