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The Hard Truths I'm Teaching My Kids

Often Los Angeles moms talk about how eye-opening driving around with our kids can be. My drive to the kids' school can take between 30 to 50 minutes. We cover a lot of different parts of L.A.

Our part, "Where there's no trash to pick up, Mom."

Through other parts, covered in colorful graffiti, artwork, dappled in sun and, even more colorful, the people.

This week I cut through Griffith Park.

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A man was getting arrested. The kids were fascinated as he stood with his arms above his head and his hands behind his head. I saw the man looking off to the side with a small smile as they arrested him. A backpack lying next to him.

He was around 30, dirty and sporting dreads.

"Why are they arresting him mom?" asked my 8-year-old.

I told him that I didn't know.

"Well, why do you think?" He persisted.

I explained to him that I guessed he was homeless and perhaps he was selling drugs or sleeping somewhere he wasn't supposed to be. I told my son that our homeless population is made up of a lot of mentally ill, and it's very sad, because we don't' help them like we should here in America.

I am always paranoid about making my kids hardened to the homeless we see daily.

"What, we have the best medicine! People in Africa would want to come here," said my son.

I told him he had a good point and felt a small smile on my face as we turned onto a freeway, which would lead us to another freeway, which would lead us to our quiet home.

I let out a sigh knowing that mental illness hits close to our own home and, despite the best therapists and doctors at my fingertips, I cannot help my family member who needs it.

Despite me trying over and over.

I have succumbed to the notion this person might someday be on the streets.

That night, hours later, my son came to me and said, "Mom, what if a police officer could just explain to the man how things work? What if someone could just help him?"

I didn't want to discourage his empathy, and I said that's a great idea and told him that when he grows up perhaps he could help our mentally ill somehow.

I also tell my kids not to hand out money.

I know of two stories about women who have been killed by homeless people. I want my kids to be cautious. I have heard from people who work directly with them, that it's best to give money to shelters.

It's complicated, I know.

I will try to explain to my son, one day, that I have done all that I can for our family member.

How I wish the government would send someone to swoop him up and care for this person. Take the right medication, talk about what's going on, etc.

I, myself, am frustrated with our country's lack of mental health care — starting with our moms who are sent home, two days after giving birth, to no help. They go back to work after eight weeks.

Yes, sometimes someone can be born with a mental illness, but many are caused by traumatic childhoods. How can our society thrive when we are struggling so much with our mental health?

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I'm comfortable talking about this with my kids. Growing up, in beautiful towns where there were no visible homeless people, dark issues such as mental health were not talked about.

Yes, I'm raising my kids in a city strewn with inappropriate images, but sometimes I think it's equally inappropriate not to talk about what's really going on.

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