The Baby Exchange

Can telling a white lie to a child backfire? It did for me.

From time to time, at AWildDuck, I offer an observation or op-ed on a topic of human interest. This one is not about current events, the price of gold, law or politics. Nah. It’s just Ellery relating a personal experience and a lesson learned…

When my teenage daughter was 3 or 4 years old, I took her with me for a routine blood test (my test and not hers). On the way to the hospital, I explained that we would be visiting the same hospital where we ‘bought’ her. She seemed to accept the explanation. She even asked if the hospital had a variety of babies from which new parents could choose.

car seat tantrumLater, during that same ride, she became irritable and whiny. She complained about something unrelated to our hospital conversation. In an effort to calm her, I made a terrible blunder. Actually, it was just a joke. At least that’s how I saw it. But to my daughter, is was an ominous threat…

I told her, “If you don’t calm down and behave, I will ask the doctor if I can return you for a refund or maybe exchange you for another model.”

Suddenly, she became very quiet. I assumed that she had simply stopped fretting over whatever was bothering her. I interpreted the sudden tranquility as evidence of good behavior.

[One hour later]…

Throughout the appointment, my little girl remained as quiet as a church mouse. I figured that she must simply be processing the fact that blood can be drawn from a person’s arm. When I completed the brief procedure, I realized that we were directly across a hall from the obstetrics ward. I hadn’t visited since my daughter was born. It seemed a good idea to check it out under less stressful circumstances. Holding my girl’s hand, we walked over. Almost Immediately, I spotted the doctor and head nurse who delivered my daughter.


Dr. John DeLoge & Trish Hardigan, RN

“Cupcake”, I said. “I want you to meet some very special people. This is the doctor and nurse that brought you to Mommy and Daddy.” My daughter froze. At first, she offered only a blank stare, Her eyes were as big as saucers.

Gradually, I realized that my precious cupcake was in a state of shock. Her eyes welled up in tears. She began to wail at the top of her lungs while hyperventilating.
“P-l-e-e-e-z-e, Daddy! Don’t give me back to the hop-pis-tal. Don’t exchange me for another baby!! Pleeeze don’t do that!! I promise that I’ll be good! I will never whine or talk back again—EVER! I promise, Daddy! I want to live with you and Mommy! Don’t exchange me!”

Realizing that my precious girl was terrified and that the terror was caused by me, I held her tightly and explained that I was wrong to tell her what I did. I explained that Mom & Dad’s love is unconditional and that parents never return babies.

She calmed down and we headed for the parking lot. But not before the nurse reminded me that a parent must never place a child’s security in doubt—nor assume that a toddler could understand a joke that trifles with the security of the family unit.

I agree.

3 Prong Approach to School Security Avoids Lockdown

This past Friday, we witnessed the aftermath of violence and tragedy: The murder of 20 children and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut. In the article before this one, AWildDuck shared a poignant and emotional story of Logan Dryer, a 6 year old boy who was protected from his fears by four victims of the massacre.

In the wake of tragedy caused by violence, it’s inevitable that politicians, pundits, and specialists rush to patch the security apparatus or call for new studies of mental illness. For many in the United States, it’s high time for more restrictive gun control laws, and certainly, something could be done to improve detection and intervention of individuals capable of massacring children. A national dialogue on meaningful gun control is certainly in order, but this won’t address the root of the problem and it certainly won’t solve the problem. It’s hard to imagine that criminals and high performing individuals with aggressive forms of mental illness will not get access to weapons.

Of course, a better understanding of mental illness would be a great leap forward, but we certainly don’t want a police state that incarcerates people because of what they might do.  In this moving Blog post, the mother of a 13 year old boy with mental illness explains the tribulations of dealing with her son. He has brief explosive bouts during which he presents a danger to anyone in the vicinity.

Improved school safety could definitely be part of a solution, but here – again – we don’t want our children studying in prisons that are inhospitable to pupils, educators and community participation.

Bob Strang: Importance of tightening security in school

Bob Strang, the CEO of Investigative Management Group is a specialist in threat-assessment. In a Fox News interview, he proposes addressing the effectiveness of all three areas: weapons, criminal psychology, and school security. His 3-prong proposal is designed to reduce the likelihood of a lethal school rampage like the one we witnessed this past week.

Mr. Strang suggests that we simultaneously change or reinforce these areas, not necessarily in major ways. For example, he does not propose that we ban civilian guns or prevent all unannounced visitors to a school. The first may be unrealistic and the latter may set a grim tone for socializing and learning.

  1. Gun Control:  For example, ban assault weapons, limit clips, end the gun-show loophole
  2. Mental Illness:  He has no specific suggestions, but I think he is hinting at better identification and preemptive intervention
  3. School Security: This is where it gets interesting . . .

Strang suggests that every school have an armed security professional, possibly recruited and screened from returning war veterans.

In my opinion, suggestion #3 has several problems.

  • I wonder if Strang envisions a sniper in a watch tower? I cannot imagine that a single officer in an interior office or even patrolling corridors could be very effective. I could see using armed guards at some inner city schools that struggle with violence daily.
  • And where would the money come from? Probably a reduction in teaching staff!
Elementary school of the future?

Elementary school of the future?

■ Most importantly, a subtle shift from an inviting campus to a restrictive campus has profound implications. The presence of armed guards contributes to an environment that feels more like a prison than a place for learning. It deters unannounced visits from parents and educators—even if the guard is undercover. It bakes into our daily routines an omni-present fear of terrorists and murderers and teaches children that strangers are inherently bad, rather than the judgment they need to develop personal safety habits and an ability to adapt. I prefer an inviting campus that does not have intimidating barriers to plays, concerts, sports events, community groups, and especially parent-teacher conferences. The presence of guards and guns puts a chill on all of these venues.

This led me to think of a slightly less apparent security apparatus and a less restrictive environment. I wonder if it could be effective. Rather than an armed sniper at every school, I wonder if this plan could be an effective alternative to part 3 of Mr. Strang’s suggestion…

3a)  A national school-safety czar. Not necessarily at the cabinet level, but under the auspices of our Department of Homeland Security. His role is to set coordinate studies, gather consensus, set policies and encourage standardized practices for drills, lockdowns, spotting suspicious activity, negotiation, etc.

3b)  An individual at each school (perhaps existing staff), who is liaison to the safety czar. She gathers intelligence (identify aberrant behavior, online threat absences, etc), investigates cause, implements a standards-based policy, verifies that cameras and perimeters are alert and secure, trains teachers & admins, avoid the complacency that comes with peaceful years on end.

She also works with local law enforcement to plan and practice response time,
review interior maps and perhaps install quick reacting defense, such as tear gas
or floor-level grease dispensers that can disable aggressors in access corridors.

How does my #3b differ from Mr. Strang’s #3. First, it doesn’t add lethal firepower to an area that seeks protection from firepower. I don’t buy the NRA claim that more guns is a solution to ending gun violence. After all, with a population of 200 million adults, America already has 300 million guns. It certainly hasn’t shielded her citizens from violence. Second, it is probably cheaper. Third, it relies on brains, standardized plans and preparation rather than brawn and bullets. Perhaps it’s just me, but I think that this fits within the ethos that we teach our children.

Using a loose analogy, this is why Captain Picard solved problems with his head rather than using his fists and groin like the original Captain Kirk. That earlier Star Trek series looks like a slapstick satire next to the newer one. This is not just due to an improvement in special effects. The Next Generation series is more believable because it is not a “shoot-em-up” western.

And where would the money come from? Probably a reduction in teaching staff!

TSA groping allegations are easily solved

Nov 14 Update: OK, Wild Ducks! I have listened to my readers. Many of you support Amy Alkon’s claim of rape, and I have re-read her original public rant. I agree that—if true—the behavior described is egregiousness and constitutes an abuse of authority. This doesn’t change the validityof my observation nor my advice to Ms. Alkon. But because I am inclined to believe Alkon, I have edited out my own sarcastic spin.

Last month, blogger Kashmir Hill wrote about TSA groping, a topic that never goes away. After all, who can forget this video of a 6 year old girl complaining? *

In the more recent case, Amy Alkon, author of a personal advice Blog, took her gripe to the Internet. She called her LAX pat down a “rape” and claims that the TSA agent put hands into her body four times. Ms. Alkon also said that she would file sexual assault charges against the agent.

TSA pat down
Woha!! I don’t even let my husband do that!

Not surprisingly, Alkon dropped plans for a suit after consulting a lawyer. While the agent may have had a very bad day or may even be a power freak as Ms. Alkon asserts in compelling detail, juries tend to go with any process that protects them from deranged bombers. To prevail, Alkon would need multiple witnesses unani-mously agree that the agent abused her authority and crossed the line from reasonable to rape. Even though Alkon decided against filing in court, she went public with the agent’s name. For the record, it is Thedala Magee.

Short of an investigation and legal contest, we cannot determine if agent Magee probed Alkon’s body cavities without authority or cause. So, the real question is whether it is reasonable to go public with unproven claims against another individual. The answer, of course, is it is reasonable, so long as the complainant doesn’t lie for the purpose of defaming another individual. We call this “Free speech”. We don’t need a judge and jury to say that so-and-so is a jerk or a bully. It is understood that these are personal opinions. Of course, the recipient interprets the claims through a lens of cultural bias, personal experience, and the history and reputation of the speaker.

Alas, Alkon’s claims caused agent Magee some grief, and so she hired her own lawyer who says that Alkon’s blog constitutes defamation. The agent’s attorney wants the slanderous post removed and also wants a settlement of $500,000 (whaat?!!). Agent Magee’s attorney also states that on a return trip to the airport, Alkon called her client “a bad person [who had] sexually molested” her. But wait! It gets better…

As you can imagine, like Sneetches on beaches, it became a free-for-all and everything spun further out of control! Now Alkon is represented by free speech impresario, Marc Randazza, who asserts–you guessed it–his client’s right to free speech.

A free speech lawyer will quickly bring this dispute to an end, because Alkon did not break the law. Our constitution entitles her to publically assert that she was molested and raped so long as it is her view of the event – even if these claims are hurtful, unproven, or refuted by witnesses. It may be unfortunate to agent Magee, but in the court of public opinion, it is sometimes necessary to defend one’s self.

But what about the truth? Was Alkon molested? Perhaps. There’s nothing that she can do about it this time. But guess what? She can do something about it next time!…

This claim of sexually aggressive pat downs by TSA agents is in the press a lot lately, but c’mon folks… It has a simple solution.

Of course, no solution is acceptable if safety is compromised. But let’s look at the requirements pragmatically. If we can satisfy these requirements, then the problem no longer exists:

  • We cannot accept aircraft that are blown to bits because a passenger confuses a security process with sexual molestation (or in this case, “metaphorical rape”).
  • Likewise, with reasonable accommodations, we can avoid the potential for a few bad agents groping travelers with salacious intent.

This leads to the simple solution that I promised:

  1. Pat downs, including those that are near (or within) private areas are a necessary part of vigilance, deterrence and public safety. After all, those who would kill us are willing to die in the process. They cloak explosives in underwear and bras.
  2. If a traveler suspects that a pat down is motivated by anything other than a concern for public safety or if he/she suspects that the process is unnecessarily invasive, that passenger should request the following:
  • Same sex agent
  • A private room away from other eyes
  • A witness (i.e. a traveling companion in the room)
  • Optionally: A video recording of the process taken by the traveler or given to her immediately.

This pretty much takes care of it. None of these things will delay protocol or degrade effectiveness. If availability of these customer-centric accommodations fails to assuage fears of a few travelers, I suggest that they avoid mass transit. In an era of terrorism, it’s perfectly reasonable to accept a uniformed stranger looking through clothes or touching a tush at places of embarkation. That stranger is saving your petootie!

Post Script: I know a thing or two about lushes, letches and womanizers. They do not gravitate toward careers in airport security. Body searches are more impersonal and degrading for the toucher than the touchee. It lacks visceral thrill and actually numbs the Mojo. I defend Ms. Alkon’s right to cry “rape” (if she believes what she claims), but I seriously doubt that TSA agents are molesting passengers. No, not at all! They are protecting us from terrorists. That’s what they do.

So sayeth Ellery. If you think otherwise, please add a comment.

* In the video linked at top, the child is not in distress and the video doesn’t show unreasonable invasion or tawdry activity.