Allowing my kids to walk to school despite “Stranger Danger”

A black Toyota pickup truck slowly pulls up next to the middle schooler walking to school. The man slowly rolls down the window and offers the boy a ride. The boy shook his head and continues to school. Later that evening he mentions it to his parents who alert the school and city police departments.

This incident is what sparked a letter from the principal of my kids’ school. It was then posted on NextDoor, a social networking platform designed to connect local communities and neighborhoods. And then the story was picked up by the local news stations.

No new information has been released about the incident, but two other incidents have been reported in our area. In one, a child ran up to a neighbor when he felt scared about a van following him. The other one involved a driver of a blue truck asking a student where he was going.

In none of these incidents did anyone try to grab the student. Yes, they are suspicious and perhaps alarming to some. And I certainly agree we need to talk to our children how to handle these situations, but as with many other events, neighbors have blown this out of proportion. They are calling for parents to stop letting their kids walk to school – even shaming those who let their kids do so.

When my kids were in elementary school, I walked with them to and from school. Sometimes the two of them walked home together when done with after-school activities. On a rare occasion, one of them would walk home alone. Jase was in the third grade when I started letting him do a few times.  It was funny though because I would get texts from neighbors letting me know he had just passed their house. It was reassuring to know that others were watching out for him even though he didn’t know about it.

Ever since Jase started middle school, he has walked to and from school. He carries his backpack or zippered binder as well as a lunch box and his violin. Yes, he is loaded down, but it is a short walk to the school. But parents online are shocked that some of us parents are making our students walk loaded down when we could be driving them to the school.

Now, I could drive my kids. I don’t have a job that would prevent me from dropping them off or picking them up. But I see no problem with them walking. I am not paranoid that they will be abducted on that walk. Most of their walk is on a busy street where no cars would stop. Plus there is a police officer on duty. He can see them on most of their walk. After they leave the busy street, it is only 2 houses down our street to our house.

Nope, not worried at all. But to read the messages online, you would think kids in our area are being snatched all the time. Ok – Texas is a “hot” zone for human trafficking according the local news, and I will admit that there are other areas of the city that I would be more concerned about my kids walking to and from school but not here. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, less than 1% of abductions are by non-family members. That means the chances of a stranger snatching your child from the street is extremely low.

Yes, it has happened but most likely won’t. Some of those parents just don’t want to take that chance. I understand and respect that decision. But it doesn’t mean they should tell me that my children, ages 11 and 14, shouldn’t be able to walk or be outside alone. I think they should be able to walk to school or even a friend’s house. On the way to school, they are walking in a group. I know their route. They know not to get in stranger’s cars – even Lexie who I always said would go with anyone who had a puppy. They have their cell phone on them – ready to call me or snap a picture of anything suspicious. I’ve talked to them about the situations, letting them know to be vigilant, to stick together and report anything that concerns them. They are fine with that and so am I. So for now, I will ignore those comments on social media and let my kids keep walking to school.

Dividing my time at Meet the Teacher night

Image result for meet the teacherThis past Tuesday was Meet the Teacher at my kids’ middle school. Now a middle school Meet the Teacher is quite different than at the elementary level.

At the elementary, you typically only have one teacher/classroom to visit, and there is no hurry. The teacher has plenty of time to tell you the ins and outs of her class and what she expects of your student.

But at middle school (and later at high school), you have eight teachers/classrooms to visit. In our case, we had to walk our child’s schedule, visiting the classes in order. For many, finding the classrooms alone was a problem though they did give you a map and had students posted throughout the school to direct you.

And since you don’t have unlimited time in each class (we had just 4 minutes per class with a five-minute “passing period”) you have less time to hear about the class. But it is still nice to put a face with the name.

Of course, my challenge when both kids go the same school is that I have to pick one teacher (or set of teachers) to see. In elementary, I tended to go to Jase’s Meet the Teacher as I would have already been to one for Lexie’s current grade when I had gone to see that grade for Jase. At the end of the evening, I would usually stop by to meet Lexie’s teacher who could tell me if there was anything major I missed.

When Lexie was still at the elementary and Jase already at the middle school, I didn’t have to split my time as the Meet the Teacher events were on different nights. But this year, both kids are at the middle school. With 8 classes to visit, I simply picked 4 for each kids. I did math and science for both as well as art for Lexie and orchestra for Jase. That left me with Reading class for Lexie and English for Jase. (That means I missed PE for both kids, English, social studies and study hall for Lexie, Reading, history and debate for Jase.)

Image result for silent auctionIn addition to last Tuesday being Meet the Teacher, it was also the first parent-teacher association meeting of the school year (and I am PTA president) and also the PTA’s Silent Auction. So, as you can imagine, it was a busy day for me.

It started with a District Council PTA meeting in the morning. After picking up one last auction item and lunch, I was up at the middle school setting up for the silent auction. This year, most of our items were available on an online auction but we still had the items on display. (Our auction turned out well with over $5400 raised.)

My biggest worry was actually the PTA meeting because I don’t like speaking in front of large groups and this by far will be the largest group I have to speak in front of with about 400 parents packed into the cafeteria.

But the meeting and auction went well as did the Meet the Teacher part. And next year, I won’t have to divide my time between their teachers as once again the kids will be at different schools. I’m looking forward to that. But since it will be my second year as PTA president, both the PTA meeting and Silent Auction will still be a part of my day. And I’d rather skip those events.

 

Challenge your character

The other day as I was struggling to write a scene, I realized the scene wasn’t working as it didn’t have any tension. Now not every scene needs to be tense or full of conflict, but one useful tip to give your characters challenges. Nothing should come easy for them. This advice helped me to fix the scene.

In reviewing another scene, I noticed the protagonist did something the first time he tried. And that reminded me of another blog I wrote recently called “Super Easy, Barely an Inconvenience” which is a phrase used in every Pitch Meeting on the Screen Rant YouTube Channel. In this series by Ryan George, a pitchman (Ryan) presents movies to a studio executive (also played by Ryan). Whenever the studio exec questions a plot area that might cause the protagonist trouble, the pitchman explains that that the protagonist has no trouble doing it hence the phrase “Super Easy, Barely an Inconvenience.”

Once I realized my character wasn’t having to jump a hurdle or struggle to do something, I knew I needed to rewrite the scene. Characters need to face obstacles. How they overcome these challenges is what makes the story compelling.

Making characters suffer or struggle can help advance your plot or can reveal something about their character. It creates tension. It makes readers want to keep reading to see what happens next. Will the character survive or how will they get out of this scrape? Maybe this will be the event that tells the reader what the whole story is about. The only way they will know is to keep reading.

The challenges and hurdles you throw at your characters can be physical or emotional. It could be overcoming an obstacle like a steep climb up a mountain or it could be emotional when they must face one of their fears to get what they want. Perhaps the action is putting a loved one at risk. This can weigh heavily on your character especially if they are the reason that person is in danger.

Writers can’t afford to be nice. Characters need to experience both ups and downs. They are not real, so it is okay to make them suffer. Have them fall from grace and then restore them. Push your characters, test them, dare them to do more than they ever imagined being capable of doing. Conflicts test your characters’ resolve or can add battle scars that shape future decisions.

So next time you are struggling with a scene, step back and see whether there is tension or conflict or if this is just a passing the time type scene. If it is the latter, you need to eliminate it or rewrite it until it has that edge your readers want.

Recipe of the Month – Spaghetti and Meatballs

My daughter Lexie has been on a spaghetti and meatballs kick ever since she had “the best” at a Texas Steakhouse in Corpus Christi in June. Now, I have made my own spaghetti meat sauce from scratch before but I hadn’t made spaghetti and meatballs. I found this recipe for meatballs on Delish.com. Now, I made just the meatballs and added them to a jar of Marinara sauce that Lexie likes but I am including the whole recipe including the sauce here.

Ingredients

1 lb. spaghetti
1 lb. ground beef
1/3 c. bread crumbs
1/4 c. finely chopped parsley
1/4 c. freshly grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
1 egg
2 garlic cloves, minced
Kosher salt
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 c. onion, finely chopped
1 (28-oz.) can crushed tomatoes
1 bay leaf
Freshly ground black pepper

Directions

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook spaghetti according to package instructions. Drain.

In a large bowl, combine beef with bread crumbs, parsley, Parmesan, egg, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, and red pepper flakes. Mix until just combined then form into 16 balls.

In a large pot over medium heat, heat oil. Add meatballs and cook, turning occasionally, until browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer meatballs to a plate. (Note: I skipped cooking them in oil and cooked them in the microwave instead.)

Add onion to pot and cook until soft, 5 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes and bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a simmer. Return meatballs to pot and cover. Simmer until sauce has thickened, 8 to 10 minutes.

Serve pasta with a healthy scoop of meatballs and sauce. Top with Parmesan before serving.