The Real Neighbors of Ladera

Ladera Post

“Mom, you and dad do what? What’s this “crazy” business all about?”

My son stares me down as his eyes peep over the newspaper in his hands.

Weak Smile and Change the SUBJECT

**Note to self** Remember the words you write before you let your kids read it in the newspaper.

Here’s my last article from 4/19/2013.  I actually wrote this a while back but it just got published. Fortunately, I am out of the diaper stage, but I remember those days all too well!

THE REAL NEIGHBORS OF LADERA
By SAMANTHA KELLER

FOR THE OC REGISTER/LADERA POST

I bumped into a cast member from “The Real Housewives of Orange County” at the Pavilions in Ladera Ranch the other day.

This lovely lass from Bravo’s hit reality show is my neighbor, if you count her living in the tract across the street as living in part of my hood, and I do, because somehow that makes me cooler.

We both had three kids trailing at our heels and our eyes met in a moment of “Lord have mercy on me,” or at least that’s what I was thinking with a crying baby, my son begging for coconut water that costs $5 per eight ounces and my daughter trying to assemble the perfect cake-making materials to create an atomic particle (will somebody please tell me how the heck to make positive ions out of frosting?).

Right about then it hit me who she was.

Trying not to be too obvious, I snuck glances. She was dressed in fancy workout clothes and her long blonde extended tresses were flowing around her shoulders. She had gobs of makeup on and was a perfect shade of bronze.

I, on the other hand, am proud to say I did not have snot or poop or baby barf on me.

It was a good day.

After checking out she walked up to a white BMW in the parking lot and then realized
it wasn’t hers.

She started mumbling cuss words under her breath and for the first time I saw a
“real” woman. The scenario was funny and dumb and something I would do.

And for a moment, I connected with a normal chick who struggles to remember where
she parked the car.

I loved it! I loved the messiness!

What I really want is a REALITY show where moms act like real moms -not dance moms
or cheer moms or duck moms -just moms.

I want to see a show where real women drive the 3 p.m. carpool in pink monkey
pajamas with bold panache.

How about a show that depicts the parents pretending to be asleep and then calling
each other names in the middle of the night as they fight over who will get up for
the third time with baby?

A show where parents turn on “Yo Gabba Gabba” and park their baby in front of the TV
and get crazy in the bathroom for five minutes because it’s the only time they have
to be intimate.

I want to see the show where real Ladera Ranch neighbors bawl and hug because it’s
been a bad day and we pull out the Skinny Girl margarita mix and encourage each
other to forgive and forget.

Where real mommies and daddies fight and make up and laugh at each other’s jokes,
because mommy thinks daddy is hysterical and adorable and the best thing that has
ever happened to her.

Real housewives do live in Ladera and our unscripted lives are infinitely more
interesting than a reality show that strives to capture our mommy “mojo” and falls
so far from the mark.

–Samantha Keller is a Southern California native, freelance writer, blogger, JSerra
High School football mom and local speaker on dating and relationships. She lives in
Ladera Ranch with her husband, Pastor Tim Keller, and their three children. Visit
her blog at scrappysam.com.

The Illusion of Safe

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I am lulled into thinking certain things to be true. 

(Basically I lie to myself so I can go to sleep at night)

I tell myself a good a neighborhood is a barrier from the bad guys of the world.

I tell myself I am safe.

I live in Ladera Ranch –an awesomely Disney-esque suburb.  It’s supposed to be exempt from murder and rape and break-ins and a thousand other awfuls –or at least that’s how they justify our exorbitant property taxes.

But Ladera Ranch is a place, like any other place where a “neighbor” can  commit a heinous atrocity.

The darkness of the human heart isn’t finicky about addresses.

I thought about this long and hard after driving my kid’s to school yesterday morning as I watched helicopters and police cars circling around our little neighborhood. 

A shooting rampage that began in Ladera Ranch and traveled all over Orange County was underway. 

I wasn’t so sure I wanted to drop off my kids.  Kolby’s preschool and Faith’s middle school were only about two minutes away from yellow tape and a dead body. 

Mostly I just wanted to hug my kids and hubby and hold them close and I couldn’t relax until I knew the suspect was dead. 

One of my friends whose child attends my daughter’s school confronted the administration a week ago about school security.  They claimed “stuff like that never happens here” and “we don’t want to inconvenience the parents.”

LaderaRanchFront

Hmmm?

Last week we had a massive manhunt for Christopher Dornier-the cop killer.  A few months ago a guy tried to blow up a bridge next to my office with enough explosives to take out a mile radius.   Now this teenager from my own neighborhood has gone Rambo on us. 

Am I the only one who feels like simply opening the front door these days is an adventure? 

A few weeks ago the police informed us our own block had been cased and multiple homes robbed.  One man posed as a solar panel vendor and the other as a magazine salesman.  In truth, they were going door to door assessing homes to see if anyone was on the premises.

Both came to our home.

I slammed the door in the face of the fake solar home salesman after he yelled at me for not wanting to save money on my electric bill.  Let me say that again…a man came to my door and yelled at me for not buying his product.

I was astounded any solicitor would yell at a potential customer. 

At least now I have clarity.

The other young (mid-twenties) man came to the door and met my husband. 

Tim took the young man out on the porch and sat down with him.  I offered him lemonade and he kicked back and chatted with Tim for about thirty minutes.  We ended up giving him $40 for a magazine I imagine we will never get. 

But he didn’t rob us-either because we were home or because we bought him off or maybe because he liked us.

Three other homes were not so lucky.

I wonder if my husband’s effort to build a relationship with the robber made a difference.

Did my lemonade and smile thaw out his desperation?

As my mind tries to wrap itself around the pain, I try to make sense out of the senseless.  I want to know why and how and analyze ALL the details.  I watch the news like an investigator and try to peice the clues together.  But deep down -if I am honest, I know my job is simple… it’s to pray to God, surrender and look for opportunities to love.  Because all too often I miss them.  Don’t we all?

I believe love is the only thing big enough to make a difference. 

I still feel wobbly, scared and numb almost twenty-four hours later.

And I am left with more questions than answers .

But mostly, I am sad –sad for my kids, sad for our community and sad for these lost souls who live in a fatalistic land of hopelessness. 

How are you coping with all the violence?

No room for the homeless in suburbia?

 He caught my eye as I drove up O’Neil Parkway – straggly beard, matted hair, tattered clothes-it was the distinct look of the homeless and my head whipped around in a double take. He staggered down the street, eyes cast downward, muttering to himself.

For those not familiar with my So Cal neighborhood of Ladera Ranch, it is the Disney of master-planned suburbia.  It’s manicured, lush and disturbingly homogenous. Deviation, unless it’s in Christmas light selection is seriously frowned upon. The Ladera association won’t tolerate any brown spots on our lawns and when we left our garbage can outside our backyard fence for a couple of days it provoked an association letter referencing a bylaw stating that no garbage cans can be visible from the street. 

“Oh no…What are they going to do with this guy?” I groaned to baby Kolby in the backseat. She slurped on her pacifier in response.

I tentatively pulled my car over to the right thinking I would stop and talk to the man, but the vehicle on my tail honked at me for blocking the one lane road.  Flustered, I drove on home and told myself I’d stop the next time I saw him, which turned out to be exactly two days later.

I turned the corner on Antonio to grab some nosh before church at the golden arches (yes I know, I’m an egg McMuffin addict) and noticed there were three police cars on the shoulder with lights flashing. I looked around for the cause of disturbance, figuring it must be pretty big to garner soooo much attention, but saw nothing out of the ordinary. 

And then I saw him, the devious criminal in question and my mouth fell open-it was the same homeless man I recognized two days earlier, only this time surrounded by five policemen. The cops had their arms folded and were questioning the man. I stared in bewilderment.  Does it really take a posse of cops to deal with one guy?

After the recent death of Kelly Thomas in Fullerton, emotions are high, even in Ladera Ranch, and the police force are being very careful around delicate issues (like the mentally ill and homeless among our midst). 

I entered the drive-through and picked up my food, straining to see what was happening, and then quickly drove back around.  The police had cleared out and so had the man. I didn’t see him anywhere on the long stretch of road, so he must have been escorted in the back of their car to another location.

Now, Mission Viejo (which Ladera Ranch is a part of) doesn’t actually have a shelter for the homeless.  When perusing the Mission Viejo Homeless Shelters & Services for the Needy website, I noticed the nearest shelter is 13.08 miles away in San Clemente.  This alone is disturbing on so many levels because there is nowhere for the homeless man to go.  Did the cops drop him off at the city border or did they take him to the nearest shelter in another city that accepts the poor?

Ironically, according to a blog contributor from Watchdog.com, Mission Viejo doesn’t have a homeless problem.  “I’ve seen two people passing through who seem to be homeless, but I’m unaware of any homeless person living here. The homeless people I know of (a man and a woman) have mental issues, and they’ve already rejected the idea of going to shelters. The woman told me about her distrust for government and the system. She’s living on the street because that’s where she wants to live.”

In my opinion, if Mission Viejo doesn’t have a homeless problem, it’s only because the homeless are clearly not welcome here. Now, I recognize this isn’t about the police–the cops are just doing their job (and I am so grateful)–it’s a much deeper issue that goes to the very heart of humanity.

It’s as if we, in Ladera Ranch/Mission Viejo pretend the marginalized in society don’t exist, when the truth is-in this economy-we are all merely one natural disaster or bad decision away from being homeless ourselves.  It’s just that most of us have become so skilled in image management you would never know the true state of our financial affairs. 

Much of Ladera Ranch is in debt up to their eye-balls, properties are foreclosing every day and most people are desperately trying to hold onto homes whose value has plummeted by half.  The only difference between this homeless guy and many of us is a credit card and a job we are clinging on to for dear life.  And our coping mechanism may not be in a brown paper bag, but we find it in an old prescription for anti-depressant meds sitting in our medicine cabinet.

And yet despite the overwhelming economic woes, I get the impression, though no one says it out loud, that having the eyesore poor (i.e. homeless) in plain sight might lower our home values (even more) or somehow destroy the neighborhood. I can only guess the film crew for my Real Housewife neighbor would take every precaution to leave the homeless guy out of the shots in our little paradise.

Why are we so afraid of poverty and brokenness? It’s not a contagious disease. Is this really who we want to be- people living in a gilded cage with no room for the less fortunate?

I understand the appeal of a place like Ladera Ranch. It woos me with its Mr. Rogers charm, but a nagging feeling remains, at what cost have we created our idyllic little utopia?

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