***WARNING! WARNING! WARNING!***
***LONG, RAMBLING, SERIOUS POST AHEAD!***
Have you ever known a family with problems?
No, I don't mean that family where the one kid rebelled, coloring his hair black and piercing everything before heading off to college, nor even the family where the daughter got pregnant at 16 and the dad collected uneployment and drank too much, and everyone on the block talked about them behind their backs...
I mean a family for whom you actually felt afraid.
I guess maybe the question should be re-phrased... have you ever known a family about which you felt extreme concern and considered DOING something about?
Okay wait - here's a third way to put it:
When do you go beyond "tsk-ing" at other peoples' problems and actually intervene in some measureable way, even if it means calling the police, child protection, or something else?
Yeah, I know, you have no idea what I'm talking about...
So, I'll tell you a little story and maybe you can help me figure out what to do, if anything.
The matriarch is Grandma. Grandma is always very nice to me. We talk a few times a week, mostly when I visit her at her home. (No she's not my tenant, I just know her.)
When I met Grandma, she had four grandchildren in her household: two boys and two girls. The eldest boy, who I'll call "William" is near 18, and like a father to the younger kids. He's without a doubt the most thoughtful, responsible person in the household. He likes to work on cars, and developed a sort of (masculine) crush on the Good Scientist very early on, since they share this interest.
The younger boy, who I'll call "Rob," is an asshole. It's probably part due to his age, which I'd put at about 13. He's barely ever around, and when he is, he's incredibly rude to his family, and embodies the gangbanger stereotype, not only in costume but in mannerisms, including a propensity to shout profanities and racial slurs at his "friends," no matter who's around to hear.
The two smallest children are the girls. They are 6 and 4. (I'll just call them "the girls" because I can't think of any good pseudonyms for them.) They are sweet, curious children, but developmentally behind. (The 6-year-old completed kindergarten last year, but still cannot sing the A-B-C song. The 4-year-old speaks like a 2-year-old.)
There is one other on-again-off-again member of this household, and she is Grandma's daughter, as well as mother of the two girls. (Let's call her Yasmin.)
Grandma doesn't work, because she's caring for the children. She spends most of her day drinking and talking on the phone to people about what stuff is costing her and how she doesn't have enough money.
William goes to high school, and spends his time afterwards working on cars and watching out for the little girls. He tries to watch out for Rob too, but they usually just end up arguing and Rob stomps off to hang out with his friends.
Yasmin is usally out of the picture, since she spends most of her time in jail for crack. Every now and then, however, she gets out... and shit gets WAY worse...
... like recently. Here's what happened:
Yasmin came home from jail last spring.
Her two little girls were so elated!!! They wanted to spend every minute hugging her and playing with her... but Yasmin had other things on her mind, it seems. She proceeded to spend the next couple of months either a) holed up in her room, (was she smoking??? I don't know!) or b) out with male friends. She never got a job, and didn't do much of anything for the kids.
Rob remained gone most of the time.
William moved up north for the summer to work on cars at his uncle's place.
The little girls languished without interaction, as Grandma sat on the phone with her booze, and mom was like a ghost - not really there, even when she was there.
On my regular visits to their home, I often found the girls lounging on the dirt yard, playing with such inappropriate items as: toxic markers; a staple gun; and handfuls of raw ground meat. They were often in various states of undress.
The summer waned on, and in spite of my fumbling attempts to assist the family in procuring summer care for (at least) the girls, nothing really changed.
Recently, things got even worse.
I noticed that Yasmin disappeared. I assumed she was back in jail, and Grandma confirmed this in our most recent conversation. While this alone would not surprise me now, the accompanying tale she told me DID:
Grandma said that Yasmin had gotten picked up on a warrant, (For what this time - I didn't ask) and that she was ordered to the workhouse for 36 days. Grandma pleaded with the appropriate powers to let Yasmin turn herself in a week later, because that was when William was coming back from up north, and could help take over for Yasmin in helping Grandma with Rob and the girls.
That request was granted.
William's return overlapped by a day or so with Yasmin's scheduled departure.
They got into a fight.
Yasmin threw one of the two pots of boiling water (which Grandma keeps on the stove for humidity) at William and burned him. When she reached for the second pot, William threw himself at her and held her tightly, arms at her sides. (As Grandma recounts, anyway.)
Yasmin started screaming, struggled free, and proceeded to call the police, alleging attempted strangulation. When the police arrived, Yasmin (again, according to Grandma,) feigned injury, moaning and groaning and pinching her neck to show how William had tried to kill her.
William was subsequently picked up, brought to juvenile detention, and tried on assault charges.
Yasmin reiterated her story before the judge, while Grandma testified to the contrary.
William was sent to a local detention camp for 12 months. (And then Yasmin missed her turn-in date and got almost another year herself.)
As I stood there the other day with Grandma, listening to this story, I couldn't help but ponder the veracity of her words. The truth is that I don't know what to believe, from any of these guys. I have caught the girls lying to me on a number of ocassions, and I know that it's a learned behavior. I am filled with doubt and uncertainty whenever I talk to any of them...
But there I was, frozen, listening to Grandma, watching as the tears filled her eyes and slowly began to spill over. She kept talking, feverishly, as they dripped from her chin, staining her rumpled shirt. I listened dumbly... numbly... encapsulated in the sad halo of her alcohol-breath, unable to form a thought apart from discomfort at the expanding gassy-bubble of hatred ascending from my gut, on whose surface was the face... of Yasmin.
It was then, as I stood there fighting my discomfort, that Grandma produced the sickening *cherry, brilliant in it's horrifying simplicity, atop this veritable sundae of disfunction:
She said to me: (and I paraphrase)
Yeah, and that's why all them cars been comin' up in here, I know you seen 'em and you don't approve, and I'm gonna stop, cuz you know I know it's bad for me with my asthma, but I just can't handle all a this, and I need me some weed an that stuff too, you know... to relax myself.
Should I do anything???? Say anything???? To anybody or nobody??? And if yes, what??? To whom???
I'm getting an ulcer thinking about all of this - especially those little girls.
*Bad sundae metaphor idea stolen from Jeremy at Afterglide.