Ok, I'm not often ranty, but today I am.
It's summertime. Summertime brings with it all the terrifying news stories about ways you can potentially kill your children. They can drown in the time it takes you to blink. They can stumble, sputter up to the surface, appearing fine, and deal with "secondary drowning". They can overheat in cars. They can get sunscreen in their eyes because you used the lazy spray kind instead of holding them down to rub it in. They can climb up playscapes and fall.
All of these are real risks. All of these are good stories to share. I, for one, think we need the reminder that these things happen to people who were pretty darn sure they were good parents. I can't imagine every forgetting my kids in the car, or turning my back on them in the water, but I'm sure the parents who are dealing with tragedies didn't think it would ever happen to them either. The shared articles on Facebook can be horrifying, but they keep things in the forefront of your mind, even if you don't torture yourself by clicking on them.
HOWEVER, people can get a little too involved in trying to parent every child in the world in a hyper-vigilant way.
There was a story circulating recently about a mom who left her four year old in the car, playing with his iPad, for about five minutes on a 60 degree day to run into a store in a quiet area. A stranger, a "Good Samaritan", a village member who was needed to help raise a child, took a video with her phone (including the mom coming back out), and sent it to the police. Mom was arrested and charged with neglect. There is no law that says you can't do this, but "endangering a child" is a gray area, and she ended up being talked into plea bargaining.
I was a little bit taken aback by this, but I was more taken with how many people said that the mom should have been arrested, and that they would have done the same thing, no matter how temperate the day, age of the child, or benign the circumstances.
Well, I had a brush with something like that, and it really got me to me. Friday I went to do my weekly grocery shopping. I took both girls, as I usually do, and we went to our usual grocery store. One of the things I like about this store is that they have the giant tractor trailer sized carts where two children can sit side by side, and the cart is free for groceries. Madison is certainly capable of walking in the grocery store, but when we're doing our "big" trip she prefers to ride.
Our grocery store houses these monstrosities outside one of the entrances. They are never in the cart corrals - always outside in the same spot. Since I have two children, one who can't be trusted to walk in parking lots without attempting to dash off, all my reusable shopping bags and my giant mom purse, getting everyone and everything into the cart is often the challenge. A few months ago I started parking off to the side, close to where the carts are kept, then running over and grabbing a cart to bring it back to the car to load with children and bags.
I park, leave the car running and the children buckled into their carseats, get a tractor trailer sized cart, and return to start loading it up.
It takes about 30 seconds or less. I do not enter the store. I do not even travel out of earshot or eyesight.
But for that 30 seconds, I have left my children in the car.
Never mind that I have also left my purse, the car is still running with the air on, and a predator would literally not have enough time to get to my car before I'd returned with the cart. The main focus of the story is that, for 30 seconds once a week, I abandon my children in a climate controlled vehicle.
To get a grocery cart.
This past Friday was no different than any other week. I parked on the far side, in the shade, in the third spot from the store. I left the car running and both girls buckled. I ran up, got the cart, and rolled it back.
And there was a woman getting out of the car two spots down who came right over to me.
"You really shouldn't do that," she said. "I could have called the police."
I honestly was struggling to think. Had I bumped another car? No. Parked in a handicapped spot? No. Inadvertently let some of our car clutter fall out without picking it up? No.
She said she'd been behind me as we were both pulling in, and saw that there were children in my car. Then, as she was parking, she saw me get out alone and walk to the store. I was leaving my children in the car on a hot summer day.
"To get a cart," I clarified, indicating the cart. "I need to put them into the cart. The car is still on".
The woman was insistent. It didn't matter. Hadn't I heard of hyperthermia? Another baby had just died; it was in the news. It isn't safe.
NOW, I know it isn't safe to leave kids in a car in the summer. I know that it isn't safe to leave pets in the car either. Or dairy products. Or candles. Or chocolate. But typically, you've got at least the 30 second window that I took.
I pointed out that the air was still on, and judging by the fact that she pulled in when I did and was the closest human being to our car, and even she hadn't made it to the car by the time I returned, that the risk was low. I was more confused than annoyed at that point, so I wasn't rude. I may have even joked about it. She stayed insistent that I should have brought the children to the cart (instead of the cart to the children), and to get her to leave me alone, I thanked her for her concern and went into the store. I passed her a few times and she was perfectly pleasant and normal.
But now I'm annoyed.
We're a few days out, and I seriously doubt she called the police, or that charges will be filed, or that there will be any fallout from this. I really don't think anything more will ever come of this particular situation. Maybe if I'd been rude she would have gotten super defensive, but the interaction seemed to fizzle. I haven't talked about it with anyone yet because I'm still mulling it around and I think I just need to brush it off and move on.
Except that out there is someone who believes that her interference is warranted, justified, and completely acceptable. She wasn't butting in, no. She was part of the village who was raising the children. She is on the lookout for negligence and she is not afraid to let people know when they are falling short.
Now, if she'd seen me enter the store, if she noticed that some time had passed, it may have been more understandable. But within ten seconds (I went again, on my own, just to time it), I had reached the carts, grabbed one, and turned around. It would have been clear to anyone that I was on my way back.
Where is the line between protecting children and just butting in?
I know the days that I grew up in, when my mother really did leave us in the car for those quick grocery trips (5 or 10 minutes) are gone. Law or not, public opinion will judge you if you admit to doing that. But accosting a stranger who was getting a grocery cart in a suburban grocery store on a quiet afternoon?
Is it ok to return the cart to the cart corral? You are LEAVING YOUR KIDS IN THE CAR!!!
What about pulling up to a walk-up ATM at a closed bank? Do you pull up, leave the car running and a child buckled in, do your business and return? Or should we be parking, unloading multiple children, and carting everyone up to the ATM?
Can you pull up and drop your library books in the slot?
Can you stop at the end of the your driveway and get the mail?
Madison's preschool was in a private building with its own independent driveway, but no parking lot. At drop off time, we were to pull up to the door, run our child in, and return to the car to pull out and keep the traffic moving. I have two children in the car at drop off. This meant that I left Reagan in the car while dropping off her sister. I actually loved this rule, because I had to unfasten half the number of five point harnesses and didn't have to wrangle Reagan away from all those inviting toys. Would this "Good Samaritan" still be so willing to call the police if she was outside the building at drop off time?
I don't like living in a world where these non-illegal things can be judged by my neighbors.Where we are so bold as to walk up to a stranger for what was, in my opinion at least, absolutely nothing.
Maybe she'd just heard a story on the radio and it was fresh in her mind. Maybe she'd just come from a workplace where the situation had been discussed. Maybe someone had said that a bystander should have noticed and so she was extra vigilant.
That doesn't mean I liked feeling like I was being watched by the parenting police.
I'll still keep my routine of bringing the cart to the kids. I honestly think it is safer for them to ride across the parking lot instead of walk.
But now I'll be watching. Not for predators for my kids, but for the parenting police.
Please tell me I'm not crazy and people know where the line is. Don't misunderstand me, as much as I'd like to sometimes, I understand not to leave my kids in the car while I run into the store. But would you ever speak to someone over a 30 second walk to get a cart?