Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about

A couple weeks ago I had the distinct honor of narrating a free concert of student-inspired music written and conducted by four local-area composers and performed by The Orchestra On The Hill.

The performance was truly thrilling, as fantastic musical works were presented in tandem with text by talented student-poets. As narrator, I had the easy job: wait for the cue, read a bit, wait for your next cue, read the next bit — sort of a musical lather, rinse, repeat. Oh: and take your bow.

Photo by Dan Lovy

This extraordinary presentation took place in the superb theatre at Pingree School, the acclaimed day school for 9th- through 12th-graders, in South Hamilton. With a sterling reputation and terrific facilities, Pingree has 350+ students who commute from some 50 cities and towns.

Yet some of what goes on there worries me.

As I drove onto the campus for the concert’s dress rehearsal, it was apparently the end of a normal Pingree day. On the long paved drive from Highland Street up toward the theatre building, I passed a number of vehicles coming the other way, and I noted the happy faces of the drivers as they departed. Clearly they were pleased with what they’d experienced at Pingree, and now they were going on their merry way.

But then I began seeing troubling signs. I don’t mean “indications.” I mean there were literal signs — quite a number of them — all repeating the same ominous offer: CHILDREN’S DROP & SHOP.

Apparently, inside one of Pingree’s pleasant, sturdy campus buildings, they’ve set up a kid-exchange program.

Now, the smiles of the departing drivers began to take on new meaning. They weren’t all that crazy about the kid they’d brought, but no worries — that’s what Children’s Drop & Shop is here for! Drop the one you have, look around a bit, and take the one you think you’ll like.

I imagine if you get the new kid home and it turns out they don’t really suit you — Liam the rising senior smashes your iPad in a fit of drug-induced rage, or sweet little 9th-grader Sophia gags on those Vienna-sausage waffles you love to make — you can just return to the Pingree Children’s Drop & Shop next week and give it another go.

It’s possible I misread the signs, but you can look at them and decide for yourself. To me, they sure seemed to indicate you could drop a child and shop for a new one. I was afraid to go in there and see for myself. I can’t even watch movies about children in distress. To peek inside that building and find a room full of 9th- through 12th-graders who had been dropped off by dissatisfied parents — I couldn’t take it. Do they cry out, like in a scene from Charles Dickens? Hands reaching out through the bars? “Take me!” “Choose me!” “Take me home!”

Or maybe they just slump against the wall, swiping languidly from screen to screen on TikTok? Yeah, that’s probably how it is.

I confess, there were days, back in my former life, when I might have taken advantage of such a service.

My three children are grown now, and I’m very proud of them, but their successes in no way reflect my talent as a parent. I wasn’t necessarily a “bad dad” — I would describe myself as more of a “puzzled parent”; yet the idea of exchanging any of my children for some other child never occurred to me. I don’t even know if such a service was available back then.

The venerable Pingree School, for all its lofty tradition, is indeed cutting-edge in many ways; so maybe they came up with the Children’s Drop & Shop concept themselves. 

They may have already patented it.

They could be planning to franchise it, for all I know. Someday soon, you might find a Children’s Drop & Shop at your nearest Cumby’s.

And if this goes well, maybe the next thing is Grandchildren’s Drop & Shop.

Doug Brendel lives in a surreal adults-only world in his house on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Check his mental-emotional condition by visiting

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