THOSE KIDS WHO WERE LEFT AT THE MALL
Jean Seide and Bilaine Seint-Just came from someplace in Africa where they speak French.
He – Jean – is 39, and she – Bilaine – is 36, and they are janitors at the mall.
And Saturday, they both had to work.
It’s at the rich-people’s mall, out on the eastside across the county line, quite a ways from their humble home in the city. But they’re on the crew that keeps the place squared away and on Saturday they had to work.
And they didn’t have a babysitter.
The lady who usually does it – the one on the news last night, with the head covering and the heavy accent – she has started taking a class on the weekends.
And that put them in a spot.
Their older girl is 8, their younger girl is 5, and their little boy is just a month old.
They don’t take public assistance, they support themselves, and they were scheduled to work on Saturday cleaning the mall.
Which gave rise to a certain desperation. A real-world difficulty not well addressed by effete discussions about the availability and affordability of daycare. The hypotheticals of a mall with a supervised place to drop off children don’t really do anything to help the reality of a mom and dad with mouths to feed and rent to pay and a shift to show up for.
These two people from Africa were in a tight spot.
So they did what my mother did.
Though with my mother it was usually at one of a handful of parks in Los Angeles, California, in the mid ‘60s. She would drop me off with a sandwich and a sweater on her way to work in the morning, and pick me up on her way home in the evening. This was when I was 6 and 7. She was a waitress and my step-father was a short-order cook and they were in a pretty tight spot themselves.
So I would slide on the slides and sit on the benches and sleep under the eucalyptus trees. The hours would pass and people would come and go and if it rained I would find something to get under.
At other times, I watched my baby brother all day in an empty bar attached to the diner where they worked, or he and I simply stayed in our three-room apartment with me giving him bottles and changing his diaper according to a schedule on a piece of paper.
None of this was neglect.
All of this was necessary.
Was it ideal? No. Did it have to be? Yes.
Money has to be earned, food has to be bought, rent has to be paid.
Kids need babysitters, kids need to eat. The question becomes, which do they need more? Moms and dads sometimes have to make that decision.
I don’t think that’s changed in 50 years.
And I don’t think these people did anything wrong.
After six hours, somebody told Security and Security told the deputy and the deputy wrote them up and called Child Protective and now they’re on the evening news and folks who shop at the rich-people’s mall opined for the television cameras about what’s right and what’s wrong and politics and maybe the mall could open a daycare center for the people who work there. Then they got into $30,000 minivans and drove home while two African janitors tried to figure out how to pay the expense that goes along with six counts of endangering the welfare of a minor.
And find a babysitter for Saturdays.
Presuming all this hasn’t gotten them fired from their jobs.
There are bad people in the world, and they neglect their kids. But these people aren’t them. These people are a mom and dad who work. Who support their own family. Why pay their own way.
And they got in a tight spot.
This wasn’t a good choice, but they felt it was their only choice. Two people from another culture, with mouths to feed and bills to pay.
It seems like somehow we ought to be able to understand, and spare them the humiliation of public criticism and the expense of criminal prosecution.
- by Bob Lonsberry © 2017