If These Old Walls Could Speak

23 Responses

  1. Jess says:

    Wow, Jocelyn. Just… wow.

    You’re my kind of neighbor. 🙂 I wish I lived next door.

  2. geewits says:

    That’s disgusting. I know from first hand experience that a blogger’s persona can be a complete fabrication. But for someone to have their tiny children traipsing around all day asking for food is really disgusting. I’m sorry you have to deal with that. I can only imagine how tiresome it is. I always like the idea of an anonymous letter. My husband had to do that with a guy a work that reeked of body odor and just pure old stank. It worked! Good luck.

  3. Lil says:

    OK, that’s just fucked. If you don’t want the responsibility of kids do what I did and don’t freaking have kids. It’s quite simple to arrange actually..

    Oh, and for the record, the fact that alcohol isn’t calorie free annoys the hell out of me too.

  4. We had a neighbor similar to what you described here for a little over a year or so. The family lived two doors up from us and had a young girl, about 10 years of age and a little one -a girl who was probably about 14 months old when they moved in. The little one was the older one’s responsibility 95% of the time although occasionally, one would see the father actually walking along the street with both kids in tow. Last year, the mother apparently got into some issues with the law that involved a friend of the parents spending the night there along with some teenage boy and somehow or other that second woman and the teenage boy were involved in an illicit act between a female and a male under the age of consent so I believe that other female ended up landing herself on “Megan’s Law’s List as a sexual offender. Then this spring things apparently went from bad to worse, as that family’s finances plummeted due to the father’s lack of steady employment and indulging in other illegal activities to the extent that by the end of June, their landlord had evicted them and now, that house sits vacant with a big old for sale sign out front. The owner of the house had to do a whole lot of fixing up of the place -massive cleaning followed by lots and lots of repairs and painting the entire inside, plus replacing some of the appliances too -work that gave my daughter and her boyfriend some fairly steady employment during the summer months. Last news on the former residents -couple are separated and the father made the news last week as he was listed in the paper & on TV too as our county’s “Fugitive of the Week” -having skipped out on a hearing for a DUI and a few other charges. When the family moved out, they left behind though a dog, chained to his house in the back yard and which two neighbor families fed said dog for over two weeks before the father’s sister finally appeared and took the dog and they also left behind a cat in the house that had two kittens -one of which fell out of an upstairs window and which my daughter saw and rescued and that little kitten is now growing fat and sassy here, chasing our dog around the place and occasionally responds to the name we gave her of “Pearl the PurrBall” because this cat purrs constantly -even when being bathed (with our dog as her tubmate!) Just sad no matter were these things happen or whether the kids get a little guidance or none at all though.

  5. kmkat says:

    Hmmm. I really, really like the idea of the anonymous letter signed by every family on the block (/s/ “Anonymous” scrawled in seven different inks and handwritings). It is tragic to think of those kids as teenagers and adults, grown up but not grown-ups, never having had the least instillation of social responsibility. If they make it that far. Social services? Child protection? I know they are always over-booked and often under-staffed, but it might be worth a try.

    You have my sympathies. But I really, really, really loved reading your writing. Martyrs have always been on my sh!t list, too — my mother was one but I managed (mostly) to triumph over that little personality quirk. #6 on your list, never venturing beyond narrowly prescribed boundaries to investigate what’s on the other side, has always baffled me. When Smokey and I were in the Naval Reserve and twice spent two weeks in Japan, there were a not inconsiderable number of personnel who never ventured outside the main gate of the base. I have no words to describe my incredulity at such behavior. How can people not say “Yes!” to life when it is offered to them on a platter?

  6. lime says:

    uh…let me echo the first commenter….wow….just wow. i am disturbed on so many levels. i am having flashbacks to some of my own black hat neighbors as an adult and as a child. i want to rattle those parents on your behalf…whether they are brilliant bloggers of heads of charitable organizations or not. i want to ask them about the incongruity of being a homeschool family, which i absolutely cannot wrap my head around since such a decision at best connotes wanting to do right by one’s children and taking their job as parents seriously enough to take responsibility for all the education provided, presumably because the parents can do a superior job to what is available locally. clearly, they ain’t doing that. at worst it is a decision made based on fear of “the world” contaminating one’s perfect progeny and it becomes such an inward and isolating thing…..and uh, well, that’s obviously not the case…except for the absentee parents. dark and ruinous indeed.

    • Jocelyn says:

      The thing is, dear Limey, they are only homeschooling the oldest, the boy. The middle girl is apparently repeating first grade now in the public schools, and the four-year-old started at a Montessori preschool this fall. So, when a family pulls only one of its children from the schools, that means…??? I have lots of conjecture. All I know is that he’s fundamentally a good kid–albeit fairly angry.

      • lime says:

        actually, i have said for many years that homeschooling is such an individual decision based on the family, local school situation, and the individual kids, that i can see different decisions made for different kids in the same family but that is presupposing decisions based on sound logic made by responsible parents….i think that scenario is precluded by your description.

  7. Has anybody called Child Protective Services? I certainly would–this is terrible and I feel so very sorry for those children.

    • Jocelyn says:

      Very good question, Jenn. Some of us have been trying to get CPS involved with another neglected kid who lives a couple of blocks away. He’s a hard case, in his own way. Small snippet from his life: his dad is a user and drug dealer who took a gun to someone in a public area a couple years ago; there was a citywide manhunt that ended up with the K-9 team racing through our yard, guns drawn. There were police with M-16s on every corner for HOURS that night. He was finally caught. And, you know, released on some technicality. At least the landlord told that dad he couldn’t come back to the house, or the whole family would be evicted. Since then, it’s never-stand-up mom and son there alone…with 8-year-old son walking the streets many afternoons during school hours. One neighbor has called him in as truant. Nothing has happened. When an equally-serious event to the manhunt happened a year before that, one other mom called CPS and was told there has to be lengthy documentation before action can be taken. So we all are watching with that kid.

      It seems like the BH family does enough right to keep within acceptable parameters. It’s just that my boundaries are tighter than those the CPS can enforce.

      • I hear you. When we had issues with a family down the street, I called CPS on every little thing–to create the paper trail. I also talked to the school and told them what we were seeing at home and asked them to report every little thing as well.

        Eventually, the kids were in foster care/group homes for a short time and the father was convinced to leave the alcoholic mother and move in with his own parents to get the kids back. It’s a much-improved situation.

  8. Maybe since everyone else in the neighborhood seems to agree, a couple of you could be deputized to go over and talk with the neighbors? Not in a “keep you kids the fuck off my lawn” way, but an “I wonder if you were aware…” sort of way. They may be genuinely unaware of how their kids are perceived. I do feel terribly sad for those children.

    (BTW, when you asked in a response to my comment on an earlier post if dickwad was a more acceptable term, I realized that I have never once uttered it. I do, however, say fuckwad, which I guess means the same thing.)

  9. Meg says:

    So, essentially, Clever Blogger BlackHat Mom had children in order to acquire cute props for photos? And NonProfit BleedingHeart BlackHat Dad cares more about the welfare of whomever his nonprofit serves than that of his own progeny? Shame, Shame, Shame! (in Gomer Pyle voice). Most every neighborhood has its slightly annoying, uninvited, unsupervised child or two hanging about, but usually there is a far more sympathetic back story. An intervention is urgently needed in order that both parents and children do not miss what little may at this point be salvaged of their family. I volunteer.

  10. Green Girl in Wisconsin says:

    Holy. Crap. I’m almost (ALMOST!) speechless after reading this. And dying to see the blog.
    We had similar neighbors, similarly disinclined to parent, and I’ll tell you, it took a neighborhood to help raise their kids. Then we moved and I watch these kids morph into teenagers and I keep wondering…
    And that house seems to carry a curse, no?
    Your instincts to keep the kids off your property is good, I’d be doing the same. It’s a safety thing, and a liability thing, and those parents need to clue in.

  11. pam says:

    Have been there many times, seeing dysfunctional parents as both a teacher and a neighbour. Have seen the undesexed pets breed, and be abandoned, unfed, when these people have been told to vacate premises.
    Have done mandatory reporting in my role as teacher, worried that parents will put two-and two together and figure out it was me – every one who reports bravely lives with that.
    It is the border-line cases such as you’ve mentioned that rile.
    At three, my daughter had a little friend who was always at our house, often because her mother and the alcoholic man a few doors down wanted to lock themselves in for fun times.
    Giving in to her tired pitiful cries of “I just want to go home” I took her back, and even though I called out within the house, there was just mumbled, hushed responses behind closed doors, and no show.
    Final gob-smacking moment was when the mother said to me” I intend to take little “X” interstate permanantly to live – when (father) picks her up from here (my place!!) this afternoon, perhaps you can let him know.”
    No lady. that would be YOUR job.
    “Oh in that case, it might be fairer to her if you keep her longer while we discuss it.”
    Yes, and feed her dinner too, thinks me, and do I cater also for heart-broken father?.
    It is the gall of these people that astounds.
    Father said, a couple of months later, “I have little “X’s” new address for you” but because of possible continuing contact with the mother, I didn’t want to know. Very sad. Everyone misses out, when you come to think of it, with sadness and anger mixed.

  12. ds says:

    Heartbreaking. Heart is breaking, for Jackie and her husband, and for those children…nothing else to add, because it has all been said. (Except that I will spend the next several weeks reviewing my parenting & wondering.)

  13. The Kar-douche-ians. LOL!

  14. chlost says:

    This story hits me in many different ways. As a professional who handles child protection cases, it is nothing new.
    As a child, we had neighbors like this. I think that my mom made a decision, whether knowingly or not, that she would stand in for the absent parent. This young girl came to our house for breakfast each morning before leaving for the bus. She spent many evenings at our home, and sometimes weekends. Her mother had severe mental health issues, and an older sister had left home.
    My cousin also became entwined with a group of “gypsies”. It was a big group with many, many children, all of whom were routinely ignored. When I spent a day with my cousin (before I realized who these people were), these children hung on me while I read a book, or talked to my cousin’s children. It was like they had never seen a book, or had an adult read aloud to them.
    I feel your frustration. But my bleeding heart cries out-“it isn’t the kids’ fault”. Anything an adult can provide to them in the way of supervision, meals, or just caring about them could make all of the difference in their lives. Is there any way that the neighborhood could “adopt” the kids in a way that would be workable?
    Sorry, my heart just breaks for those kids. I see too many of them every day.

    • Jocelyn says:

      I appreciate your thoughts. Really. I think we totally agree in the sense that there has to be a conscious decision to take on such kids. My feeling, from years back with some other kids we encountered, was that if I couldn’t truly commit to being there and being The Person for kids, I shouldn’t start in the first place. I know that’s a tough stance. I do. Either I’m agreeing to do it all the way, or I don’t enter. That’s where I’m stuck right now. I don’t think I’m ready to do it all the way, as I send my kids off each day so I can have time to do my job. The boy across the street? He would need me during those hours. He’s home. He’s needing. I don’t feel at all ready to compromise my work hours (which take place from my house). Etc.

      But, yes, I know how you feel. Were the various families on the block not already feeling more than full up, we could have this discussion. Hard, cold reality? Probably, we’re all falling into our beds with deep fatigue each night before we consider how to take on other people’s kids.


  15. Deborah says:

    The twist in this story must surely be your discovery that the parents are not uneducated, substance-abusing ne’er do wells, but articulate and intelligent in at least an academic sense. This makes things easier, and more difficult – easier because there’s a glimmer of hope here because of their background, and difficult because it means you’ve had to rein in your previous assumptions and accompanying judgments. Theirs is a parenting choice, and you have some evidence to suspect it is deliberate, and considered valid by the mother, at least.
    To go slightly off-course for a moment, have you read ‘The Glass Castle’ a memoir by Jeannette Walls? I won’t go into it here, in case you do know of it, but if not please email me or you could just look it up, of course! The book challenged me to consider that some people choose a way of life completely contrary to good sense and convention out a real belief that their way is better. And who’s to say that they don’t have some reason to think so?

    However, the evidence in front of you is that these children are very needy, not just emotionally, intellectually and socially, but physically. Hungry, for god’s sake. Once in a while happens to everyone, but it would seem to be clear that the lack of attention has these kids running on empty way too much.

    You have three choices. You’ve too caring for one of them. You’ve tried another one, and it’s not working either, for all the reasons you state in your reply to chlost. The third, which you refer to as ‘confrontation’ is in fact ‘communication’. There is no guarantee that it’s going to work, either, but as I see it, it’s the only humane option left to you. What you might fear could happen is nothing compared to what those kids are dealing with right now.

    If you haven’t heard of ‘Vital Smarts’ and ‘Crucial Conversation’, I think it could be helpful to take a look at their website. http://www.vitalsmarts.com/userfiles/File/newsletter/Newsletter%20042711QA.htm
    This is an example from their newsletter archives of how they suggest dealing with a difficult situation – a lot of what Vital Smarts does is in workplace settings, but in the weekly questions (you can submit your own) you’ll find all manner of personal situations.

    I am against the anonymous letter. It only provokes a defensive attitude – an ‘us against the unknown them’ hostility. I am, however, a believer in written communication as it gives you a chance to present the issue in a thoughtful, non-confrontational way and can open the door to a conversation. This is a truly, truly difficult issue, because of the children involved. Everybody’s had a bad neighbour at one point or another, but what you’re dealing with is far weightier than mere anti-social behaviour – rudeness, waist-high weeds and all-night parties wouldn’t provoke this level of anguish nor have such profound consequences (for the children and the community).

    Hilary’s ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ idea came to mind while reading this. All very well to suggest that the community band together to help these kids outs, but our society just doesn’t work that way. I can see potential for a compromise, but it would have to be a strictly-negotiated one, since the Black Hat parents do not seem to have the usual notions of what constitutes reasonable social access for their children. And that’s only one of several notions they’re lacking, imo.
    This is a fascinating story, I must say, mostly because the BH parents are not villains. They are unconventional parents, to put it non-judgmentally, and it may well be that they haven’t deliberately put aside convention, but simply have no other experience in their own upbringing to suggest things could be a whole lot better for their kids. Mom’s comments about growing up free and not overprotecting her children remind me a bit of the mother who hit the headlines a few years ago when she gave her 9-year-old son some pocket change and told him to manage alone in NYC for a day.

    The Black Hats have set no boundaries, it seems. And you’re having trouble setting your own. And nobody is communicating. You know that famous phrase that came out of the 60’s – ‘what we have here is a failure to communicate’. There is no problem I can think of that did not come about, or was not exacerbated by a failure to communicate.

    Having said all of that, which is next to useless in that it’s all very well to suggest you do some talking to them (possibly, ultimately, with a professional mediator) but it’s extraordinarily difficult to do that. Keep your eye on the horizon – the one that those kids are headed for, and the one that the commuunity lives in sight of. Fear of confrontation often comes about because the players fear a personal attack. It’s not personal.

    You are a compassionate person. Your frustration, resentment and anguish are all understandable. You are trying to find a way to help, without sacrificing your right to determine who is welcome in your house, and your life. Without having to pick up the pieces and take responsibility for children about whom the parents have a lamentable lack of awareness. Without obliging your children to be continually and actively charitable to kids to whom they do not feel attached and for whom they have no particular affection.
    Sorry for the cliche, but what a hell of a teachable moment this is!!

    I’m glad you pointed the way here – yes, I had missed this post. I’m going to subscribe by email so that I don’t miss any more, even if I drop out of blogging. And as always happens when I read you, I get a tremendous amount of pleasure from seeing things from your totally unique Jocelyn-point of view, and have to say that you have a gift for writing that turns even the most ordinary event into a breathless page-turner of a blockbuster novel.

  16. Robin says:


    Just catching-up on your blog. I think the issue with the Black Hats has been well-covered by others, though there is part of me that can’t reach judgment without seeing it for myself, even though I have no reason at all to doubt the reporting. I think I must not want to believe it could all be true.

    Aside from all of that, my main comment is that you are one hell of a writer, blogger and general contemplator and I love it. And your humor — even in a crabby blog, perhaps mostly in a crabby blog- — is precisely the kind I enjoy. Please do continue, as I know you will.

  17. magpie says:

    Wow. What a tale you tell, oh so well.

    (I peed in Madeleine Albright’s swimming pool when I was small and she wasn’t the Secretary of State. True story.)

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