It does take a village

Joey wants you to read Zeitoun by Dave Eggers.

My neighbor is a bitter divorced woman who works a lot, drinks too much and isn’t too bright. She is also a single mom, and her 13-year-old daughter is alone most of the time. She doesn’t even have any friends. I walk my dog along the river regularly, and the other evening I saw my neighbor’s daughter hanging out with some older boys. I’ve seen these boys before, drinking and smoking pot, all underage. I called the girl over, questioned her and learned she barely knows the boys but met them on Facebook. I warned her of the dangers of being at the river in the dark with boys she barely knows. She went home, but I saw her again yesterday. When she saw me, she ran away. Do you think I should tell her mother? She seems so checked out of her daughter’s life, I’m not sure it would do any good.

You want a guarantee that when your neighbor hears your warning she will launch herself into a mommy makeover? That’s hopeless. But if you are a caring adult, you understand this: Most parents are too limited in mental, emotional and physical resources to raise a child without support from the community. So take action.

A young girl with few friends and little adult supervision at home is at risk. Her isolation, the resulting lack of social skills and the unconscious drive to find a mentor shape her into an object of desire for a predatory personality. (And yes, I mean “object” because someone with a predatory personality won’t see her as a human being.)

Do tell your neighbor that you are concerned for her child’s physical and emotional health. Explain that you have seen her spending time with older boys who are partying at the river. Be clear that you are worried that her daughter will be harmed.

Before you have this conversation, invest in some research. Get enlistment information from Big Brothers Big Sisters. Check your city recreation department for teen programs and volunteer opportunities. Hand this over to the mom during your conversation. Since you know she struggles with parenting, make it as easy as possible for her. Be clear that you did the research because you care and you know how difficult it must be to raise a teenager alone.

The next time you see her daughter, encourage her to tell her mom the truth. If she sasses you by saying it’s none of your business, explain that her health and well-being is your responsibility because you care about her. If she demands to know why, be honest: She is a beautiful spirit who deserves a chance to thrive.

My sister-in-law has never been an aunt to my children. She interacts with them at family gatherings, but she never remembers birthdays or what interests them. She rarely talks to them if she calls to speak to my husband or me. It bothers me. My husband wants me to let it go, but I want to confront her and find out what is wrong. Should I?

Of course not, honey! You have a Hallmark-card mentality about what it means to be a female relative. Stop behaving as if your sister-in-law’s personality is a personal attack on you or your sweet kids. It’s not (except when you act as if it is). Why not allow your sister-in-law to be herself? Appreciate what she does bring to your family life and start talking about those qualities when you feel inclined to complain. Then look around you. It’s likely that you have a dear friend or co-worker who would welcome an invitation to your family gatherings. Not to play aunt, but to sate your desire for more.

Meditation of the Week

In her book <i>Eat, Pray, Love</i>, Elizabeth Gilbert posits that the energy of every city can be summed up in one word. New York City is <i>ambition</i> and Rome is <i>sex</i>, she says. I would add that San Francisco is <i>acceptance</i> and Sacramento is <i>conform</i>. What do you think?