Friday, September 2, 2011

My Family's Close Encounter With Child Protective Services, Part One

Sometimes when I'm typing a blog, I'll touch lightly upon something at least mildly interesting to me that has happened about which I had essentially forgotten. Such was the case when I veered recently onto the topic of the time CPS paid a visit to my family at our home.

It all began on a Sunday afternoon in February after my immediate family had spent a weekend with my mom's side of the family celebrating what would have been both of my maternal grandparents' birthdays had they still been alive. (Both passed away before my parents were married, long before my brother and I were born.) My father had driven with us on the previous Thursday from our northern California home to Las Vegas for this family reunion. He didn't return with us, though, because he needed to be in Los Angeles for work reasons the following morning, and it made more sense for him to fly directly from Las Vegas to Los Angeles than to drive all the way back home with us to take a flight of much greater distance. The problem was that his absence left my mother attempting to transport two nine-year-olds who were incapable of sharing a backseat without terrorizing each other. We weren't going directly home. We planned to spend a night in the southern San Joaquin Valley with my mom's close friend, so we took a shorter but even less scenic route than we had taken from our home to Las Vegas.

The early part of the drive was merely monotonous. The freeway (I-15, I think) leads from Vegas down through even more barren parts of Nevada and California than we had experienced previously. The most exciting things we saw were a giant thermometer in Baker, California, and a former train car that had been converted into a McDonald's. We of course saw the train car from a distance. Despite our pleas, my mother wasn't about to supply us with fast food that she considered and still considers practically akin to poison. (An hour or so later, my mom probably wished she'd given in and poisoned us with the greasy chemical-laden fast fare to which the McDonald's corporation euphemistically refers as food.) At Barstow, we switched to another highway that took us through part of the Mohave Desert and across the Tehachapi Mountains. It was February, and signs warning of inclement weather were flashing. I heard my mom curse under her breath each time another sign warning us of high winds, icy roads, precipitation at below-freezing temperatures, and the possible requirement of tire chains, came into view.

Just as we ascended to meet our first snow flurries of the trip, my brother noticed the absence of a couple of strands of Mardi Gras beads that had been handed out at various places on the Las Vegas Strip in anticipation of an upcoming Mardi Gras parade. As he was looking for them, I quietly slipped the beads, which I had picked up from a nightstand in our Vegas hotel room where my brother had left them as we were making our final exit, and moved them from my sweatshirt pocket, where I knew my brother would look for them, to the carseat, directly under my body. I had to arranged them so that I would be sitting on just one layer's thickness of the beads. Otherwise, the discomfort of the beads under my practically meatless legs and bottom would have been unbearable for any length of time. As it was, the carefully arranged beads were far from comfortable. I would discover the next morning that my bottom and legs sported chains of bead-shaped red welts and deep purple bruises.

Matthew was moaning about the absence of his beads and telling my mother that we needed to go back to the hotel to get them. By this time we were roughly three hours away from the hotel, and perhaps halfway across the
stormy passageway through thr Tehachapis. If my mom had left her wedding ring, or even one of us, at the hotel, odds would have been against her driving back to retrieve the missing item or child. She told him that there was no way in hell she would turn around and travel all the way back to Vegas for few damned strings of Mardi Gras beads. This was a clear indication of my mother's stress level. My brother and I had been exposed by that time to all the routine swear words, minus the F-bomb, by my father's rather colorful vocabulary when he watched sporting events at home on TV. We heard the words from Dad, but we knew wew were never to use those words ourselves, and, as a rule, our mother never used them, either. Even she had her breaking point, though, and driving through a snowstorm in the Tehachapis with a nine-year-old boy carrying on about his missing Mardi Gras beads as though he was an older and more hormone-driven boy who would get to ride on a Mardi Gras float in a parade and throw the beads to receive the usual anticipated reward was my mother's breaking point.

My mom launched into a tirade, the basic point of which was that we were all going to be killed when she drove over an icy cliff because she couldn't see though the snow and couldn't control the vehicle because it was too hard to concentrate with two shrieking banshees in the back seat fighting over $%&&*#-@^*%#ed Mardi Gras beads. The particular expletive she chose actually broke one of the ten commandments; I couldn't wait to tell my dad. Then she sighed and said, "Alexis, why don't you just give Matt the beads that you have? I'll gladly pay you for them when we stop."

I hadn't been given any Mardi Gras beads on the strip. Matthew knew this. "Alexis doesn't have any Mardi Gras beads," he told my mom.

"What about the ones I saw you carrying out of the hotel room?" my mom asked in response.

"Were those Mardi Gras beads?" I asked, feigning innocence. "I tossed them into the wastebasket because I didn't want to leave a mess for the maid. I though they were trash," I lied. It was typical of me at that age to be highly concerned with my mother having broken one of the Ten Commandments but totally oblivious to my having done the same.

"You tossed my Mardi Gras beads in the trash?!?!?" my brother shouted. "Just for that, I'm going to toss your doll right out the window!" At nine, I was mostly past playing with dolls, but I still owned each doll I had ever possessed, and usually took a small one in the car with me on long trips. The doll passenger on the Vegas trip was Skipper, Barbie's younger cousin, whom I saw for the very last time as my brother quickly lowered the window and threw her out.

It was then my turn to wail and beg my mother to stop so that we could find Skipper. "Alexis, we couldn't find that doll if we had a search party with bloodhounds." My mother made no attempt to conceal her exasperation. "She's probably a thousand feet below us by now." Her words did little to pacify me. I continued to cry and plead. By this time, my mother, too, was crying. "If I stop this car," she said through her tears, "it will not be to look for a doll, and it will not be to turn around and go back to Las Vegas for some stupid plastic beads. If I stop the car, it will be to spank both of you." Matthew and I immediately stopped all protestations, although I continued to sniffle quietly. "At least use a tissue," my mom said, thrusting a Kleenex box into the back seat.

We eventually reached our south valley destination. My mother, ordinarily not much of a drinker, exited the car, not even waiting for us. She rang her friend's doorbell as we scrambled out of the car after her (with me hurriedly stashing the disputed beads under the car seat), afraid we'd be left outside to fend for ourselves in the cold all night. Her friend's husband let us in, commenting that my mother didn't look well. Her only explanation was, "I need a drink. Now."



  1. This reminds me of an 18 hour car trip we took with my grandparents to Maine. It shouldn't have taken 18 hours, but there was a concert in New Hampshire and a lot of traffic.

    As a baby, I was given this stuffed Big Bird. Somewhere over the line it was given to my brother Jason (which I still to this day say was without my permission... but what's it worth now?) Anyways Jason and I were sitting in the back seat arguing about who's toy it was. Traffic was probably heavy and my grandfather, who drove all over creation but had no patience yelled at us from the back seat "If you don't stop, I'm gonna throw that God D@^%#* bird out the window!!" Instant silence.

    I think everyone has a story from when they were a kid misbehaving in the car. :)

  2. I agree, Becca. Any family that traveled by car must have a story or two to tell. Kids and long confinements in cars are conducive to mortal combat.

  3. Your poor mother, I would have not handled driving in the snow with the 2 of you any better. In fact, I probably would have plowed into a snow bank where we would have frozen to death. Did you ever give your brother the beads?

  4. Amelia, when the marks on my legs and bottom were discovered a few days later, I had no choice but to hand them over.