Last Night my twelve year old was picked up for streetwalking.
No, I really mean it. Last night two police cars with two big burly officers brought my beautiful blond haired boy home at 6:20 in the evening, and told me that they had picked him up in broad daylight... for walking down the street.
Images of Aodhan climbing up a lamp-post to get a closer look at the traffic signals flashed through my mind. Pictures of him standing at a dark alley explaining the negative aspects of smoke inhalation to a group of heroin shooting prostitutes and their pimps filtered in. Visions of him throwing a tantrum in the middle of the street because his overfilled knapsack finally gave up and spewed sketchbooks and pencils under assorted vehicles.
I shot Aodhan a look. You know, one of those looks only that only your mother can give you; the one that fills you with guilt for causing her pain in childbirth.
“I just wanted to walk home” he said dejectedly. “He’s not in any kind of trouble” the first officer said cheerfully. But then more sternly added “but he was walking on the downtown streets”. “We live downtown” I said, becoming confused. “Where is his school?” asked the second officer. “He’s in a camp this week, at the Jewish Community Centre - it’s at Spadina and Bloor”, I said wondering why two policemen would think a kid was in school in the middle of July. “Well ma’am, we picked him up at Yonge and Adelaide” he says, looking all strong and concerned. “Yes, I said, he was walking home, is that a problem?”. “He was walking.... alone...... downtown..........!!!” the officer gritted his teeth at my stupidity and spat out. “He’s 12”, he added as if this would make it all clear. “Do you not see the issue” he spurted? “So are you trying to tell me that because my child was getting exercise, being environmental and increasing his geographical skills, rather than sitting in the basement playing a video game, or hanging out in a mall, or sitting in a fast food restaurant filling his gutty wuts with hydrogenated trans sugar chemical slop, you were worried about him? Do you realize that at 12 he is old enough to babysit?” I asked.
I closed my eyes and thought of the 10, 11 and 12 year old International students I have had stay in my home. These kids had flown from places as far as Russia and South Korea... alone. Yes, their parents drove them to the airport, and put them on an airplane to go to a foreign country to live there with people they had never met.
My head swam as I thought of the hollow look in the eyes of a twelve year old boy living on the streets in Honduras. The sad look of the 12 year old girl selling candy in the marketplace in Bolivia, and the far away look in the thoughts of the 12 year old gypsy selling flowers at the restaurant in Greece. She dreamed of being on the streets in Canada. The Africa Trust tells a story about a group of abducted girls in Uganda. They were ordered to kill one of their peers for trying to escape, and beat her with sticks until she died. They were twelve years old. in Afghanistan the soldiers are continually confronting 12 year old suicide bombers. A twelve year old Yemen girl is happy to be divorced from her abusive husband... two years ago. They all would dream to be in as much danger as Aodhan.
No, my son is not in danger. I mean sure, some random occurrence could happen, but can we just keep them locked in their bedrooms? Safe in their bedrooms, like Cecilia Zhang or Madeleine McCann. So even this tack doesn’t work. Fear and adventure at some point has to be balanced. The chance of a child being abducted is 1 in 750,000. The chance of a child being solicited sexually by a stranger on the internet is 1 in 25. And, a child has a one in 6500 chance of being killed in a car accident. So picking him up after camp and driving him home so he can sit on the computer, well... you do the math. I guess I should really wait until he is older to let him walk on Yonge street alone. But then again, age didn’t do much for Jane Creba - and she was with her mother, so maybe I should just lock him in closet and hope for the best.
Last month I offered two women the chance to live in my downtown Toronto home for a week. The opportunity to have a free vacation in the city, in exchange for house-sitting and cooking dinner for my international students while I went to Brazil on a Federal Trade Mission with my husband.
One of the woman came to my house from a farm in the countryside. She had a lovely time and said that she and her children enjoyed meeting students from other parts of the world and had a great time exploring the city.
The other woman, who was supposed to be there for the other half of my visit, e-mailed me in Brazil. “I am SOOO very sorry, but T and I got to the house and did not feel safe there... I am not at your house and am not staying there... I don't want to offend anyone and I don't want to get into it anymore than saying we didn't feel safe in the house, in the neighbourhood, with my car in the back laneway. I could hear your one student who was home yelling in a different language thru his door.”
Wow! There I sat. 8000km away, and I now have to deal with someone who is afraid of being in their own country. Our house has been assessed by multiple International Language schools and Companies. They have toured my home and deemed it safe to place students, some as young as age 10.
We have never had any kind of break in to our house or vehicle parked at my house either in front or behind. We have never had any incident involving a student in my house. Fear, irrational fear. She knew I lived in downtown Toronto. She used to go to Ryerson and said she was familiar with the neighbourhood. She said it would be exciting to meet students from other countries. But somehow, when it all came together, it was just too much for her. Too much fear. Too afraid. This woman was so fearful of the city, that she felt justified to abandon me, to leave me in a lurch, to walk out of a contractual obligations. What kind of a world are we living in that allows people to believe that they have the right to hurt someone based on their own fears. The only thing I was really glad of through all of this, was that I was not her, and refuse to live my life controlled by fear and anxiety.
But I did some research, and I guess I kind of get it, I mean last week they just arrested someone in Toronto for keeping a loaded gun in their bedroom, but then again, he was out in the west end and not downtown. And, oh ya, he was 12. I guess that 12 year old realized what a dangerous city he was living in and felt he needed to protect himself. It’s so sad that Aodhan is under the delusion of living in a safe city where he feels he can just walk alone in broad daylight on major streets.
I looked up at the Police Officer standing in my living room. He looked down at me. Our eyes met and he stated bluntly. “I guess we have a different opinion of what is safe eh?” “Ya” I replied. “I guess we do”.