Jane Roper

Writer. Blogger. Hater of Olives.

Empowered & Helpless

1. Empowered

For a long time, Clio has stated her desire and intention to be a professional musician, just like her dad. Actually, as far as she’s concerned, she is a professional musician.

And she has always loved rocking out in the privacy of her own home. Observe:  (Taken a little over a year ago. In the era B.C.)


But she’s always been a bit shy about singing on stage with her dad, when given the opportunity. And he does give her — and Elsa — the opportunity from time to time at his shows. Elsa is a natural performer. You’d think we’ve been entering her in toddler-in-tiara-type pageants all her life. She loves to smile and flirt with the audience. But Clio has always been reserved on stage — if she’ll go at all.

But that has changed recently. Alastair has been singing one of the songs off his about-to-be-launched album for kids with (and without) cancer, “When I Get Bald” at some of his shows over the past couple of months, and has invited Clio to come up on stage and sing with him. And not only does she accept — she gets up there and belts it out.

Maybe this would have happened anyway, even if cancer didn’t happen to her. Maybe she would have gotten more confident, and more serious about practicing her professional musician skills. But I can’t help thinking the experience of this past year has helped her develop the strength and courage to get up there on stage and sing with dad. If she can handle 60 chemo shots in her thighs, twice daily blood thinner shots, blood draws, chemo side effects, missing school and losing her hair, she can handle singing in front of a crowd. About being bald. And how it’s something to be proud, not ashamed of.


2. Helpless

We have some close neighbors who are troubled people. They are: an older woman, her boyfriend, her son, his girlfriend (until recently), occasionally another guy whose relationship to the family I don’t know, and her granddaughter. The adults smoke, they drink, and we think at least one of them is addicted to something harder.

And they fight. Good God, do they fight. They — and other family members who don’t live in the house, but who occasionally show up — have fought in the street, multiple times, at least once where a weapon was involved. (The police have been called many times, sometimes by us and other neighbors, sometimes by them.) They fight inside the house, and now that it’s summer, and windows are open, we hear it more. Sometimes it’s not all-out fighting; sometimes just brief, loud, cursing squalls.

And in the middle of all this is the granddaughter, who I’ll call K. — three years old, sweet as can be. Since she was born, we’ve given her hand-me-down gear and clothes and toys. We go out of our way to be kind to her, to talk to her. The girls are big sisterly toward her, and Elsa lets her take spins up and down the sidewalk on her scooter.

One night, when there was a big family fight happening outside — in front of K., with the police present — I went out and offered to bring K. inside with me until things cooled off. (Long story, but bottom line, the grandmother wouldn’t let them back in the house.) I was honestly a little scared doing this; Alastair was away, and the girls were upstairs sleeping. But it felt like the right thing to do.

I gave K. some applesauce, and she sat on couch with me, and I read her some of the girls’ old board books while she smiled and pointed and cuddled with me. She smelled like cigarette smoke. Her mother, when she came back in to get her, smelled like booze.

She is fed and clothed, and actually seems like a happy kid, though I hear her crying when the adults are fighting and I’ve heard them yell at her in a less than gentle fashion. I don’t know that she’s ever been physically abused, although the adults are definitely physical with each other.

Her father is a decent guy, and I think he tries hard to be a good dad. He doesn’t want to be living in his mother’s crowded apartment. But he doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of choices.

I just wish there was more we could do to make this girl’s life little stabler, a little safer. Sometimes I feel guilty for not doing more, but on the other hand, it’s complicated. Example: While I’ve mentioned free preschool / Head Start to her dad a few times, I’ve never actually looked up the info myself and printed it out and gave it to him. (Pretty sure he doesn’t have a computer…)

But how would I feel if a neighbor came over and handed me a flyer for some program she thought I should enroll my kids in? A wee bit condescended to, right? Like, hey, don’t tell me how to raise my kids.

If I had evidence that she  was being physically abused or somehow neglected, I would call social services in a heartbeat. But I don’t. And there’s no law against raising a child in a volatile, economically disadvantaged home.

Who knows. Maybe she’ll be OK. Maybe she’ll beat the odds and do well in school and avoid addiction and have a happy, successful life. But more likely, I fear, things won’t go that way. She’s got a tough road ahead, and it’s hard to see it up close, and not be able to do anything — while, meanwhile, we’re so close by, working so hard to give our own girls a good start in life.




  1. the one thing i have learned the hard way is that you cannot be everything to everyone

  2. Glad to hear Elsa is rocking out!

    Print the stuff out and say, “Hey, the girls school sent home these flyers to pass around and I thought you might be interested in free preK”.

  3. sondra Papatsoris

    June 26, 2013 at 9:52 pm

    How sad for this child, Jane. Please know that calling DCF would be the right thing to do. I can’t imagine they have not already been notified but the more people that file, the more likely they are to step in. What you do know is that this child is a victim of domestic violence and neglect (emotional is more harmful than physical studies show) and it sounds like if her caregivers are using hard substances, she is likely not safe in this home. There is a DCF hotline that takes calls 24 hours. This child needs services and DCF will connect them to Head Start perhaps other things. Take care of yourself. It sounds traumatic for your family to witness all of this chaos. Best, Sondra
    PS: I’m a social worker

    • It has been very traumatic at times for the girls. Elsa even had trouble sleeping once one night after there was a fight in the street, the police came, and even came to question us about what we’d seen. Honestly, they are one of the main reasons we think about moving.

      My fear about calling DCF is that they’ll know I called and confront me about it (and frankly, I’m a little scared of them).

      But thank you for the advice. Maybe I will, if they can connect her with services. I just hate the idea of intervention making her life even worse, ie if they took her away from her parents and she ended up getting bounced around to different foster homes as another commenter mentioned…

      • Sondra Papatsoris

        June 27, 2013 at 12:47 pm

        Jane, the 51A filing is anonymous if you want it to be. They will never know its you but I understand your apprehension. I can tell you, it’s unlikely they will remove her unless another family member w/ a stable environment could care for her. It would be a wake up call for them, services would be provided and hopefully a monthly visit from a social worker to engage w/ this family. Ugh….it’s so difficult to know….I worked in the ED at Childrens and it’s so hard to feel you are punishing parents but what I realized is that it can (not always) make a difference.

    • Tu as toujours des looks a tomebr par terre quel dressing et shoesing !!!! c’est juste le reave en tout cas bravo, tu me fais reaver chaque jouret puis j’ai enfin trouve9 a qui tu me faisais penser Barbara Schulz .

  4. I wish I had more words of wisdom but looks like there is already some good advice in comments. Will just say prayers and send good wishes for both little K and you! On a happier note I love the pic and story about Clio…and love the new album!

  5. I live next door to a woman who hits her sons and verbally degrades them; her constant yelling permeates my mornings, afternoons, and evenings; across the street the drug addicted woman allows her drug addicted boyfriend to chase her out of the house with objects raging from tennis rackets to crowbars–I am surrounded by violence. The police come regularly, but nothing changes. The woman with the boys is immaculate and the boys are well-taken care of, no social service worker would ever remove them from the home (the NYC foster system is a mess). All this being said, I empathize with you being flanked by such chaos–I worry that my 2.5 year old will be affected by the constant screaming, and I too feel helpless and guilty and wonder what I can do,i if anything.

  6. The worst thing calling dfs is they open a case, investigate and if they think appropriate close the case. However dfs has the knowledge and resources to help the family perhaps move or get the child I’m school. It it’s all drug addict parents and by the by living in that environment is abusive. I grew up that way and clawed my way out. Now I volunteer with our dfs to help kids not live the way I did. Call.

  7. I’m sorry your family has to witness this. Although your girls were sleeping that evening if it happens often I’m sure they’ve witnessed some of it. It was a very nice thing you did for that little girl that evening. By bringing her in and caring for her you may have shown her not everyone is violent. Maybe if she’s in harms way or scared again she’ll run over to your door knowing its a safe environment to run to for help.
    You do whatever you feel is right. There are some good suggestions here about calling child services. You do what you feel is best and in the mean time continue to watch for opportunities to show this little girl not everyone is mean and there is a safe place and nice people to run to if needed.

  8. Ain’t it always something?

    I agree with Robin. I think you call if and when you are ready to call, and you provide backup in any way you can whenever you can. I think small moments can be bigger than they seem, and you may be able to have an enormous impact by just providing a chance for some light to shine through.

    That you have the capacity to look out for this child while your own is in peril says so much about the size of your heart Jane. Just keep on keepin on. And please keep writing.

    • What a great outfit, Claire! Love every sginle item you’re wearing. The bag (new?) is fantastic love the framboise colour. Didn’t know the brand at all. Very cool (and very tempting). Wondering if I can find it in London

  9. Your story of Clio is so uplifting! Her courage and little victories are what life is all about!

    For little K – I think that what you are doing now, is the best thing for her. Keeping your door open to her so that when she is old enough to walk over on her own, she will feel like your house is a safe place where she can go to. That you and your family are the calm in the storm. I think if she realizes that she has a place to just get away for a few moments, even if its to just take a walk, perhaps with you or the girls, that can make a world of difference and her living situation will not dictate her path in life.

    Chin up and smile 🙂

  10. Wow. This is such a powerful post because the two stories contrast so vividly. I think you’re doing about all you can with the girl nearby, but I can totally see how hard that is. And for Clio and Elsa too. Thinking of you. xo

  11. i can’t. my heart hurts seeing kids who are sad or hurt or being neglected. And sometimes I do whatever I can. Sometimes I do nothing and try harder to be good to my kids. It’s an unfair world.
    Personally, I think providing information they may not have about schools or programs is totally fine–but I don’t know them. It’s your judgement in the end.
    Keep up your good work, jane.

  12. I’m gonna say stick with applesauce and books as needed or until it’s really not adequate. All things being equal, you’re already crossed into a really caring and neighborly place that wasn’t expected in the first place, and both of you are getting something from it. I think it’s already a useful, helpful, available and loving gesture. If you’re worried that it’s not enough, who says? You’re not in the social worker role, but you’re doing an amazing neighbor role. K., just like Clio, is going to surprise you, I think.

  13. I don’t know what the children’s services are like where you live. but my husband is an attorney and we see every day the damage they do in children’s lives. If you have an efficient, helpful system that really wants to help families and keep them together, calling them might be good. But if it’s a broken system where kids are put in foster care, moved around a lot, and the parents are given so many impossible tasks to complete so that they never get the kid back, that’s not a good thing. If she seems to have a bond with her family, they seem to love her, and she isn’t in physical danger, I would keep doing exactly what you’ve been doing, and possibly try even harder if possible to befriend the adults so that offering info about Head Start will seem not condescending but just friendly.

  14. I agree with Tasha that there is a way to give them flyers without it seeming condescending. K is lucky to have good neighbors, and just knowing she’s welcome in your home probably empowers her more than you realize.

    Glad to know both your girls are comfortable on stage! No small feat.

  15. I think you should give the dad information about the free preschool. Ultimately it will be his choice whether he seeks it out. If he doesn’t know about it, then he’ll never have the opportunity. I once heard an ad on the radio about free dental care at the local Children’s Hospital. I called an acquaintance (who had some money but chose not to spend it on the health of his child) and let him know about the service. He called and made an appointment. The poor kid’s teeth were so bad he needed a root canal, a crown and a few fillings in his permanent teeth at age 7. He had NEVER seen a dentist before. Obviously every situation is different, but I think he was actually grateful that I thought about him and cared about his son’s health. Good luck!!! I sure hope little K will be one of the lucky ones.

  16. So glad Clio is getting braver. I’ve noticed this in Jack, as well. He has such a gentle nature and it’s good to see him step up and express himself more! Silver linings!

    I was totally one of those kids like the neighbor girl. I was blessed with a best friend whose family treated me like one of their own. I was invited over for dinner, sleepovers, and on vacations with them. My mom was happy to have the help – I’m sure she knew that our home wasn’t the best environment. I would suggest that you keep doing what you’re doing, and also let the family know that you have access to more information if they’d like it. I agree they might be offended if you were to print information out and hand it over, but you can still have the conversation. There can be reasons they are afraid to look into the head start and maybe you can help allay those fears.

  17. I am very judgmental about families like your neighbors. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for people like that. Going through infertility has really hardened my heart to people who don’t appreciate and give their kids the best of the best. Smoking around children is tacky and harmful. That alone shows where this child ranks on their priorities list. So you don’t want my advice, because I am not as forgiving as you are. I will never understand why God gives people like that children easy peasy but people like me have to go through infertility and I had to practically kill myself to be able to have a child. All I can feel is anger about that subject.

    Others gave you good advice about that. It is nice of you to be loving toward her and give her the girls hand me downs. You are dealing with so much already in your own family.

    I am glad Clio is getting to live out her rock star fantasy. 🙂 She is lucky to have a Daddy that can help her.

  18. Yay for Clio! Look forward to seeing her rock out with her dad and Elsa in church sometime soon.

    Re: your neighbors, I agree with the poster who said, “Do whatever you feel is right.” And what’s “right” today, may be different tomorrow or two months from now. Many of my therapy clients are survivors of this kind of childhood and they are either amazingly resilient or sadly, very damaged (and often a bit of both). Showing this little girl love and kindness means more than you know.

    Prayers for your family and hers.

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