“600 words by Esther J. Cepeda”
Wrong is easy to spot, but “right” is sometimes trickier.
Ricardo Gonzalez, the 35-year-old Midlothian, Illinois man who is facing misdemeanor child endangerment charges for locking his two and five-year-old daughters in a makeshift cage in his pickup truck was definitely wrong to do such a thing. But his story tells me he actually was just trying to do the right thing.
Gonzalez was not a cruel monster bent on torturing his kids for fun – though there’s no end to those, a quick clip search will show you that parents from all races/ethnicities, socieoeconomic levels and geographies commit terrible crimes against their children. But let’s dig beneath the headlines: here’s a poorly educated guy trying to raise two small children with the girls’ mother – the same woman who, two years ago, had gotten herself in trouble for driving off to the store and leaving one of the girls, then 3, home alone.
So you’re this guy, scraping by on what you can make foraging and reselling scrap metal and whatever else you can find. You’ve got these two little girls who are out of school, you have no one to care for them (a neighbor was quoted in a news story as saying she would have watched the kids but let’s be realistic here, she probably didn’t mean all day every day) and you know well enough not to leave them home alone. You think about taking them with but you figure letting the girls roll around in the cab of the car isn’t a good idea either.
The lightbulb goes off and though you know a makeshift cage in the cab of your truck isn’t optimal you’ve solved the problem of not being able to have the girls near and relatively safe as you make your all-day rounds in the pickup.
Surely Gonzalez didn’t have the cultural or legal awareness to understand that sitting at a gas station with one daughter in your lap while the other cries in your makeshift cage is not going to go over well. In this country a concerned passerby will bust you out to the police. And so it happened.
Given his resources and expertise, was Ricardo Gonzalez abusing his daughters by keeping them as safe and as close as he knew how? I say no. Gonzalez is just one example of someone doing the best he can with what he’s got – people do unwise things out of desperation.
Either way he was clearly breaking the law and was badly in need of an intervention – good intentions aside, children cannot thrive in an environment devoid of familial support, safe shelter, and healthy stimulation, which anyone can see was not a part of the trash picking rounds.
I’ve heard people twittering about this latest sad story for the last two days, none of whom were able to look past what he did to see why he did it.
Some of us – the lucky ones – can cast an eye at what’s going on with the economy, oil and gas prices, and food prices, and cluck about how terrible this natural market correction is even as we get ready to go to Ravinia to enjoy A Prairie Home Companion and a bottle of wine.
For others, desperate times are calling for desperate and dangerous measures. They need help.
Tonight as I clap along to the Powdered Milk Biscuits song, my mind won’t be too far from Ricardo Gonzalez and his struggling family, and I’ll send them my silent best wishes that they can find any help they need to stay together and move on.
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