How To Do the Right Thing???

It’s easy to say you’re kind and open minded when it’s all in theory–when nothing is challenging you in real life. This is a bit long, so I apologize, but I need some advice on what to do.

My dilemma:
We live in a pretty modest neighborhood in Danville, a moderately affluent town in the SF Bay Area. I hate how this sounds, but we recently got new neighbors who ::ahem:: “don’t fit in”. They share the rental with an old man who just lives here on weekends, so they only pay about $700 per month rent.

The woman, Cindi, is about 5’2", about 85 pounds, and introduced herself to me while stumbling around the street, slurring her words, & wearing a jumper which was open to her belly button. She hugged me & told me her life story, but she didn’t remember meeting me three days later, so she did it again. She has a ten year old son, Kevin, who goes to school with my daughter. At open house, she rambled on and on, nearly incoherently, until her boyfriend nudged her to be quiet.

Within 7 months of living here, she’s been in jail for 2 months, plays music so loud it vibrates my windows across the street, crashed her car into another neighbor’s car (totaled both), & lost her license so she now has no car. While she was in jail, she had a boyfriend move in to take care of her son. He stayed. He curses at the kids next door for making noise. He catcalls us and says unintelligible things. My friends & I completely ignore them.

The police have been to her house at least 4 times, arresting her once, her visitors twice & her boyfriend once. Two of those times Cindi was yelling and screaming at the police and made BIG scenes.

Kevin is very nice. He’s a good student and doesn’t get into any trouble. We live at the top of a pretty steep hill and he rides his bike almost 2 miles to and from school every day. (California schools—no buses) I offered to give him rides on rainy days. The other day it rained after school & he took me up on it. I tried to put his bike into my van. It was at least 40lbs. It was the crappiest bike I’ve ever seen. Steel, only one speed works, the seat was hard plastic, with holes in it, and the front wheel wouldn’t come off to make it fit better. He rides this uphill for 1.5 miles every day! Poor kid.

Now I want to take up a collection to buy him a better bike for Xmas, but my neighbors and my husband think I should just stay clear away from these people. Cindi is unemployed & supports her son through child support & welfare. I suspect that most of her money doesn’t wind up benefiting him. I want to reach out to them, yet I am conflicted about getting involved here…

Any thoughts?

The best thing for Kevin would of course be if Cindi could straighten up her life. Not that that is foreseeable.

I’d say that giving him a bike outright would be awkward to say the least. Cindi might not be the best mother, but she is his mother. It might be taken as being denegrating if you gave him a present better than his mother could afford.

Maybe try this: get the bike, but then tell Cindi that: a friend of a friend had bought a boy’s bike, but turns out that it wasn’t needed. It wasn’t returnable, and that you had noticed that Kevin’s bike was broken (not broken-down). Tell her for a nominal price ($5?), you could get it for her to give to Kevin.

It might actually improve her self-esteem that she could get something nice for Kevin, plus Kev gets his bike.

If you have problems about the story, just say you somehow came into posession of it.

Personally, I don’t think she sounds fit to raise her son, and it sounds like her boyfriend is a terrible influence. Then again, I’m no social worker. I suspect that if you did get him a new bike, you’d soon be hearing that it “got stolen”… it sounds like she’s not above selling her son’s possessions for beer money.

Do you have any info about the boy’s father? Does he have any idea how Cyndi and her boyfriend live and how they treat Kevin? Can a person really continue being the custodial parent after numerous arrests? I would call Social Services and see what they can tell you. There’s no reason for Kevin to grow up this way if he doesn’t have to…and no child should have to.

“…all the prettiest girls live in Des Moines…”
–Jack Kerouac, On the Road

AWB: Thanks. That’s a good idea…To let her get the bike for him. That would give her a sense of accomplishment.

ChrisCTP: When she was in jail in May (right after moving in), I spoke with his teacher about the situation. She seemed to think it was fine(the boyfriend had already told her), and I didn’t want to be nosey, or gossipy, so I dropped it. Because I really don’t like these people (the adults), I keep trying to put myself in check when something bothers me. I may be over-compensating.

Cindi told me (upon introducing herself) that Kevin doesn’t have a dad. She said that she gave up custody of a 4yr old son just before she moved in. I’ve never seen anyone mistreat Kevin, and I know that he loves her a lot. When I found out about her going to jail, the old man who lives there told me and said that Kevin cried all the time. It breaks my heart.

I’d hate to see Kevin get caught up in the foster care system, but you’re right, though, social services should be aware of this. Maybe they could help her turn herself around.

If he’s doing well, taking him away from his mom is going to be worse on him than the living conditions. The situation can only build character. The bike is a nice thought, but I wouldn’t go for an expensive one. A used bike should be fine, and as far as weight goes, I don’t know how old he is, but in my experience, he will grow into the bike. Best shape of my life was when I was pedalling my cheap monstrosity of a mountain bike 30 minutes each way to jr high every day. I’m not saying his situation is good, just that it is possible to make things worse when you mean to do the right thing. The road to hell…

(…is actually paved by freozen insurance salesmen. Some of the younger demons like to go skating on them at times.)
The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.

You could also offer to let him purchase the bike… saying it is no longer used by doing some odd jobs around your house. That would give him a sense of self worth and accomplishment. It would also teach him that working for dreams is a possibility.

“Only when he no longer knows what he is doing, does the painter do good
things.” --Edgar Degas

If you’re worried that the mom won’t appreciate it or take it away you could just let him keep it at your house and not tell the mom about it at all. I think it would do the kid good to know that not all adults are as screwed up as his mom and through this small subterfuge may actually learn to trust adults, or at the very least have someone to confide in. I would’ve loved something like this when I was a kid, not that my parents were screwed up or anything, but you know – nobody likes their parents at that age.