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Readers — Why do I keep blogging? It’s to remind us, literally daily, that there are HUGE CONSEQUENCES when we believe the BIG LIE that our kids are in constant danger. One consequence is that we interpret normal parenting behavior through the lens of both sanctimony and fear, seeing danger where there’s just the usual chaos of raising kids. The consequence of that consequence? Read on:

Dear Free-Range Kids: When my son, now 15, was about a week shy of his fourth birthday, I ran out to pick him up from his preschool, located four short blocks from home, with just my keys and no purse, something I had done many, many times before.  (I know — stupid.  No ID.  REALLY stupid.)  I picked him up, and in the course of walking home, he decided he was going to have a meltdown because he wanted to walk down a street that would have taken us far out of our way, and I was in a hurry to get back, so I said “no, not today.”

Well, he proceeded to try and run down the street he wanted to take, screaming and crying, and almost ran headlong into oncoming traffic because he was so worked up that he wasn’t paying attention to anything.  I grabbed at him to keep him from going into the street and caught the hood of his jacket and yanked him back to me, whereupon he screamed louder.  Out of nowhere, a woman materialized, yelling, “I saw the whole thing!  She’s beating that child!  I was across the street and down the block and I saw the whole thing! Call the cops!” 

A crowd began to gather, screaming at me and telling me what a lousy mother I was, which of course terrified my son, and he clung to me, but he was still sobbing and crying.  I yelled at the crowd to please leave us alone, couldn’t they tell that my son was upset, that I wanted to calm him down and go home, but they kept converging and screaming and flinging invectives at me — it was terrifying.  I sat down on the sidewalk and cuddled my son to me, and he began to calm down…until three police cars and no fewer than TWELVE cops, guns drawn, descended upon us, wrenched my screaming child from my arms (at this point he was struggling to get back to me and yelling, “Mommy! Mommy!  I want Mommy!”), tackled me, HANDCUFFED ME behind my back and forced me to await the arrival of a city ambulance. 

A man in the crowd did take pity on me and let me use his phone to call my husband at work (which HE had to hold up to my ear, since they would not undo the handcuffs), but the cops would barely let me speak to him and it was hardly enough time to let me tell him what was happening.  They would not tell me where my child was, and of course since I had no ID on me (I have NEVER done that again, lemme tell ya! Stupid!), they apparently branded me a crazy woman who was trying to beat and abduct a child. The ambulance came, and they hustled me into the back (all the while refusing to tell me where my son was) and took me to the PSYCH WARD at the hospital, where they kept me for several hours in a room locked from the outside and refused to let my husband (who had arrived by that time) in to see me, though apparently he had gotten enough information to track down our son, who had been taken to the precinct and was being guarded by a detective.  We found out much later that he had been “examined” for physical and sexual abuse PRIOR to my husband’s arrival — which I believe is illegal.  They did let me call my therapist, who, thank God, answered the phone — but it was all she could do to get them to release me to my husband.  Fortunately, they HAD released my son to him instead of slapping him into foster care — I shudder to think what would have happened if not.

We were eventually allowed to go home, but I was contacted several days later by a worker from Child Protective Services, who said he was required to visit us, unannounced, every couple of months for a year to be sure that our son was not being abused. The first night he came to see us, I had a chicken roasting in the oven and even offered to feed him if he wanted. What he WAS required to do was look at our son’s bedroom to be sure he was being cared for (he had a big bed with lots of stuffed animals and shelves full of games and books, which I actually think surprised the guy, given what he was probably used to seeing in his work), examine our son physically to be sure there was no evidence of abuse, and ask him some very pointed questions about whether Mommy or Daddy ever did nasty things to him.  (He was FOUR, for God’s sake!!  Admittedly a precocious and highly intelligent four, but holy crap…the continual insinuations of sexual abuse turned my stomach!)

Anyway, of course no signs of any kind of abuse were ever found — but we lived for SEVEN YEARS with the threat of having him taken away from us, because that is how long these cases stay open on the books.  We worried about every bump, every bruise, every argument we had — because of course he was also smart enough to know that he could hold it over us and threaten to “tell at school” if we had an argument, not understanding what the consequences would be if someone believed that we had hit or abused him, or if someone at school noticed a bruise or scrape on his body and thought we had inflicted it.

I swear to you: all I ever did was grab my kid’s coat and yank him back to prevent him from flinging himself into traffic because he was screaming himself blind.  He was four, he was having a meltdown. But a bunch of total strangers who were “down the block and across the street but who saw the whole thing” and called the cops as a result could have totally and utterly destroyed our family and ruined my son’s future.  He was, and is, a smart, beautiful, charming, talented boy; he has gone to gifted programs throughout school and currently attends a magnet high school, and he has nothing but promise ahead of him. But the actions of one “well-meaning” stranger who thought that a mother struggling with a screeching four-year-old was her business and that she had to “protect” the child, and who was able to draw a crowd around her, could have ripped a family apart and destroyed that child forever.

We are lucky — truly lucky — that eventually cooler heads did prevail and he was allowed to come back to us immediately.  I know that in some cases, this does not happen, and it’s a nightmare for the family to get the child back, sometimes going on for years. But let me tell you that I TOTALLY understand the fear of the mom who wrote to you when she said she was afraid that the woman who yelled at her outside the post office had called the police and that they were going to track her down…because I LIVED something like that.  It is, quite possibly, the most terrifying thing that can happen to a parent. And I must ask when it became everyone ELSE’S business regarding how to be a good parent to one’s own child.  It’s hard to be any kind of a parent these days, especially Free-Range, but we MUST stick to our convictions and raise our kids as we, their parents, see fit.

Thank God for this blog. – Shaken Mom

A toddler screaming, a busybody assuming the worst, and then -- the authorities.

A toddler screaming, a busybody assuming the worst, and then — the authorities.

From my piece on Time.com today. (Time writes the headlines, not me):

How Kitty Genovese Destroyed Childhood

We once may have been too slow to call the cops. Now we’ll dial 911 if we see a couple kids walking alone to get pizza.

by Lenore Skenazy

Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death 50 years ago today. She was 28. A tragedy. The press reported 38 onlookers heard her screams and decided not to intervene. That account has since come under fire, but it nonetheless created a perception of ourselves (and certainly New Yorkers) as unconscionably reluctant to get involved.

We’ve been making up for it ever since — and that’s too bad.

We may once have been too slow to call the cops (though that’s still disputed), but today we are definitely too fast. Oh, I don’t mean we shouldn’t dial 911 if we see someone being murdered, or threatened, or hurt. Of course we should! In fact, the simple 911 number to call for emergencies was developed partly in response to the Genovese murder: Now everyone could have a quick, easy way to summon the cops anytime, anyplace. A great leap forward.

The leap sideways, or perhaps downward, came as the general public gradually became convinced that it not only had an obligation to help anyone in danger, it had the obligation to call the cops anytime it noticed people who could be in danger, especially kids, even if they were fine and dandy at the time. This has given rise to a near mania for calling the cops when people spot a child on his or her own anywhere in public.

Read the rest here.

Reports of uninvolved bystanders led to hyper-involvement today.

Reports of uninvolved bystanders led to hyper-involvement today.

 

************UPDATE: Readers, one of you has just written to say that after leaving her two kids in the car for a short time, she was cited by the cops and now must appear in court on Jan. 15 (despite a visit by CPS that found nothing amiss at home). She would love to talk to someone who has been through this: a lawyer or a parent. Please write here or, if you prefer, email me at heylenore3@gmail.com with a way for her to reach you. Thank you! – L. *******************

Readers — The other day I ran a post about a mom who left her toddler in the car for a minute (and visible to her), but was nonetheless excoriated by a “Good Samaritan,” with a hyper-inflated sense of the child’s “endangerment” and her own heroism — which took the lovely form of screaming. Free-Range Kids stands by the belief that our children are NOT in constant danger, and this idea that “Anything could happen!” even in normal, everyday circumstances is a cancer on our society. It robs parents of the ability to make decent, caring judgments based on reality, not hysteria. We must keep fighting for this idea, spreading the Freee-Range message until notes like THIS are the anomaly, not us:

Dear Free-Rande Kids: Sorry, this was needlessly dangerous and something she should not have done.  The other [yelling] woman was fully in her right.  Why?

1) Car could have been stolen.  Look it up.  Guy runs inside to get ice at a convenience store, car stolen.  A mom in my area left sick baby in car when she ran in to get medicine, was out within 5 minutes, car was stolen.  Don’t be an idiot.  You wouldn’t leave a million in an unattended car.

2) Child could not release car seat and escape car on their own if something went wrong.  Therefore child was too young to be left in car alone.  I’m not silly, to me it’s alright for my 6 year old to be in a car alone now and the main reason is because she knows to not get in the driver’s seat and she can get out of a car seat on her own and leave the car if something goes wrong.  A 2 year old can’t.

3) Sure she was still in ‘line of sight’ but if something had happened inside the building no one would have been aware of the baby in the car.  And the baby would have been unable to escape the car on his own, and no one would have been able to get him out without breaking windows.

Infants and toddlers die from parents running in a store quickly to get just one or two items and becoming delayed.  That woman getting upset had no idea how long the child had been left.  Where I live you can be charged if you step further than 20 feet away from your car with your toddlers/infants inside, and the reason is because if someone comes up to a car and finds a baby strapped inside then no one knows how long they’ve been there, you can’t tell from looking at them if they’re suffering from heat or cold exposure, and you need to act quickly to get them out so the law needs to support these rescue efforts.

Then I received this note from Kate, a Montessori teacher in Chicago, bringing us back to the real world, thusly:

I can’t tell you how many times I left my children in the car. Because I lived and died by an old adage “Never wake a sleeping baby” – well, I never did. Because they fell asleep in the car so regularly, I could often be found running into stores (with the car always in sight) with sleeping babies in the car. I usually just left the car on and locked as I had two keys. I had a similar experience of someone finding me in the store and threatening to call the police and another time a parking lot security guard threatening to call the police. Interestingly, both of these incidents were in the suburbs, not in the city where I live. At these times, I always remembered how often my four brothers and I were left in the car. We had entire games to be played in the car. One was “dentist” where you dropped the seat back and the person in back of you worked on your teeth. These are the things that taught me patience, ingenuity, tolerance, cooperation…. Such a crazy, crazy world.

I agree: It is a “crazy, crazy” world, in LOVE with the idea of death always lurking nearby, ready to teach non-helicopter parents a lesson. I guess it makes life more exciting. But I can’t say the same for childhood. – L

P.S. I am trying to think up a clever way to bring this issue to greater attention and create some resistance to the idea our kids can’t wait in the car even for a short, safe while. Ideas welcome. 

children car use

When our freedom to raise our kids SANELY is threatened by crazy social norms and laws we MUST fight back.