Thursday, October 4, 2007

this is not funny at all

Earlier this week, we made a call to DSS about our new neighbor Iris' mother. The two of them moved in to the apartment building next door about a month ago, and Iris has been coming over pretty much every afternoon since then.

That's because she is nine years old and her mom, who doesn't work, spends all morning and early afternoon at home meditating and hula hooping in the front yard while gabbing on her cell phone but is sure to be gone by the time Iris gets off the school bus at 3:00, and sure to stay away until after 6:00. So if it weren't for us, Iris would be home alone for hours on a regular basis.

Home alone in an apartment that has no computer, no TV, no phone (that's right folks, she has no way to get in touch with her mother), no furniture except for two futons and a cushion, and no food to snack on except for a piece of fruit, if she's lucky.

These are Iris' toys:
--5 marbles
--2 Barbie dolls
--a rock she found that is special to her
--a mint tin-sized container of pins from Disneyland
(She used to also have a chalkboard but her mom took that away after Iris lost her water bottle.)

That's it.

It's not about poverty. It's about Iris' mom choosing to live like a monk, forsaking all earthly temptations and distractions so she can live a "centered" life. So she says. But what it's really about is Iris' mom needing to be in control of everything, including Iris, at all times.

So Iris comes over to play with my kids, play with their toys, consume hundreds of calories in one sitting because she's so ravenous. She comes over to cuddle with our cats, and, we believe, to connect with people who are relatively normal. She comes over so she herself can be normal.

But she can't come over when she's grounded. Which happens frequently, and for the slightest infraction--not finishing her long list of chores fast enough (the list, by the way, always includes writing "I practice truth every day" 25 times on a piece of paper) or complaining about not being allowed to play as much as she would like.

When Iris is grounded, she goes straight to her room after school and stays there until the next morning. She is not allowed to have a snack. She is not allowed to eat dinner. She is allowed to leave her room three times to go to the bathroom. She's not released until 6:45 the next morning, which is when she has the alarm set for, so she can get up and out the door to be at the bus stop at 7, while her mom sleeps late.

The mom has initiated a few conversations with us in which she talks about "wanting to clear the air" and "understanding each other's boundaries" and "sensing judgment" and "communicating." She's got the language down pat and she maintains this totally reasonable, open affect. At the end of each conversation she does her little "namaste" gesture, palms together, a slight bow of thanks. Gratitude. But it's all bullshit. She's totally fucking insane.

Yesterday I asked Iris if she ever had friends from school come over.

"I want to," she said. "But my mom won't let me."

"What about you going over to their houses?"

"I want to do that too," she said. "I got a friend's phone number today but my mom made me throw it out."

"Do you know why?" I asked.

She shrugged her shoulders.

There's more but I'm about wiped out. We have tried to accept that every family does it differently, tried very hard not to judge, but the evidence just keeps building. And we feel kind of powerless. We're not sure what the call to DSS will achieve. If they investigate, will Iris' mom become that much more defensive and entrenched and isolating? Will it be obvious that we're the ones who made the call? Will Iris never be allowed to play over here again? Will they move away?

Of course, because we're just like this, Stupid Daddy and I have begun entertaining fantasies of adopting her. In the meantime, I just want to give the poor girl a giant hug.

Update: Iris has to write an additional 35 "I practice truth every day" sentences because her mom found a pencil under her futon. This was a second pencil, and Iris is only allowed to have one.


Someday Scientist said...

i believe that there would be nothing wrong with how the mother has chosen to lead her life... IF she didn't have a daughter.

her daughter did not choose that, and that sort of lifestyle most definitely has to be a choice.

there are sacrifices parents have to make. the mother could still lead a life similar to the one she lives now, without subjecting her daughter to such a harsh treatment.

she is not a true bhuddist/taoist/zennist/whatever. they believe in laughter and innocence. they chose their lifestyles based on their own experiences. they had true childhoods, just like this mother most likely had, and that is a key factor in their lifestyles. this mother is, like you say, all about control.

poor Iris.

Story said...

My husband and I have been in the same situation before with neighbor kids and it is so hard to sit silently and watch stuff go on..when you know in your heart it isn't fair to the child. I agree with the other comment, there would be nothing wrong with her living her life that way, if she wasn't dragging a child into it with her. Keep us updated on what happens, I hope things work out to little Iris's benefit!!

BrianJ said...

what a very sad plight...i know all too well that when you're in a situation it can be hard to tell what the right thing is and if you've done it. it sounds like y'all've been acting out of great concern for little Iris and making sure you don't overstep. although adopting her is probably the best idea on the table, calling CPS (or whatever y'all call it in your parts) is probably the best course you got. I'm guessing talking to mom would be a maddening, Iris-punishing experience AND you lose your ability to provide her the love, care, and affection she needs. You also can't spy on mom and look after Iris if crazy (excuse me, "enlightened") mom is on to you. Wholly appropriate tactics, I'd argue. This really sucks. Best wishes to y'all and little Iris.

BrianJ said...

p.s. cps reports have a cumulative effect. One report may not bring action, but several will. But as you pointed out, how will that ultimately impact Iris? Unpredictable, but mom will likely respond in a manner that allows her to maintain control...if Iris remains in her custody and the pair remain in your state. Ughhh...good luck with her. Maybe Iris can become a famous kid in commercials and then have the cash to emancipate herself from mom. It could happen. Of course, mom wouldn't stand for endorsing such consumerism...but would likely have no problems spending the cash on "enlightening", Tibetan adventures. Bitch...