Rick Epstein is the Managing Editor of the Hunterdon County Democrat, a newspaper based in Flemington, New Jersey. We are old friends from the late seventies, when I used to sell advertising there and for the Delaware Valley News, a sister publication. Rick writes a syndicated monthly column published by magazines and newspapers throughout the country. He is the author of two books, “Rookie Dad” (Hyperion 1992, '93) and "The Right Number of Kids" (McKenna Publishing Group, 2003).
I think Rick is an excellent writer. He is the father of 3 girls and shows a sharp insight into what it's like to bring up children. Here is one of his columns:
Yes, that was my 13-year-old daughter and her two gal pals in the alley between Seventh and Eighth streets, armed with shovels and surrounded by three state troopers, one town cop and an irate neighbor lady. It all started three years ago when Rebecca, Simona and our Wendy wrote a letter to the people of the future and put it into a "time capsule" (a cylindrical plastic pretzel container) along with a few small toys they wouldn't miss, plus a snapshot of themselves sticking out their tongues. They buried it beside an abandoned garage as a treat for posterity.
But, about a thousand days later, they wanted to see it. So they went into the alley and began digging exploratory holes. An enraged neighbor, Mrs. Fenske, caught them at it, accused them of vandalism and dialed 911. To be fair to her, the new holes, along with some graffiti on the garage wall, did seem to be part of a downward trend for her viewscape.
Four cop cars converged on the scene. "The police were more interested in calming down the lady," Wendy told us later. "They only pretended to care about the holes."
Soon the state police went off looking for worse crimes and the neighbor withdrew victorious into her bunker, leaving the local cop to supervise the filling of the holes. He kidded the girls about their "buried treasure" and Wendy interviewed him while she and her accomplices worked. "Are we going to be fined?" (No.) "Did you ever shoot anyone?" (No.) "Did you ever pepper-spray anyone?" (Yes.) "Did you ever GET pepper-sprayed?" (Yes, in training.) "Did you cry?" (Uh, yes.) "What's the silliest case you were ever on?" (This one. By far.) ...
This is not the first time the Epstein children's Dark Ops have come to the attention of the authorities. Back when Wendy's big sisters were both in high school, they decided they would walk to school -- 6 miles away. At 5 a.m. a patrolman saw two girls with backpacks hiking in the darkness and asked, "Are you running away?"
"No, we're walking to school," said Marie.
"Do your parents know?" he asked.
"Yes," said Marie. I hate when my kids drag me into it. But in fact I did know, and even approved. Although September 11th has created a mood of zero tolerance for shenanigans, why live in a free country if you can't test it once in a while? When Marie expresses her kookiness in a way that won't hurt anyone, I'm generally for it.
I even bought her a can of taupe spray paint when she wanted to obliterate a neon-orange curse word that someone had sprayed onto a tree trunk in the park. Nothing beats a good deed done in the dark of night with an air of mischief to it. Luckily the police didn't catch her and she was spared the burden of crafting an explanation.
Last summer, home from college, Marie was painting pictures on the ceiling of her '94 Dodge, which was parked in front of our house. As the day got hotter, she changed into something cooler -- in the car. Her act of semi-public, semi-indecency attracted the notice of a passing patrolman. He demanded ID and, once he had assessed the extent of her misconduct, he went away.
I told Marie, "Go ahead and be eccentric, but remember: Police are on the lookout for anything unusual, so don't be doing anything you don't want to have to explain to them." She can rely on the advice because it has been field-tested. Exhaustively. By me. Long ago. My dad would tell me, "You are flirting with disaster. Someday you'll be in the wrong place at the wrong time and Good Intentions will not suffice." He had devoted a lifetime to staying out of trouble. But Safety did not become my own God until I had children, and I still believe a young person should live a little. But just a little.
So what happens now in the Case of the Outlaw Archaeologists? Will posterity's guide to understanding girls' life in 2002 A.D. lie forever in an unmarked grave? "We still want our time capsule," Wendy said.
"Forget it," I said. "Your right to dig holes has clashed with Mrs. Fenske's right to live in a neighborhood that hasn't been strip-mined by teenagers -- and you lost. Besides, that alley is red-hot right now. If you enter the Forbidden Zone, Mrs. Fenske will FEEL it. And when the police come, this time they'll be mad at you -- for defying them and for stirring up Mrs. Fenske."
I told her that if she's so eager to discover a repository of forgotten artifacts, she can just look under her bed. I figure she knows the difference between good advice to absorb and a cheap shot to ignore.
Reprinted with permission of the author. All rights reserved. Please contact me if you'd like more information on Rick or Google his rearend.