Dear Free-Range Kids: I have always prided myself on being a common sense parent. I don’t follow “experts,”or the latest trends or pop culture. I believe strongly in community and that the vast majority of people are good, kindhearted and helpful. My husband and I do what feels right in our hearts and minds. And sometimes that means making split second decisions when it comes to safety.
Today I had to make such a decision. My youngest of three boys, age 4, was home from preschool with a 102 fever. I desperately needed to get to the grocery store to pick up a couple of items. He was feeling okay for the moment, so we hopped in the car and headed out to the store. My 15-month-old dog came along for the ride as well as she often does.
My son and I were in and out of the store in minutes while the dog waited in the minivan. My son was hanging on to the side of the grocery cart when we got to the car. I opened up the back of the van and within a second the dog darted out and started running around the parking lot. She was excited and refused to come to me, and then ran into the road. So my dog was running in traffic and my son was standing by the car. I was beside myself with panic. A woman pulled up in her car and asked if she could help. She said she would stay by my son while I ran after the dog. I made a split-second decision and said yes and ran after my dog. Bringing along a sick 4-year-old while chasing a dog in traffic would have been a stupid thing to do. So I left my son with a stranger, with my purse, phone, wallet and keys in her full view, and took off running.
My dog ran in and out of traffic and I was screaming and crying. Numerous people stopped to help. One man stopped traffic and ran after her with me. It took us at least 15 minutes to catch her, running across roads, around drainage ditches, all the time me crying hysterically. She finally conked out and laid down for a tummy rub. (Typical dog!) The man offered to carry her to my car for me because I was so upset. But I declined, and mentioned that a stranger was watching my 4 -year-old son. He smiled and said he had two sons too. Please take care, he said, and have a good weekend. I thanked him profusely.
I carried my dog back to the car (a good distance away). My son was sitting in the back of the van with this lovely “stranger,” talking about ducks and geese. He was as happy as could be. The “stranger” asked if I was okay, did I know where my keys were? Was I okay to drive home? Then she gave me a huge hug and told me what a wonderful son I had. I couldn’t thank her enough. I couldn’t thank both “strangers” enough for the time and efforts they had given me, my son and my dog.
I can honestly say that I not once feared for my son. We’ve never taught our kids to be afraid of people. Instead we teach them to be kind and respectful and to use their own commonsense –- yes, even a 4-year-old. That’s why he didn’t panic when I ran off and had a fun time talking. I’m sure there are plenty of parents that would be aghast at my decision, but I knew, thanks to you and my own common sense, that my son would be fine.
I still haven’t stopped shaking from the stress my dog caused, but I am so thankful for the strangers in my community that saw a woman in need and thought nothing of offering help.
Sincerely, Deborah, a proud, Free-Range Parent