Kids Today

A New York Police Department Crime Scene offic...

Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

The “mall” near my house in Brooklyn always delights – if I don’t see the police escorting someone out each time I pick up diapers at the Target, it’s not a trip worth taking. So I wasn’t shocked when waiting in line at Starbucks when I heard the cashier announce to the customer in front of me – “I’m sorry sir, but we can’t accept this bill.” The “customer,” who could not have been more than 15-years-old, grabbed his fake $20 and fled with his pint-sized paramour.

After getting the run-down from the waaaay too-informed-for-his-pay-scale-employee, I discovered that a) this happens quite rarely, and b) the best way to check for a counterfeit bill is with the eye and a smudgy finger – not a machine.

But what I really wondered (and neglected to ask the terrifically sharp employee) is how did a teenager get his hands on a counterfeit bill that was not Monopoly money? And if he’s willing to commit a crime that would land him in the pokey at this young age, what’s this kid’s future looking like?

All of this is to say that it hammered home the obvious – one crappy adult can screw up a kid. It doesn’t take a “bad neighborhood” or a sub par school district. A grown-up gave that kid the funny money. If he were industrious enough to print it himself, he wouldn’t be trying to pass it for a Naked juice at Starbucks. Heck, maybe a parent or an Uncle is making it in his garage right now. Or he did it on a dare from a friend who has a criminal for a caregiver. Who knows? But the kid knew. That’s why he ran before the employee could yell to the two policemen stationed outside the door.

Luckily the opposite is also true. One fantastic adult can save a kid that is otherwise on his way to committing a class A felony. My fellow True/Slanter, Michael Salmonowicz gives an inspiring example of adults trying to save an entire generation while fighting against the conservative movement for reasons I’m still not quite understanding. I’ve also been lucky to work with organizations that make it their goal to save that one kid who isn’t being guided to the light at home. These programs are amazing, important and also under-funded. For every teen parent who learns how to create their own destiny and stop a pattern that would be perpetuated with their own child, there’s one who winds up a horror story on the big screen.

In the middle of day-to-day chaos and holiday madness, seeing a crime committed by a kid still too young to shave, right in front of my face was actually enlightening and re-prioritizing. I remembered life is bigger than me; it’s even bigger than my jones for a decaf vanilla latte. And my own kids aren’t the only ones I need to be teaching. Which is good, and honestly, bad. It’s sooo much easier to live in the narrow focus on my family of four, even though I know we should be volunteering, making cookies or donating time or money or even our used baby gear to make someone’s life a little easier and little less vulnerable to outside pressure. Even though I’d much rather be making hot cocoa and chocolate covered check mix (have you had this???) than focusing on what charity I should be calling up right now. Sigh. Fine. Thanks juvenile delinquent in Starbucks! Happy freakin’ Holidays.

Now, everybody else – I’ve given you plenty of links, go do something good.

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