Readers: The letter below brings things full circle for me. While I have been interested in the way we underestimate kids and overestimate danger for a while now, I have been interested for even LONGER in the way decent people become trained not to use their brains or hearts. Eventually they come to think this is the RIGHT way to act. I think it is WRONG WRONG WRONG. And also: WRONG.- L.
Dear Free-Range Kids: Today I was at baseball practice with my older sons when my 3-year old said, “I gotta poop!!!” I could tell by the look on his face that it could not wait. Although the fields are at a school, it was after hours and the restrooms were locked.
We went to the YMCA after-care, located on the school grounds, and asked to use the restroom. By this time, there were no school kids in the room, just two employees. They looked at me apologetically, but said it was against policy to let a stranger use the facility. At this point, my son wailed again, “I’m going to poop!”. The employee went to ask her boss. The boss returned and apologetically said it was again the rules and that her “hands are tied.”
I then realized that this daycare provider used to work at my son’s school! I reminded her that she actually knew us. I told her that my son might actually poop on her steps. She then replied that if her supervisor found out she let him in, she would get fired. After all, “What would happen if he slipped and fell in the bathroom? You could sue us,”she said.
I actually feel for the employee. I do believe that she was following orders. But really, couldn’t a little flexibility have been possible in this case?
And yet…I have another modern day story. Our sons attend a wonderful school that literally is on the other side of the fence from our house.They open the back gate and are on campus. On weekends, they go down by themselves and play in the fields. The after-care program at the school is at the far end of the school, so it is approximately a five minute walk from our back fence.
I am frequently in a hurry, and I don’t want to drag my 3-year-old to the program to pick up his brothers. I’ve asked if I can call the school and have my boys sent home. I’ve been told that it is a liability to let my kids walk home by themselves, and that I must sign-in and out everyday. I even offered to sign a release of liability, but my request was denied.
I understand organizations being afraid of lawsuits. However, I really respect most childcare providers. I would love it if the people caring for my children had the freedom to make exceptions once in a while. — Frustrated Mom
Lenore here: I’m a frustrated mom — and human — too. These rules are just like Zero Tolerance laws. We refuse to let people make sensible, case-by-case decisions because we don’t trust them, we don’t trust the world and we don’t trust each other (not to sue). In the end, we are crippled by the stupidity and cruelty this distrust engenders.