Friday, September 10, 2010


Yesterday, the Matron met Scarlett at her bus stop.

Bus! Whole new world!! That one block walk? The Universe.

As they were heading home and Scarlett was instructing the Matron on the demerits in her parenting grade book for waiting for at the bus stop ("MOM!! Nobody else's MOTHERS are at the stop!") the Matron noticed a slim, youngish boy wandering around in sort of a loopy way.

He was maybe 10? 11? Looking at street signs and circling the block.

Matron: "I think that little boy is lost. He got off at the wrong bus stop, I bet."


Matron to young child: "Hi! Do you live around here?"

Child: "I don't think so. I live near White Bear Avenue and Ruth Street. But I can just walk downtown and see if that's where my house is. Is this downtown?"

A. White Bear and Ruth Street are miles away.

B. Downtown is nowhere near said streets.

C. Child clearly is lost.

Matron: "I'm Mary. What your name?"

Child: "Jamal."

Matron: "Do you know your address? Your home phone or Mom or Dad's cell phone? Brother or sister?"

After some time it became apparent that Jamal didn't know his address, phone number, cell phones or any other vital locating kind of information. The Matron used her cell phone to call his school but got this: sorry we are closed for the day.

Matron to Jamal: "Jamal, I know everyone learns that it's unsafe to go anywhere with strangers. I want to do what you want me to do. I can call the police right now and they'll come and find your Mom and Dad. Or, you can come home with us -- you can sit on the steps or come in, whatever you want -- and I'll work on finding your parents and take you home. If we can't find them, a police officer will come and get you and make everything okay."

Jamal: "How many kids do you have?"

Matron: "Three. They're all home. You can meet them all. If we find a phone number for your Mom, you can talk to her right away. Sometimes you have to make a hard decision: is this safe? I can tell you that all I want to do is find your Mom and Dad, but it's your choice. We can sit here on the stoop and wait for the police and that would be totally cool. But if you want to come and sit on my front steps -- with my kids-- or in the kitchen, I'll try to find your parents. Here's my cell phone. Call anyone you want. I'm going to let you hold onto the cell phone so that you're in charge. Okay?"

Jamal took the cell phone. The Matron dialed 911 but didn't hit 'send': "If you want to call the police, just hit this green button. Okay?

Jamal: "Do you have orange juice at your house? I'm a little thirsty because I've been walking for a lot of bus stops."

Scarlett: "Orange juice, lemonade AND some blue sports drink."

Jamal: "Maybe I'll sit in the kitchen."

After calling his old elementary school, the school district's central office, new school and all old numbers for parents--while Jamal had a hearty snack and hot cocoa in the kitchen, surrounded by all three children -- it became clear that he was in no-man's land.

Matron: "Jamal? I think I have to call a police officer. He can figure out how to get you home."

Jamal: "Can you drive me to my old house? We moved awhile back and I think I can get to the new house from my old house."

Jamal is 13 and in 7th grade. The Matron is now worried about Merrick's inadequacies.

Yours truly has some great pause, considering.

Matron: "I think that it would be safer for you to have a police officer come and make sure you get home. They're super smart that way and I'm not. Plus, you get to ride in the police car! Have you ever been in one?"

Jamal: "Can we call 911 now? Can I sit behind the bars?"

She called the non-emergency number for the police; a very attentive officer arrived within 15 minutes. Although he nearly fingerprinted the Matron (driver's license #, birth-date, social security, ID), he was clearly in her camp. She handed him the list of contact information, schools, and old addresses for Jamal. Even though she knew the officer quickly trusted her, she also is certain that his first question to Jamal was: "What happened in that house? Everything okay?" And that's a good thing.

Police Officer: "Are you sure you didn't go to the police academy? This is sort of efficiency to the nth degree."

Matron: "Welcome to my world."

And the whole family waved good-bye to Jamal from his perch in the back of the police car, backpack by his side.

Then John started drilling Merrick on his address and phone number.
But tonight, the Matron is still haunted by that little guy wandering through foreign territory and heartened that in this era of 'stranger danger,' he was able to accept a little help from a stranger.


Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

Maybe his mother taught him as I did my kids--if you get lost, find a mother and a child. Betting on you and Scarlett was a smart choice.

Him not knowing a phone number is very frightening, for sure.

Violet said...

I am heartened that you approached him, even though you knew he had probably been taught to be wary of strangers.

You made our world a little warmer.

Anonymous said...

This makes me want to wake my kids up right now and test if they know our phone number.

JFS in IL said...

You are good peoples. :-)

It is sad that nowadays we can't just step in and help a kid w/o thinking of all possible ramifications. My youngest dd and I stopped to give a friend from martial arts (a 12-yr-old with a black belt, no less!) a lift to school when we saw her running, clearly about to be - gasp - TARDY (Saturday morning detention then!)and after I dropped both girls at school I thought - gee, what if someone saw her get into my van and, not knowing me, called the cops!
I made sure the Mom knew I had given ehr dd a ride to school later that night at martial arts.

unmitigated me said...

I'm with Jenn. Trusting someone who looks like a mom with her kid(s) is what I always told my kids. For future reference, the school district offices are usually open regular business hours, 9-5-ish. If you call and say you have an emergency concerning one of their students, they will leap into the fray.

Jen on the Edge said...

I am SO impressed with how you handled this, including how you helped Jamal feel secure and in control. I learned quite a bit from this post.

I know that my girls know our address and phone number. But I've never taught them to find a mother and child. They've always been told to find a police officer or the female employee of a nearby business.

Years ago, when my girls were 4 and 6, managed to lose the 4 y.o. in the midst of the children's play zone of an amusement park and it took more than 30 minutes to find her. She had calmly presented herself to a park employee and said that she was lost, so the person took her to the nearest gift shop to hang out in the AC while they tried to find us. When I finally was reunited with my baby, she was sitting on a store counter and telling a small crowd of employees, "My name ith Ellie [last name]. I am 4 yearth old. My mommy ith Mommy [last name] and my daddy ith Daddy [last name]. We live at..." After that, we made sure she had a good handle on Pete's and my first names.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Just wow. The world is a better place with you (and Scarlett and the whole crew) in it.

Aden Meyler said...

So glad you were there to help him. I remember my parents giving a lift home to a girl from my school that I didn't know very well. We were both about 13 at the time and as we drove off we asked her where she lived and she didn't know her address. I remember being completely shocked by that.

When I became a parent I made sure my kids knew their vital details!

Ilyanna said...

thank you. As a parent of a five and an eight year old, neither of whom can remember a phone number, I appreciate how well you handled this. For all the rest, singing the address (to the tune "it's raining it's pouring" can help kids remember their address. It starts with "my name is Janie Smith and this is my a-dre-es, 1234 elm street, denver Colorado" and the musicality made it possible for my then-three year old even remember.

kcinnova said...

I'm always surprised to discover that my kids either don't know our address or don't know the basic way home from a main street. I know it gets confusing because we move every couple of years, but STILL! I'd like to think they paid some attention some of the time. Apparently they don't.
I'm so glad Jamal had you.

I once had a youngster approach a group of us moms at the bus stop. He had missed the bus and had trotted over to our stop, but missed it there, too. No one wanted to risk taking him to school without a parent's permission, but he was living with relatives and they were already at work. He was only 11 years old! Luckily, my 14yo had late-start that day and he "chaperoned" us as we drove to school. It turns out he was in my other son's class and I had met the uncle briefly before school started, so I e-mailed the teacher afterward. It was definitely an uncomfortable experience.

MJ said...

I love Matron & her family. The world seems like a warmer place tonight.

Ann in NJ said...

Oddly enough, I read this post yesterday afternoon - and last night, about 10 pm, my doorbell rang. It was the 5th grader across the street, hysterical. He couldn't find his parents, they weren't answering their phones, he didn't know what to do. I brought him in, calmed him down, and eventually walked over to his house with him. Turned out they had been out in the shed, so it was a non-emergency, actually, but I was thinking of you and your lost boy. Thanks for being the calm and careful role model!

Daisy said...

I teach so many kids who move frequently, kids with parents who don't keep a steady phone number or address, and this possibility is very real to me. Thank goodness you were there to help him.

Anonymous said...

See Scarlett? Even though you didn't need your Mom @ the bus stop, Jamal did. How said the poor child did not know his info to get home. Thank you for being kind and caring and doing the right thing. He will remmeber it his whole life. Bramble

sue b said...

what a nice person you are

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

Poor Jamal!
I love how you handled this, giving him so many options, but being very available for him. My kids all know our name, numbers and address and they also know that MOMS WITH KIDS are who you go to for help. You nearly never go wrong. I tell my kids it's the "Mom Code," we have to help other moms' kids if they're in trouble.
I'm giving you the secret handshake right now.

Xtreme English said...

Great post. You did a fabulous job. As for kids' remembering their parents' names, their home addresses, etc., sometimes that info just flies away when they are in a strange place or feeling a bit rattled. When I was a 5-yr-old first grader, the children in school could buy savings stamps (for war bonds) at the beginning of the day on the first day of school. I marched up to the table with my quarter and proudly bought a savings stamp. A teacher wrapped it in a piece of paper and asked "What is your last name?" "Ummm.....????" I had no idea.

Anonymous said...

You continue to give me hope in humanity. I wished you lived in my neighbourhood....I know it would make it a better place!