What it takes to be a good parent

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 1, 2004

We are overprotective parents – probably to a fault.

At the respective ages of 15 and 11, it’s been rare that we’ve spent nights away from our children. They are always with us.

And we’ve mellowed tremendously over the past 15 years. When Adam was born, he was never out of our sight for a minute. We never, never left him with a babysitter that was not my wife’s mother and even then only for a short period. We thought we were the greatest, most conscientious parents in the world.

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Within weeks of Adam’s birth in 1989, we had to make a trip to Lowes. We had been in our new little 1,100 square foot home in Hopewell only about a month so there was much work to do.

Way back then there wasn’t one on every corner, the nearest being about 10 miles away in Chester. As always, we carefully strapped the baby into his car seat in the back. He was colicky, so we had him in the car a lot. It seemed like it was the only place he wasn’t screaming.

On the way back to Hopewell, traveling on Route 10, Adam started screaming. We knew something was terribly wrong because he just did not do that in the car. My wife reached over the back seat and started searching for the problem and found that his car seat and buckle were pinching him in the most horrible place imaginable for the male of the species.

I was driving and Cathy was unable to alleviate the situation. Finally, in a panic, she unbuckled him from the seat, lifted him out, placed him back in it and properly secured him. It took probably less than a minute. Adam was grateful, and quiet.

Some six weeks later Cathy called me at work in the midst of a crying jag. I couldn’t understand what she was saying, so I rushed home.

In the mail that day we had received a large envelope from I believe the State Department of Social Services, or Child Protective Services or some such agency. It contained a letter stating that our car was spotted traveling East on Route 10 on such and such a date with a child unrestrained in a car seat. The letter went on to lecture us about what terrible people we were and about possibility ramifications of such behavior.

Included in the packet were various pamphlets instructing us on how to raise our child in a clean, healthy, safe environment. I think one of the pamphlets even told us that we should put our garbage in a bag and then in a can and not just let it pile up on the floor of the house or throw it out our front door; another contained a diagram of a toothbrush with all the parts labeled and detailed instructions on how to use it – in other words, the essential things the state figured people like us, people stupid enough to drive around with a child unrestrained in a car seat, probably needed to know.

We had never in our lives been so embarrassed, humiliated and angry.

Apparently, some conscientious motorist on Route 10 that day driving behind us witnessed the episode, wrote down our license number and reported us to authorities – God bless them.

Events in and around Holland last week brought this incident to mind.

For those of you trapped in a cave for the bulk of last week, a woman in Holland, Angela Gizara, shot some video of her neighbors.

The tape showed Robert James Allen and Joni Allen with their children enjoying what appeared to be a wonderful day of family fun firing guns and drinking a few beers.

I know that sounds innocent enough, but at one point on the video the Allens’ 3-year-old son, with no one else around, pulls a gun out of the trunk of the car and starts playing with it – appearing to point it at his face.

While everyone quickly rushed to condemn the Allens – they were arrested and charged with child neglect – recalling my own experiences of 15 years earlier, I am withholding judgment until all the facts are in. While I have no earthly idea what it could be, there may be a perfectly innocent reason why the child was allowed to play with a gun.

When I saw the Allens on the Today Show Friday, it looked like they had pretty good teeth, so they should be given the benefit of the doubt.

Andy Prutsok is editor and publisher of the News-Herald. He can be reached at 934-9611, or via-email at andy.prutsok@suffolknewsherald.com.