Codename: Banana (originally published March 17, 2009)

I was recognized on the street from this blog a couple of months ago. It wasn’t as creepy as it sounds. (And please, if you recognize me, say hi!) It popped me out of the insular bubble I sometimes float around in. Temecula and Murrieta each hit over 100,000 residents last year but at heart this is a really, really (really!) small town.

 

To wit: Several times I’ve been absentmindedly pushing a cart at Costco or Target only to be approached by a stranger, who recognizes my kids. “Your husband was letting them do some….daring….things at the park,” or “Your daughter was climbing up a flagpole and got stuck.” (They climb. It’s who they are. All I can do is insist they climb over grass or bushes and only go on limbs thicker than their arms.)

 

Anonymity and safety/security are so often an illusion, anyway. When I was a public defender I had a misdemeanor client charged with indecent exposure: public nudity in his car in the multi-level parking structure of the Tyler Mall in Riverside. His lungs had been prematurely aged from working in a fiberglass factory and he had a letter from his doctor stating that his daily medication caused frequent urination. He claimed to be peeing in an empty Big Gulp cup he kept in his car just for that purpose when he was arrested.

 

I ran the situation past a few male coworkers, who agreed it seemed plausible. It didn’t help things, though, that he was an unemployed thirtysomething man living on disability who spent his days hanging out at the mall’s arcade. “Age the case and maybe he’ll die,” one of the older seasoned guys suggested. (I learned that is great advice, by the way.)

 

My guy wasn’t pleased about the public aspect of attending the many court hearing necessary to continue his case. He felt having his name revealed for his fellow criminal defendants and bystanders and witnesses would be too embarrassing. So he devised a code.

 

He was charged with a violation of Section 314 of the Penal Code, so he asked me to always refer to him as: Client 314. We also used this as a verification code if he called on the phone, so his mother (yes, he lived with his mother; I know how bad it sounds) couldn’t call to secretly find out information about his case (he worried she would impersonate his voice and I would be fooled into revealing information to her.)

 

I was just thinking about this the other day when a group of my fellow first grade mommies and I were talking about child safety. Sometimes when one of us runs into traffic or has a last minute diaper emergency at home, we’ll call one of the others to wait with our child at a nearby park or outside the school until we can arrive.

 

“We need some code word to tell the kids, so they don’t just go with us,” one of the women said.

 

And it’s true, I guess. I mean, it does seem reasonable. But then, it’s “Susie’s mom” or “Stevie’s mom.” If Susie’s mom suddenly went mad and kidnaped my child, wouldn’t the jig be up pretty quickly? And if she were really hellbent on kidnaping, wouldn’t she find a better way to do it than to walk up to the teacher, waiting with the kids outside the schoolyard, and walk away with her?

 

“What word would we use?” we mused.

 

“Hmmm….”

 

We all thought.

 

I kept picturing Family Guy’s Lois outfitted in leather and whips for S & M with Peter and saying, “The safety word is banana.”

 

And just like that, as if reading my mind, someone said, “How about banana?”

 

“Alligator?”

 

“Crocodile?”

 

“Tinkerbell?”

 

We never did decide on a code word and we’ve each picked up the others’ kids several times since without incident. By the time we get a plan in place we’ll probably already be on to the next safety challenge, whether it’s kids taking naked pictures of themselves on their cellphones and emailing them to their address books, or youtube, or myspace, or raves, or drugs, or Ecstasy or diet pills or huffing or who knows what.

Nobody said parenting is easy but CODENAME: BANANA is on the job.

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