A Different Kind of Crime Family

(Photo by Brittan Dodd)

Raising five kids isn’t easy, and some people argue that it’s even harder today with the advent of the internet, the explosion of social media, and a myriad of ways for kids to get in trouble. Even the types of “trouble” a kid can get into are different, and unfortunately, they don’t always see it. 

For example, when I was a kid, my stupidity wasn’t documented for posterity. (Unless you count my mother verbally telling my kids about the stupid things I did.) I wasn’t a bad kid—but I wasn’t an angel, either. Fortunately, I can rewrite history because no one can point to a photo or blog or tweet and “out” my past.

I’ve always been blunt with my kids, particularly once they became teenagers. My oldest daughter, Katie, is now 23 and living on her own in Scottsdale—a Crossfit competitor, bartender, and working toward her dream of being a firefighter. She’s responsible and focused and has oodles of common sense. But at the age of 12, she wanted a MySpace page (yes, I’m aware that no one has MySpace anymore). I put my foot down. I printed out article after article about girls who were raped or murdered after meeting up with a guy online. In fact, I even wrote a book about it (Fear No Evil). Teenagers counter with, “I’m not that stupid.” I counter with, “You don’t have to be.” 

One true-life case only an hour from our hometown involved a stalker who hunted down a girl he was obsessed with through her friends' pages. Though she’d blocked him from her MySpace, when one of her friends posted a picture of her, he could see it. He tracked her to a party that was announced on a friend’s page, kidnapped, raped, and killed her.

I remember a CSI episode near the beginning of the show (when I still watched it) where Catherine’s daughter was acting far too old for her age, wearing tons of makeup and dressing inappropriately for how young she was. When a teenage prostitute was murdered, Katherine took Lindsay to the morgue to see what happened to her. The M.E. was appalled that Katherine would do such a thing, but I was like, “Yeah Katherine!” I’m all for showing teenagers reality, especially when they’re acting stupid.

Catherine Willows shows young daughter Lindsey a dead body.

Well, Katie did get a MySpace page without my permission, but apparently my constant reminder of the bad things that could happen to her as well as Catholic guilt (love it!) had her confessing it to me. We deleted that page, and I let her get one when she was 13 provided that I had her password and she didn’t block me.

We were all teenagers. We’ve all done stupid things. I’ve shared most of my stupid things with my kids—if I didn’t, then my mother certainly did! (I do not think that it should be held against me that I was almost arrested for panhandling at the age of five-and-a-half when I asked a stranger for a quarter to buy candy. He was obviously a jerk who hated kids. I was lucky he wasn’t a child predator.)

Like I said, I’m blunt. I talk about everything with my kids, from local crime to story ideas I’m working through. And because I write crime fiction, my story ideas generally involve murder and other bad deeds. I talked through a money laundering plot with two of my kids as we were driving to the store one day, just to make sure it was plausible. We watch a lot of crime shows. When my youngest daughter was 10 or 11, we were watching Castle when a prostitute was murdered. She asked, “What’s a prostitute?”

I thought about how to explain: “A woman who has sex for money.”

She quickly said, “That’s all I need to know.” Fast-forward two years, and she came home from school very proud of herself. “Mom, guess what? I was the only person in bible class who knew what a prostitute was.”

One night, nearly a decade ago, while driving my oldest daughter home from volleyball practice, I first realized that my oddities had rubbed off on my children. It was dusk, the time of day when even the most innocent landscaping looks sinister. We were driving along a country road when I saw a lump in a dark garbage bag in the gulley. I thought, That looks like a body. A split second later, my daughter said, “Mom? Do you see that bag? It looks like a body.” She paused. “Should we stop and check?” 

And if you think I’ve only corrupted my oldest daughter, think again.

Teenagers counter with, “I’m not that stupid.” I counter with, “You don’t have to be.”

While I was driving my then 12-year-old daughter home from softball practice last year—the same kid who was pleased she knew the meaning of “prostitute”—she told me about her day, including an irate commentary about her history lesson. “Did you know that in Athens, women are considered the property of their husbands?” 

Before I could respond, she continued. “I told Mr. B that if I lived in Athens back then, I’d kill my husband, hide his body, and tell everyone he disappeared.”

While I appreciate her independence and strong sense of gender equality, I fear I’ve ruined my kids. That I’m raising five children who are plotting the perfect murder.

This kid is now 14 and obsessed with the crime blotter. She’s constantly sending me links to local news. She was invited to go hiking with her best friend’s family in Lake Tahoe last weekend, and I said sure. I know the family well, they’re good people. Mary deadpanned me and said, “You know a dead body was found there last week and the police don’t know who killed the guy.”

I stared at her and said, “Well, I don’t think it was Mia’s family, so you’re good to go.”

My girls all know that if they are attacked they should never get into the car, even at gun point, because 9 out of 10 women who get in the car are dead. They need to fight and make a scene because most would-be rapists or kidnappers don’t want to bring attention to themselves. They know never to drink anything at a party that they don’t open themselves and never to leave their drink unattended. We’ve taught them to be aware of their surroundings and that it’s better to be embarrassed and call for help when there is no danger than to end up dead because they didn’t want to make a fuss.

We’re fairly strict parents in the sense that we always know where our kids are and who they are with and have met their friend’s parents, but even then, you have to let the birdies spread their wings and hope that you’ve given them a solid foundation to make smart choices and learn from their mistakes. I have two kids out of the house—in different states—and the others will soon follow. But they do know how to fight back, and more importantly, how to dispose of the body.

Ha. Ha. Ha.

Walter White with stacks on stacks on stacks.

I watched Breaking Bad with my oldest son last summer when he was 15. Though I was a little nervous about his commentary about how cooking meth might be a good way to earn money, I was relieved when he said, in no uncertain terms, that he would never use the stuff himself. I asked, “Because your coach would find out?” Luke is a starting varsity football player and very serious about his sport. He shook his head. “Because drug addicts are all brain dead.” He then proceeded to tell me how many brain cells get destroyed every time someone shoots up heroin or smokes meth.

Quasi-joking, I said, “I spent $4,000 on your teeth, and you know, meth addicts teeth rot quickly.”

“Exactly,” he said. Not joking. I think …

Such is my life. Raising five kids isn’t easy … but it sure is a lot of fun.


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Allison Brennan is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Lost Girls and Make Them Pay, among others. She was nominated for Best Paperback Original Thriller by International Thriller Writers and the Daphne du Maurier Award by Kiss of Death. A former consultant in the California State Legislature, Allison lives in Northern California with her husband, five kids, and assorted pets.