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Suburban Island

Pennies from Heaven
Friday, Aug. 15, 2003, 9:02 p.m.

QUESTION: Where is a good tranquilizer gun when you need it?

WHAT I LEARNED: Sometimes you need to keep your pennies in your pocket.

Being a parent is hard sometimes. Even when the kids you are parenting are basically good. And even when you are all on vacation. At the beach. Having fun.

For example, the other day we ran out of Diet Coke - a household staple, and had begun to identify a small but mounting list of other missing necessities as well. My husband and I decided to nip down to the grocery store and pick up these items while our 4 teens - our two and two friends of the kids, who had accompanied them on our beach trek - stayed back at the place we were renting.

What could happen?

As we drove up the side street adjacent to our building so that we could pull into our parking lot, our newly purchased groceries stacked in the back, we began to get an inkling. We spied a woman standing in the middle of the adjacent street screaming. Hmm - some domestic dispute, I think. I note people standing on their balconies looking down and also looking straight across at our building. I note the crazed woman still standing in the middle of the street is looking up. These are all bad signs. My kids are across and also up. Oh God, please don't let her be yelling at my kids.

Don't you get smart with me - she screams. I hear a voice awfully like my own sweet daughter's drifting down towards me. Oh God, I just wanted some Diet Coke. Damned demon Diet Coke. We pull into the lot and get out of the car.

Then I see my son - who is a most kind-hearted individual but at 14 doesn't always think before he acts - walking towards the woman and offering several apologies (why in a minute) as she continues to scream nonstop. However, now she is screaming specifically at him. Her anger flows out of her mouth like lava and he is backing up and looking around for some kind of escape hatch.

Evidently, the apology she demanded he come down and make was not what she really wanted because she never stopped the scolding litany she had embarked on long enough to hear it. Big sister followed in her brotherís wake, realizing perhaps that authorizing him to go down and talk to this irate woman was not working out quite as hoped.

Enter mom and dad on the cue as she bellows - Where are your mom and dad? It was like the sea witch in Little Mermaid had made her way to land. My husband and I step up to the plate, after my husband (none too graciously) sends the kids back upstairs. Now we were on. Oh God, please tell me we are being Punked. I want to laugh and plan to Punk someone else in retaliation for stressing me out on my vacation.

Punked or not, I never expected to be a major facet of the impromptu beach entertainment industry when I left for the store. If I had only know, I would have done something with my hair and reapplied my lipstick too. 20/20 hindsight as they say. Also, I might have chosen not to wear my ultra sparkly flip-flops and a really cool ankle bracelet that jingles when I walk. The total look didnít scream authority figure.

It seems that the problem was this - some boys were skateboarding in the street down below where we were staying. My son threw a penny down off the balcony (yeah, I know... why, why?) - not to hit the kid but to interact with the kid in a kid way. Hey look - how cool and amazingly funny, there's pennies falling of that balcony. Crazy man. Well, the pennies-from-heaven scenario broke down when the one penny that my son tossed off the balcony hit the kid. Maternal wrath had been unleashed. Even though her kid was fine and hanging out with his skateboarding buddies as we spoke - all of these kids now a part of a great gleeful expanding crowd - mama was not done.

Mama ranted about what had happened and even though we tried to assure her it wasn't malicious and everyone was sorry about it - that wasn't enough. What kind of mother was I? - she inquired. What kind of kids had I raised?- she asked. I never knew I was such a bad mother, dear diary, or that my kids were such miscreants Ė but thatís what she implied and rather loudly too. Ah well, we all do the best we can.

Having duly noted my failings as a mother in much detail, she ended by noting that she herself had raised her children much better than that. She herself had raised paragons of virtue who would never, never, never drop a penny from a balcony. That's what the mean lady at the beach said anyway and maybe at that moment she really believed it. However, I didnít. When you are a kid sometimes you do stuff that doesnít make a drop of sense and frankly, as her actions themselves clearly demonstrated, we all have a penchant to do so even as adults. Moments of amazing stupidity or at least instances of questionable decision-making are a natural aspect of being human.

As she continued to blast my maternal expertise, I comforted myself with the knowledge that back home, her kids are probably prying hub cabs off of cars or blowing out windows with pellet guns or at least ringing doorbells and running away before people can answer but perhaps I am being a bit unkind. I told her that I am sure that over the course of their childhood years her children will do something just as ill-considered as throwing a penny off a balcony - we are not talking the top of the Empire State Building here after all. But mama was not satisfied and as her head started to spin around on her shoulders in a most unbecoming way we decided to take our oft proffered but never accepted apologies and leave the area. We grabbed our groceries out of the trunk and staggered upstairs to her screaming - I know what unit you are in. I know what unit you are in.

Cameras cut to upstairs. Penny-tossing kid is locked in bathroom. He is probably traumatized for life but probably won't so much as pitch a pumpkin seed over a railing for the rest of his life, which might not be a bad life lesson. He is upset that he has ruined the vacation and that such a bad thing happened so fast when he didn't mean anything bad to happen at all. Another valuable life lesson but still we are on vacation and I have a demoralized kid locked in the bathroom. We draw the blinds in the living room and we give the stay-off-the-balcony-for-the-rest-of-the-day-and-don't-take-anything-that-isn't-a-paper-plate-or-cup-out-on-the-balcony-again speech. Insert parental sigh here as groceries are put away.

Cut to street below where a few minute later whirling dervish mom stands with two cops. Yes, she has called the cops and is gesturing wildly as her kid happily walks around the street with his board in hand. How do I know? I was peeking out the blinds in a back window with everyone else. Unfortunately, I donít see Ashton anywhere.

Eventually, a knock comes on our front door. I guess she wasn't kidding when she said she knew what unit we were in. My husband explained to the nice policeman who was standing there at the door what had happened without wildly waving his hands or without his head twisting around in circles while he spoke. The nice policeman was satisfied and departed.

Mean lady at the beach took her skateboarding kid and departed, disappointed I am sure that a further opportunity to discharge he inner angst was not forthcoming. I started cooking hamburger for sloppy joes and tacos and life got back into beach rhythm - but the blinds stayed closed for the rest of the day.

I am still at the beach...donít forget to leave me nice notes and kind guestbook entries.

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