We watched “Old Enough” as a family, a Japanese show that follows toddlers and preschoolers as they run their first errands alone. Tiny tots, some as young as two, crossing busy streets by themselves to buy a grocery item or snack.
“That would never happen here,” we would say to each other, repeatedly. “‘Someone would definitely call Child Protective Services on you.”
It’s true. Here—as in the USA and Canada—there are dangers real and exaggerated that stop parents from letting their little kids wander free-range. Streets are often not pedestrian-friendly. Nosy bystanders might report you to the authorities. And then there are kidnappers and other baddies lurking, waiting for the opportunity to harm your child…which does happen, but not nearly as much as media makes you believe.
People my age grew up in an era of “stranger danger” warnings, which we’ve taken to heart. Now we’re parents, and passing on those lessons to our children. The numbers show us that violent crime is not up from when we were little. The world has not gotten more dangerous.
But you wouldn’t know it from the way crime is discussed. True crime documentaries and podcasts abound (there are way too many of them, honestly) and I have to admit I listen to My Favorite Murder, probably the most popular true crime podcast there is, so I am part of the problem.
While I buy that all this true crime content does create some good—the attention they’ve brought to cold cases have gotten a number of them solved, for instance—they also create a sense that crime is all around us, and we should be on our guard always.
As with many areas of modern life, there’s an implication that with more information, we can make better decisions. Everyone’s raising awareness about everything these days. But there’s only so much your brain can take, and there is such a thing as too much information. It all comes at you like a fire hose aimed at your head, making it very hard to think. With so much exposure to stories of crime, it’s not wonder we’ve become hypervigilant and fearful of all the worsts that could happen.
Yesterday I walked past this engraved stone which stands in the midst of a grove of trees by a trail. I used to take this trail every day, and often I would stop and read the engraving. The grove is still and quiet, and rather eerie.
Glory Whelan was walking to school in broad daylight, in a small rural Ontario town about 120 years ago, when she was killed. Her case has never been solved. Random violent crime has always happened, even in idyllic places. It happens in rural Canada and it even happens in “Old Enough” Japan.
I try to fight through my conditioning and remind myself to give Beanie the freedom she deserves and is ready for. How will she grow otherwise? But it’s hard not to give in to the fear. Perhaps if we spend more time in places where independence is fostered in children, I’ll learn and grow too.
We went to the Big City this past weekend, Toronto (properly pronounced “Toe-ron-oh,” apparently).
Many people were there for Pride weekend. I was afraid we’d face crowds everywhere we went, but the places Pride visitors go and the places you might take an 8-year-old surprisingly don’t overlap all that much, so things were pretty chill.
Here are some of the things Beanie got up to at the Ontario Science Centre:
These days, when I’m in a city, one of the first things I notice is whether there are a lot of unhoused people on the streets. I notice the absence of, as much as the presence.
Even if you haven’t been to San Francisco recently, you’ve probably heard that it’s gotten bad. And it has gotten bad. Market Street has never been pristine, but we were walking there one night recently and we passed a horde of 20 or 30 people openly using drugs and shuffling around in circles like zombies.
At a SF travel conference I attended in 2019, the city’s travel bureau rep spoke frankly about how the homeless crisis was hurting SF tourism, including the departure of big annual conventions like Oracle’s. The homeless crisis is probably not the only reason these groups are avoiding SF, but it’s the one they’ve named. It’s become a problem with far-reaching repercussions, humanitarian and beyond.
Toronto is a huge city and has its share of the unhoused too. According to the City of Toronto’s Street Needs Assessment, there were 7,347 homeless people in Toronto in April 2021. That’s still a big number, but San Francisco had roughly the same number of homeless people at last count, with less than one-third of the total population.
Perhaps because Toronto covers so much more space, the Toronto homeless population isn’t as visible as the one in SF. It feels like the problem isn’t nearly as bad up here, and there also aren’t as many people with serious mental health issues living on the streets. But that might be my ignorance talking. I do notice the absence of homeless people when I walk around Toronto, but it’s possible I’m not looking in the right places, or looking hard enough to see them at all.
Canadians do love showing their Canadian pride, and that includes flying their flag. On my daily walks last year, I saw flags outside many private homes, on flagpoles or hanging in windows. I noticed the flags, but I also noticed my reaction to the flags, which was to dispassionately say to myself, “They really like flying their flag here.” The Canadian flag is pretty, and the maple leaf looks like decoration.
“Look at my innocuous leaf,” the flag says. “I’m just nice and not jingoistic at all.”
Back home when I see a lot of flags flown outside a house, my mind makes a judgment. It may not be the correct judgment, but it’s there, and I am wary. As an American, I love many things about the place where I was born. But the American flag and all it symbolizes feels more complicated than many other countries’ flags. With the might of the American military behind it, being proud of America can easily feel like being too proud of America.
Canadians don’t have a problem being vocally proud of Canada. Their bookstores and libraries have whole sections set aside for Canadian authors, and walls that look like this:
You might not be able to read the words on the wall easily: they’re all names of Canadian writers, artists, and entertainers. This wall, so blatantly pleased with itself—the world needs more Canada!—still does not make me cringe. Of course Canada thinks the world needs more Canada.
One of our goals for this year is to find places we might want to make a home, or at least help us determine the qualities we want in a home. I think Taz might be ready to move away for good, but in my dream scenario, we’d split our time between California and one or two other places. Right now, I don’t know if those places would be outside of California, outside the US, or outside of North America altogether.
As we step farther from our lives in the Bay Area, it becomes easier to notice the little things that every place does differently. These days, much is made of an exodus from California. I don’t see myself being part of the exodus: my home is not perfect, but it’s beautiful in so many ways. I guess I’m just looking for other, complementary kinds of beautiful where we can plant roots.
Pretty Good Things
A quick weeknight recipe for you
This very easy recipe is Beanie’s second favorite dish (after pizza). I mean, it’s barely a recipe, but it’s still yummy. I make it on the regular.
Italian sausage—about a pound or 4 links’ worth, with the casing removed
Tuscan or curly kale, chopped or torn
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and crushed red pepper
1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
Lemon juice and zest of one lemon (or more; we like it really lemony)
Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
Brown ground sausage in a big pan or wok. Add chopped kale, olive oil, salt and red pepper. Add a splash of water and cover, then cook until the kale is wilted. Stir in a drained, rinsed can of white beans and cook until everything is warm. Finish with the zest and juice of a lemon, and serve with parmesan cheese. (Recipe adapted from Cup of Jo blog.)
Houston moves 25,000 people off the streets
Here’s a city that has tackled the homeless crisis in a different way, and might have some things to teach other cities. From the NY Times:
“The homeless guy on your doorstep who spits on you when you leave your house and is always spouting from Revelations may be the least sympathetic character in the world, so you may not like the idea of paying to house him,” Ms. Parker, the former mayor, says. “But you can’t complain about him being on the street and also complain about getting him off it.”