Kids Aren’t In Danger Every Time They Wait in the Car!

Hi dzbkkfefkt
Readers! Yes, here is another “I left my kid in the car for a sec” story. Why? Because I am astounded to find commenters even here on Free-Range Kids berating the parents who make this sane, safe choice when circumstances call for it. These parents are not leaving their children in active volcanos. They are leaving their kids in the equivalent of a playpen while they run an errand. It is time to decriminalize this behavior and time to realize, as some commenters have written: not every moment of parenting has to be OPTIMAL or PERFECT. If that’s what childred required, our species would not exist! Here’s the letter:

Hi Lenore, I was inspired to share my story after reading the story about the mom who left her kids in the car for a few minutes at the vet’s, only to have everyone condemn her for doing so.  Only in my case, the police actually were involved, sort of:

Early last year just as I was arriving at my 3-year-old’s preschool to pick him up, the sky quickly turned black as a severe thunderstorm blew in.  I had my 4-year-old with me and he absolutely refused to get out of the car, despite my pleading.  He climbed into the cargo hold in the back of the van to escape me, and when I opened the back of the van to pull him out that way he scrambled back into the passenger area when I got around back.  After a couple of rounds of this with me out in the rain, I told him OK, I’m going to run inside very quickly and get your brother, I’ll be right back.
I closed up the van and locked the doors (it was about 60 degrees —  Houston in February) and I ran full speed inside (no umbrella).  I was parked in front of the main entrance, in full view of everyone congregating under covered walkways and the main entrance portico.  The preschool is a cluster of red-brick buildings connected by covered walkways, each of the buildings with multiple French doors along each wall.  Point is: visibility is high throughout.  You can see the cars from the classroom and usually your child would be ready to go by the time you reach the classroom door after signing them out, since the teachers can see you arrive.
Anyway, I ran inside and said I’m really in a hurry because my other son is in the car and I need to get my child fast.  The director manning the sign-out said very accusingly and loudly “YOU LEFT A CHILD ALONE IN THE CAR?!”  That’s when I noticed the uniformed, off-duty police officer who was picking up his child behind me.  I quickly explained YES, he is almost 5 and I tried to get him out but he is too frightened to leave the car in this storm and legally I think I have five minutes to keep thim there (where I got this idea I don’t know). Then I literally ran to get my other son out of his class.  As usual he was ready at the door so I snatched him up and and ran back to the main entrance out front to put his rain coat on under the covered portico where everyone was gathered because of the weather.  My van is in plain sight 10, 15 feet away from me.  One, two minutes have passed with my son in the car alone?
The police officer comes outside after me and angrily informs me that there is no such thing as a 5-minute grace period and he could arrest me right then and there if he wanted to.  When I protest, he LOUDLY tells me NOT to tell him the law, that HE knows the law, I don’t, and yes he very well could arrest me. Parents and kids are huddled all around, witnessing this ugly exchange.
Fortunately, the officer has his own child with him and doesn’t arrest me (gee, a mom with two kids in thunderstorm), but I was humiliated and agitated.  When I got into the van my son was calmly waiting for us buckled in his seat.  He actually said, “Wow, you were fast!”  He had seen me running.
My husband is an attorney and according to the Texas penal code it is a misdemeanor to leave a child under the age of 7 alone in the car for LONGER THAN 5 MINUTES.  So I was in fact correct in my assumption, and the policeman who upbraided me publicly was completely wrong to do so.  And where did I even get the notion of five minutes in my head before actually looking it up?
Turns out the school has the pertinent section of the Texas penal code posted in gigantic font on the wall next to the sign in/out sheets! My subconscious mind picked it up, I suppose.
I’m sorry to say there were more unpleasant exchanges after I pointed this out to the director the next day.  Her reaction was to remove the penal code notice from the wall and tell me the school has a stricter policy of neverallowing a child to remain in the car for any length of time, and that since I had not abided by the school’s policy she would seek to have us removed from the school.
When I pointed out that I had just walked past a sleeping child in a car on my way in, she said “Well, your problem is that you came in and admitted it.  It is in the handbook and you are violating our policy which exists to ensure the best interests and safety of our children.”
Huh?  A sort of don’t ask, don’t tell policy, I guess.  Well, it was not and never was in the handbook and fortunately the school’s board did not take her position.
The police officer?  When I saw him next I tried to tell him about the penal code as written but he refused to hear me, shaking his head and walking away from me repeatedly saying nope, nope, nope, there is no 5 minute rule and I CAN arrest you.
In the end I’m infuriated by the public declaration that I’m a bad parent because I would do such a thing.  I’m a PhD Toxicologist with a better-than-average understanding of risk.  How far are we going to go with the paranoia that pervades our society that today you cannot, ever, leave a child unattended for the briefest of moments, even in a non-running, parked, locked vehicle with keys removed on level ground in cool conditions by the front door of a school in full view of other parents, even when it is legal and arguably safer to do so?
I’m certainly not advocating that children be left in vehicles willy-nilly, but there are situations in which you reasonably can and perhaps even should.  And, seeing a mom who is clearly torn between two simultaneous, conflicting needs couldn’t a school administrator or police officer (!) have offered some assistance rather than passing judgment and dispensing threats? Isn’t that even more outrageous?

Well, that’s the letter, folks. And sez me: Yes. ‘Tis better to offer assistance  than to castigate parents for being human and not even in the wrong! This letter made me feel almost as mad as the writer was. THAT’S why it’s here. Sharing is cathartic! — Lenore


115 Responses to Kids Aren’t In Danger Every Time They Wait in the Car!

  1. LauraL November 1, 2009 at 7:06 am #

    Glory. I left my kids in front of the preschool every day we had preschool! In a parking lot! Near businesses! And yanno – so did a lot of other parents. No one got hurt, no one tried to kidnap anyone, and all the kids – and parents – were very happy! Granted, we didn’t have a sign in/sign out system (and why is that, too?) but I did have to enter the building and go a few feet in.

    This cop was in the wrong, publicly harassing a citizen over something not illegal, and I don’t think schools can dictate how parents manage their children when the child is not in the school.

  2. somekindofmuffin November 1, 2009 at 7:09 am #

    That officer and that school admin need to lose their jobs and seek psychiatric help

  3. Keely November 1, 2009 at 7:27 am #

    Examples like this make me less and less likely to send my future children to any school (public or private). Parents are who get to make the decisions for their children, no one else.

  4. Grenacia November 1, 2009 at 7:30 am #

    I have fond memories of my dad “driving” me to preschool on his bicycle (in something like a kid’s car seat except to strap on a bike, which I expect you can’t get anymore). He would jump curbs and I would cry out in delight.

  5. erik November 1, 2009 at 7:41 am #

    Don’t wait for that school to kick you out. Take your kids off that school today and find a normal school.

    Grenacia, I am about the only Dutch parent who doesn’t have a child seat strapped on a bike, and that’s only because I don’t have a bike… everybody brings their kids to school on that kind of bike seats over here.

  6. Alana M November 1, 2009 at 7:48 am #

    I don’t worry about little kids being kidnapped while waiting in the car. I do worry about kids screwing with the really neato steering wheel and dash board while alone in the car.

    My brother was 5 in 1974 when he managed to release the emergency brake in my parent’s station wagon and send it rolling down the driveway and crashing into Grandma’s house. They didn’t keep track of him for only 10 minutes (or so I’m told). It doesn’t take much if an incline for a car to start rolling.

  7. Emily November 1, 2009 at 7:51 am #

    I would send a formal complaint to that officer’s precinct, and make sure I included the penal code in it. He needs to be talked to in a way he hasn’t been talked to in a long time.

    Ditto the Director.

    I’m angry, too!

  8. 9to5to9 November 1, 2009 at 7:56 am #

    Alana, I thought we were the only ones that happened to. My brother was the same age a few years earlier when he sent our car crashing down the driveway and across the street into the neighbors’ brand-new Lincoln.

  9. Mommy's Midlife Crisis November 1, 2009 at 7:57 am #

    I’m pregnant with my first child. Reading things like this, knowing that there are school administrators and cops (and presumably many parents) one has to deal with each day that have attitudes like this, really stresses me out.

    I guess it’s all the years I spent being childless, but I honestly had no idea the world had gotten so freaking uptight.

  10. Kenny Felder November 1, 2009 at 7:58 am #

    I advocate leaving kids in cars willy-nilly.

  11. Tragic Sandwich November 1, 2009 at 7:59 am #

    Does she know the name of that police officer? She should file a complaint with his commander, or whatever shift commander is on duty when she calls. In addition, she should have on hand the specific part of the penal code so that she can refer to it clearly and point out that this officer is abusing his authority.

    No, it’s not like he beat someone up during a traffic stop. But I’m suspicious of anyone who throws their weight around that egregiously.

    And that Director reports to someone, too. Besides that, can the school have a policy that is more strict than the penal code?

  12. Kimberly November 1, 2009 at 8:08 am #

    I can’t think of a PD in the Houston area that would take this complaint seriously. I can think of several that would call CPS on her for filling the complaint.

  13. Jennifer November 1, 2009 at 8:17 am #

    I left my 4 year old and baby in the car a few weeks ago when I ran in to return some books. I was much more worried about some nut seeing the kids and calling the cops on me for “neglect” than some nut taking them.

  14. Steve November 1, 2009 at 8:51 am #

    Wouldn’t the danger factor be worse for a child to possibly dart away from a parent and get hit by a car than staying inside the locked car for 10-20 minutes?

    And I certainly agree that the condemnation without the offer of a helping hand speaks loudly of the kind of people running that school. How sad…and disgusting.

  15. Kristen November 1, 2009 at 8:57 am #

    It just makes me sad that people don’t try to be more helpful to each other. Legal or not, who cares, just be friendly and nice. And stop trying to get other parents in trouble. Isnt being a parent difficult enough without worrying about these kinds of things?

    Especially the police, they are supposed to help. Totally uncalled for.

  16. Lori November 1, 2009 at 9:21 am #

    Yet another reason why I’m glad our idiot state has a ten-minute law on the books. I know exactly how long I can leave my children in this “dangerous” situation! BTW, I’ve seen parents at our preschool leave their children in an unlocked, RUNNING vehicle while they sign out their kids. Granted, we sign out/pickup outside right next to the parking lot, but I would be worried my kid would put the car in gear. Oh, not to mention that leaving your vehicle running with no one in the driver seat actually IS illegal in our state

    This poor woman made a logical, LEGAL choice and was castigated for it by two people who should have known better. A fool with power is still a fool…

  17. Gary November 1, 2009 at 9:31 am #

    Shoulda just run in and said I need my kid quickly because my other son is out in the car and he is in a rush to drive home.

  18. Kate November 1, 2009 at 9:34 am #

    At my girls’ school a mom left her three year old in the car alone and she went inside for a good ten or fifteen minutes. During that time the three year old pushed all the automatic buttons, opened all the doors, and the whole time buses were pulling in and circling around the lot to get into their position. Clearly this child should not have been left alone. Witnesses were terrified he was going to jump OUT of the car and into the path of a bus. Three year olds aren’t very tall and had he run out he’d have come as a surprise to the drivers because of his height and running out from between parked cars. So here’s an opposite story! The mom in the example you posted didn’t do anything wrong. This mom clearly did. It’s a matter of circumstances and age and maturity and how long you will be gone.

  19. Kate Sanfilippo November 1, 2009 at 9:37 am #

    Why the sign in/out? well, because the school needs to know the exact minute it is liable/not liable for anything, anything at all, that might happen to your child.

    Child falls and gets a scrape? Sue the school for negligence! Swallows a marble, or sticks it up his nose? Sue the school! You sign him/her out when you first reach the door, so that anything that happens on his/her way out is also not the school’s legal responsibility.

    Part of the problem of Hovercraft Parents, and our society in general, is that we are all quick to hold someone ELSE accountable when something goes wrong on their watch, and yet are slow to take personal responsibility if something goes wrong on our watch. And why does someone have to be found responsible, anyway? Scrapes happen, things go up the nose (in my case, a pussywillow bud).

    The whole leaving the kid in the car thing= ridiculous. But the sign in/out sheet is just another byproduct of our over-litigious society.

  20. lauradee24 November 1, 2009 at 9:42 am #

    I found out on Thursday that it is actually illegal to leave your kids in your car in my town, even for a moment. There was no age limit on that, either. I wondered if that means it is illegal to leave your 17 year old kid in the car, in which case, how can they be handing out driver’s licenses to 16 year olds? (Okay, obviously that’s not what they mean, but it goes to show how ridiculous it is!)

  21. Alanna November 1, 2009 at 9:47 am #

    Because a few people have done really stupid things the rest of us have to suffer. We have these laws and attitudes about leaving kids in the car because a few parents have done dumb things like leave their kids in the car while they go in for a one hour hairdresser appointment. The kids die from the heat.

    People need to realize that these parents are the acception and not the rule and most parents would not leave their children in the car in a way that would endanger them.

  22. Alexicographer November 1, 2009 at 9:49 am #

    Oh, good grief. Yes, why on earth not offer to help the poor mom if you’re concerned — not that I think anyone should be, but that’s the obvious response if anyone is.

    @Grenacia those seats absolutely still exist and are still in use. I decided to use a trailer for my bike/kid combination instead, but the seats definitely exist and are available in the US, and pretty widely used (taking the number of parents biking as the baseline for “widely,” obviously). And I rode in one as a kid too!

  23. Julie November 1, 2009 at 10:08 am #

    I am disgusted. I too am more terrified of someone calling CPS on me than of my kids actually getting taken. I once left my 2 sleeping toddlers in the car while I ran into a store and someone came in and demanded to know whose they were. I went out and everyone was still sleeping, but he yelled at me saying he should call the cops etc. I looked up our laws and it IS illegal in Ontario to leave children unattended for any length of time. I have never dared leave them since.

  24. Julie November 1, 2009 at 10:10 am #

    Oh and since when does the school care about kids that do not actually GO to their school? If they want to avoid liability by having a sign-in/out then they should be RUNNING away from having anything to do with a child who isn’t even paying their outrageous fees.

  25. Nicola November 1, 2009 at 10:19 am #

    There’s only one benefit I can see to a sign in/out form – something my husband pointed out to me and makes a lot of sense. We all quote how the majority of kidnappings are parents/family. I think it’s a safe bet to imagine, easily enough, an ex-husband/wife coming to pick up the kids in order to leave the city/state/country. That said…

    With that policy in mind, there’s NO WAY the officer should have berated that woman in public. Helping her out, absolutely. The school needs to be talked to as well. The example stated by someone above – the three-year-old opening all the doors, is a good reason why you have to know your kids – but by the same token – that seems to be the exception, not the rule.

    Damned shame and really disgusting what human society is coming to. I’m still advocating the extinction of human beings at this point… or at least mandatory sterilization for all people who treat kids like prisoners in miniature.

  26. mammatiamat November 1, 2009 at 10:41 am #

    The officer was a jerk. That said, it’s disheartening how much ink is spilled here on topics that are arguably more “convenient for adults” than “free range kids.” There’s nothing “free range” about being locked in a car and sitting around in there, whether for 5 minutes or 5 hours. Let’s be honest; this crusade is at least as much about educated upper middle class parents getting burnt out on the high-labor-output “attachment” trend as it is anything benefitting kids.

  27. Beth November 1, 2009 at 10:42 am #

    I agree with Keely, one of the first commenters.

    With all the disgusting paranoia-induced garbage out there, I am being handed more and more reasons to just skip it and teach my kids myself. I just hope the paranoid people won’t ruin that for me, too….

  28. Ginkgo100 November 1, 2009 at 10:54 am #

    This is simultaneously hilarious and chilling. I am so glad my son’s preschool is more reasonable.

    Like Lenore, I get mad when parents see other parents who could use some help, and simply criticize instead of OFFERING help. But in this case, I think the only help that was needed was common sense and understanding.

    If I were in this situation, I would contact the officer’s sergeant and file a complaint. His behavior is inappropriate. (And I am saying this as someone with a background in law enforcement. Enough people dislike cops already. He is giving his colleagues a bad name.)

  29. Sandy November 1, 2009 at 11:03 am #


    I respectfully disagree with you. For my kids, it’s a rite of passage to be able to stay in the car while I run into a store. It’s them showing me responsibility in little things so I can trust them later with bigger things, like staying home alone for short periods of time.

    Very free range, in my opinion.


  30. Danielle November 1, 2009 at 11:09 am #

    How horrible for you! Geez, it probably took longer for them to berate you than if you had just been able to grab your son and go. Maybe you could sue the officer for emotional trauma, LOL, I’m kidding, kind of….

  31. Sandy November 1, 2009 at 11:11 am #

    Just did a quick google search and found this:

    The fourteen states that have laws that prohibit leaving children unattended in an automobile
    include California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland,
    Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, and Washington.
    Penalties for leaving children alone range from noncriminal traffic infractions to second-degree
    manslaughter charges if the child dies as a result from being left alone in the car. Additionally,
    there is a wide age range of children that pertain to these laws. Below you will find a brief
    summary of each law.

    Please note that even if a state does not have a specific law prohibiting adults from leaving
    children unattended, state and local prosecutors have the discretion to criminally charge
    adults under existing child endangerment laws.

    I guess because of that last paragraph, the police officer could use his discretion and arrest that poor mother. But I bet he’d have a very difficult time proving her guilt under the circumstances.


  32. Claire November 1, 2009 at 11:31 am #

    I can’t wait to be a parent so I can deal with all these ridiculous adults and have to protect myself and my kids from the neurotic militia that is supposedly trying to keep them ‘safe’ !

  33. Jan S November 1, 2009 at 11:43 am #

    I would pull my kid out of that school ASAP, the director sounds like she’s on a major power trip. The case she describes sounds like it was within reason as far as safely leaving the child briefly in the car.

    I do question why she is letting her son have the upper hand in exerting his will in the scenario described. While I think it should have been okay to leave him briefly in the car in the described situation, I feel that Mom, once she made the decision to take him in, should have followed through. She’s the parent and her son should follow her directions, not defy her like that.

    As far as leaving children alone in the car, I never did that much, mostly briefly if they had fallen asleep. Once they got older, they were on a longer leash and could be trusted. It’s all very individual to each child and situation.

    I don’t like one size fits all, no exceptions ever type laws like described. They just give fodder to control freaks like described here, but don’t really stop the flaky parents from doing irresponsible things. Life someone said, the laws punish everyone from the sins of a few.

  34. Renee November 1, 2009 at 11:47 am #

    Next time if I ever see another mother in such a situation, I will asked her if she needs me to ‘babysit’ the car (child).

    Somewhat similar of a situation, a mother had to run an errand while her daughter was a dance class, but her four year old was watching TV in the waiting area (Spongebob was on). He wouldn’t budge, so one mother simply offered to watch him.

  35. LauraL November 1, 2009 at 11:51 am #

    Jan S. – Moms are human too. We aren’t machines who can be 100% follow through on every. Single. Little. Thing. And is it possible that the preschool would institute a late fee if she didn’t get her other child by a certain time? Sometimes the moment makes the decision, and with the STORM (remember, he was afraid of the STORM?) and the time, leaving him in the car would have been a reasonable decision in MY case, if this scenario were mine to have to live.

  36. Jan S November 1, 2009 at 11:57 am #

    Renee— Good thought.

    Laura— In the described situation Mom shouldn’t have given in to his bratty shenanigans, IMO. So what that he claimed he was ‘afraid of the storm’. She shouldn’t feed his fears by caving into his defiance, but help him face his fears. Yes, I know very well that Moms are human, I have 6 kids and made plenty of mistakes, believe me. I learned a lot from all those kids.

  37. LauraL November 1, 2009 at 12:26 pm #

    Jan S. But wouldn’t this be a case of judging the mom in a situation we’re not in at the moment? So let’s not presume anymore, me or you.

  38. Tray M. November 1, 2009 at 12:49 pm #

    This is a little bit off subject, but if you are EVER asked to talk to a policeman, you need to view this first:
    Watch both pieces (you need 40 minutes), but it’s worth it…don’t even talk to cops for any reason, and the situation above, and what you will learn in these videos, tells you why.


  39. MommyMitzi November 1, 2009 at 12:58 pm #

    Time to find a new preschool! Seriously, even though the board didn’t support her crazy wacko decision-making, I would be extremely hesitant to keep my kids at a place with like that someone running it !

    When my kids were at a preschool a couple of years ago, I would often leave my twin 3 yr olds in the car while I quickly popped in and get my 4 yr old. The overall neighborhood was very safe, the parking lot was protected, there were other parents coming and going constantly and my kids much preferred to stay in the car, and I figured that they were safer there than going through the parking lot with me–as much as I tried to keep my son under control, he occasionally would dart away from me. With all the cars, I was MUCH more fearful of him getting hit, than anything happening to them in the couple of minutes I was gone.

    Well, guess what? The director wrote in the newsletter saying “Please do not leave your younger children in care while you pick up your child. Doing so is extremely dangerous…” I read it and was extremely irked, mainly because “extremely dangerous”?? According to what? Crime stats? (basically non-existent for crime against children in that neighborhood) Chance of kid driving the car away? (Mine couldn’t get out of their car seats by themselves, much less hot-wire a car and driving away) Death by heat? (Not in this season, in this part of the USA). This was before Lenore had started the FRK movement and even then I knew it the “danger” was basically non-existant.

    I let it go though, not wanting to be pegged as the parent defending her right to do something “so dangerous”–and my kids questioned why they could no longer stay in the car. I told them the school had a rule and while I didn’t agree with it, that sometimes we just have to respect their rules anyway.

    Now, with a couple of years of FRK and the knowledge that comes with it, I probably wouldn’t let it go. I’d use it as a chance to educate–or at least question what they based their decision on. It’s only by questioning these things can we start to turn the tide, and start to get people to see that the current “conventional wisdom” about what’s safe and what isn’t, is wrong.

    And yes, I do think this is a FRK issue. We’re not advocating locking kids in cars for hours! Being “free-range” means taking a sensible, statistically-based view of the risks involved in parenting our children and realizing that a few minutes of leaving your kids on their own is OK. And mostly NOT a reason to get arrested or have CPS called on us.

  40. Jan S November 1, 2009 at 1:16 pm #

    Good thoughts mommiMitzi…

    Our society has become so fear-based. Much of this is fueled by the mass media with it’s 24/7 news industry. Each year the government gets more into the act, legislating safety with countless new laws.

    There have been reversals, however. When my oldest kids were babies back in the late 70s early 80s, you couldn’t buy cotton pajamas. The thing then was that they had to be flame resistant, so if they were cotton they were soaked in toxic flame retardants, or else they were made from supposedly flame-resistant synthetics. It drove me crazy as I was an Earth-Mom type.

    Things changed because of consumer demand. We all need to resist these unhealthy fear-based regulations that lack common sense. That’s why it’s so good to have found someone like Lenore whose publicizing our cause.

  41. Jan S November 1, 2009 at 1:17 pm #

    Please excuse my typos, btw. That’s who’s not whose.

  42. Jan S November 1, 2009 at 1:19 pm #

    Laura— that’s my take on what she described. I’m entitled to my opinion. Kids can get mighty manipulative of parents, claiming phobias and fears. The parent is the parent, imo. Free range shouldn’t mean giving in to tantrums.

  43. LauraL November 1, 2009 at 1:21 pm #

    Jan – but Free Range also is about not letting other parents’ opinions make our decisions for us.

  44. Jan S November 1, 2009 at 1:25 pm #

    Laura— then she needs to think ahead, not appear to her child that she is giving him the upper hand. That’s what she unwittingly did in this case. She allowed him to use the excuse of a thunderstorm to let him pull a power trip on her.

    The issue with the school is entirely separate, imo. I said in my post that I felt the school was way out of line. It’s totally unprofessional of them to make a scene like that, both in front of her child and in front of the other parents.

  45. Jan S November 1, 2009 at 1:28 pm #

    One time a school teachers aide made a scene towards me in front of my child. I went to the superintendent by email and complained in detail, and I’m sure she got reprimanded because she gave me the icy stare next time I saw her. The Mom in question needs to make a stink about this unprofessional behavior. It was absolutely over the top.

  46. Jan S November 1, 2009 at 1:31 pm #

    Basically, we parents are customers and shouldn’t let school officials bully us. A lot of educated, highly functional parents are homeschooling or choosing other alternatives meaning the schools lose both money and kids who score high on those blasted achievement tests. They should act like our public servants. They need to be reminded of that.

  47. Taking a Chance on Baby November 1, 2009 at 1:42 pm #

    Yet another reason I think I’ll be skipping preschool altogether

  48. Neil S November 1, 2009 at 2:20 pm #

    I just did a web search for the Washington unattended child laws and they don’t seem that draconian. There are two:

    1: leaving a child under 16 in a >running< automobile.

    2: leaving a child under 12 in a parked car to enter a tavern or other premises where vinous, spirituous, or malt liquors are dispensed.

    The first seems like common sense. The child could put the car into drive and cause an accident. How much extra time does it take to turn the ignition off?

    The second sounds like it was written when someone drove to a bar and left their kids in the car so they could go have a drink.

  49. Kali November 1, 2009 at 8:28 pm #

    Jan @. Why do you assume that the child wasn’t scared at all? People are afraid of storms all the time. I used to be when I was little. If somebody had wanted me to go out in a storm, I would have been terrified.

  50. Timmy Mac November 1, 2009 at 8:31 pm #

    Reading stuff like this makes me crazy; reading the comments on this thread that Monday morning quarterback the mom in question make me almost as crazy.

    Personally, I would also give the police officer a copy of the statute in question, only my cover letter would be very short – only two words, if you get my drift.

  51. Melissa November 1, 2009 at 8:33 pm #

    This reminds me of a converasation I’ve had with several friends of mine. We discussed which is safer:

    Keeping your young child in the shopping cart while you unload items into the car, then walk the cart (with child still in it) to the cart corral and carry the child back to the car with you.


    Putting the child in the carseat, unload groceries, and walk the cart to the corral without the child, while they wait in the car.

    We live in Chicago. It’s cold much of the year. And it rains and snows and sleets and the wind blows something fierce! I maintain that the sanest and safest place for my child, especially in inclement weather, is in the car even if it means 38.2 seconds “alone” while I walk the cart back to the corral after unloading the groceries.

    My friends find this appalling and insist that you CANNOT leave a child in the car alone for any reason ever, for any amount of time. Someone could break into the car, steal the child and it would be all your fault because you walked 10 feet away to return the cart.

    I think they are insane. Their poor children have to sit in the cart in the pouring rain all because of the ridiculous guilt and fear ingrained in their mothers.

    Btw, one friend who does this also tried to convince her husband that they needed to move because she discovered a convicted sex offender in her neighborhood. I tried to explain that she didn’t know the details of the offense (though I understand her fear, entirely!) and that at least she KNOWS her neighbors here. And what about sex offenderes who haven’t been convicted? IMO she had a slight advantage knowing that this neighbor had some sort of record.

    Anyhoo, I’m done.

  52. MITBeta November 1, 2009 at 8:47 pm #

    Anybody consider, despite “bratty shenanigans” that the kid was safer in the car during a storm than anywhere else? Lightning kills people too, and the best place to be is surrounded by a shell of metal.

    Also, sometimes parents make decisions for their kids (bring them into the school) and then get new information or form a new conclusion (better to let him stay dry and safe from lightning). Should parents follow through on their first directive in all cases simply to make the point?

  53. Andy in Germany November 1, 2009 at 8:52 pm #

    I frequently leave my boys when I go shopping, and that in an open top bike (a Bakfiets, if anyone is wondering) Children left in strollers are a common sight outside of shops here as well.

  54. flickasam November 1, 2009 at 8:57 pm #

    WOW! I’ve left my kids in the car to get petrol, to run into a shop, to fetch another from a playgroup, and they have both slept on the driveway while my front door is open.
    As babies both my children slept in a car for 30 + mins on a farmyard car park while I mucked my horse out. They did have a baby monitor rigged so I could hear them cry, because it was too darn cold to open a window for them ( baby monitor had a temp reading on it too.

    It’s funny- a car is classed as an ‘extension’ of my house.If I have my dogs in the car and they bark or behave aggressively, and I can be prosecuted for having a dangerous dog ‘on’ my property- but I leave my children in my car for a few minutes then I am no better than if I have abandoned them? Madness.

    Remember those old days where mums left babies in their prams outside shops or their home? They are still countires where parents are still able to do this without fear.

  55. Maureen November 1, 2009 at 10:53 pm #

    @Alana and @9to5to9

    There is a big difference between cars from the 70s and cars made today. Today’s cars can’t be put into gear without the keys and having a foot on the brake.

    I agree with everyone else about the officer. Send a letter. He needs a reprimand.

  56. solinox November 1, 2009 at 11:02 pm #

    Michigan just altered their code to make leaving children unattended a misdemeanor or felony, depending on whether or not the child is actually harmed. Interestingly, though, the law does not codify the circumstances, make the code active only if there is an unreasonable risk of injury to the child. My husband and I were discussing this and agreed that you couldn’t reasonably codify the circumstances unless you were going for a zero-tolerance law, which most of us would agree is idiotic. But it would be interesting to see this law brought to trial and have “unreasonable risk” defined by the court for that case. There is already a case in Saginaw where a woman was arrested in September for leaving her children in the van for (allegedly) 20 minutes while she went into the grocery store to pick something up.

    I wouldn’t do that personally, but I do frequently leave them while I go into the gas station, or the ATM, or even to grab a quick item from inside a store (ages 10, 10, 10, 7, 3, 1). Most of the time, especially if I can see them and the weather is clement, I figure the odds of somebody wanting to steal a) a full size 12-passenger van b) with six children in it, or c) do physical harm to one of six children in a group are astronomical. They’d have to be so nuts that my presence or absence would make no difference! And I know my kids and their safety with the car. I would never leave my 3-year-old alone or with the 7-year-old, but with 2 or more 10-year-olds I will. I wouldn’t leave the baby with the 7-year-old, but I would with 1 or more 10-year-olds. Certain combinations work, others don’t, depending on the children involved.

    The actual Michigan penal code is as follows:

    750.135a.added Leaving child unattended in vehicle; prohibition; violation; definitions.
    Sec. 135a. (1) A person who is responsible for the care or welfare of a child shall not leave that child
    unattended in a vehicle for a period of time that poses an unreasonable risk of harm or injury to the child or
    under circumstances that pose an unreasonable risk of harm or injury to the child.
    (2) A person who violates this section is guilty of a crime as follows:
    (a) Except as otherwise provided in subdivisions (b) to (d), the person is guilty of a misdemeanor
    punishable by imprisonment for not more than 93 days or a fine of not more than $500.00, or both.
    (b) If the violation results in physical harm other than serious physical harm to the child, the person is
    guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than 1 year or a fine of not more than
    $1,000.00, or both.
    (c) If the violation results in serious physical harm to the child, the person is guilty of a felony punishable
    by imprisonment for not more than 10 years or a fine of not more than $5,000.00, or both.
    (d) If the violation results in the death of the child, the person is guilty of a felony punishable by
    imprisonment for not more than 15 years or a fine of not more than $10,000.00, or both.
    (3) As used in this section:
    (a) “Child” means an individual less than 6 years of age.
    (b) “Physical harm” and “serious physical harm” mean those terms as defined in section 136b.
    (c) “Unattended” means alone or without the supervision of an individual 13 years of age or older who is
    not legally incapacitated.
    (d) “Vehicle” means that term as defined in section 79 of the Michigan vehicle code, 1949 PA 300, MCL
    History: Add. 2008, Act 519, Eff. Apr. 1, 2009.

  57. Maureen November 1, 2009 at 11:09 pm #

    @Kate – that mother needs a lesson in how to engage the child locks.

  58. Mae Mae November 1, 2009 at 11:14 pm #

    Jan, It’s called picking your battles. I am a very strict parent but every once in a while, it’s just not worth it. If I’m standing in the rain chasing a 4yo around a car – that’s not worth it to me. How do you know she didn’t go home and punish the child there? That’s what I would have done. A time-out for not listening and the point is made. A 4yo is old enough to remember the crime 20 minutes later and learn from it. Power struggles have their place but not all the time. Besides, who are we to say if she should have given in or not?

  59. Blotz November 1, 2009 at 11:18 pm #

    “Child falls and gets a scrape? Sue the school for negligence! Swallows a marble, or sticks it up his nose? Sue the school!”

    Stop it!!! Stop it!! Stop it!!!
    Show me some proof this is happening. Just as we who have chosen to participate in this community want to debunk myths about child abduction and child risk, it behooves us to avoid spreading myths of our own. And the whole “overly litigious society” republican talking point drama needs to freakin stop. Because we are going to back ourselves into a libertarian nightmare corner where we can’t hold anyone else responsible for crap they did wrong because we’ve handed our first amendment right to petition the government for a redress of grievances away.

  60. Lana Waggoner November 1, 2009 at 11:19 pm #

    Had a similar incident at older kids elementary school. Parked maybe 15 ft away, car visible, windows cracked, 2 little ones buckled in while I ran in to give forgotton lunch money to older child who was waiting for me in school lobby. Gave him money, noticed he seemed upset and paused to ask what was wrong. before the question is answered, a virtual swat team is moving through the lobby with walkie talkies shouting in panic “Someone left their kids in the car” It was horrific and traumatic. I went to a friends house afterward and had a mini breakdown.

    I do agree with Alana M though. Far more worried they will fool with the break on the car or something similar.

  61. Karen November 1, 2009 at 11:47 pm #

    My then 9 year old son had to do the walk of shame through a local pizza restaurant because he chose to stay in the car while my husband went in to pick up our daughter from a birthday party. The restaurant’s sharp-eyed security guard spied my son in the car and made him come with him into the restaurant to find his “bad parent” so they could both be publicly scolded.

    @blotz–the frustration w/ridiculous liability issues is not just a republican thing. Ask anyone who has to navigate the insurance maze for their school, church, or small business. The level of “safety” you have to guarantee to qualify for insurance that is even remotely affordable is ridiculous. It’s killing a lot of non-profits–not the usual hangout for right-wingers.

  62. Uly November 2, 2009 at 12:34 am #

    All this talk about leaving kids in cars while dropping off other kids reminds me…

    This was in the news in my mother’s small town where she was staying as a young adult, in Pennsylvania. This woman, every day, dropped off her big kid at kindergarten while her little kid was in the car (something which took no more than three minutes) and then dropped the little one off at preschool.

    And one day she came back to the car after dropping the big one off – and her kid was gone. So she called the police, and she called the fire department, and they all turned out to search for her kid, and they checked the lake, and after a few hours she realized… uh… wait… oh no…

    She had dropped the little one off at preschool FIRST today.

    But since it was a change in routine she forgot when she saw the empty backseat and moved to her plan-for-if-all-goes-wrong. My mother doesn’t blame her – who could? No doubt she always felt a little worried that Something Might Happen and anyway, it was a change in routine.

    This nicely illustrates a couple of key points, actually. The first is that there really is no (or incredibly little) danger to children from being LEFT in cars. If you knowingly leave your child in a car, you know the situation and you’ll probably be back when you expect. Nothing’s gonna happen unless you’re foolish enough to lock the child in, and even then you know about it and can break a window.

    The danger, such as it is (45 children dying in hot cars every year is tragic, but not what I call a trend), is from children being *forgotten* in cars. And that happens a lot more than you might think, because most children forgotten in cars are remembered or found before anything untoward can happen.

    But actually it’s surprisngly easy to forget a child – if there’s a change in routine. That’s how almost all of these happen. Dad takes the kid when usually Mom does, Mom has to drop by the office first and forgets that she was supposed to double back to drop off the kid, everybody is overtired and forgetful and… well, the fact is that the way the human brain works (or doesn’t) means it’s easy to fall into routine when you shouldn’t.

    If anybody reading this can picture how this woman forgot she DID drop her kid off, you can picture how anybody could forget they did NOT drop their kid off.

    So this point also has two points attached:

    1. It’s pointless to prosecute people for leaving their kid in a car. If they did it on purpose, the kid was probably safe. And if they didn’t do it on purpose, they’ve really already been punished enough.

    2. If you’re worried that this might happen to you, there is one easy solution that takes approximately 5 seconds out of your trip and doesn’t unreasonably impact *anybody’s* freedom – check the backseat every time you get out of the car. You might do this by putting your bag in the back or by sticking a postit on your window until it’s habit, but that’s really all you need to do. It’s the same as walking around your car before you get in to ensure you’re not driving over your kid’s toys, the neighborhood wandering child, or any surprising wads of money.

    I do something similar every time I get out of a bus – I count heads and bags, and I look under my seat just in case I left a bag there. (It’s really REALLY unlikely I left a kid under my seat.)

  63. Alana M November 2, 2009 at 12:40 am #

    We do have age laws in California but I’ve never had a problem with them. You can’t leave them alone if they are under 6. If you have another child who is over 12, then you can leave under 6s in the car. Between 6 and 12, they can stay alone. So when my kids were 12, 5, and 2, I’d go into a shop and have my 12 yo keep track of my 5 and 2 yos. Maybe 10 minutes tops.

    I agree with all that if your kids are in sight while you pay for gas/go to the ATM/return the shopping cart, then anyone throwing a hissy fit at your behavior is a loony.

  64. Jan S November 2, 2009 at 1:27 am #

    Mae Mae— I agree it’s important to pick your battles with kids. But it sounds like the mother in this case did choose to initially do battle, then let her son win, after chasing him around the car for awhile.

    Better to avoid the battle next time by giving him reasonable choices. Unfortunately, in this scenario the school is undermining her ability to work this situation out on her own terms in the future. They also undermined her as a parent in front of her child, a serious offense in my book.

  65. Jan S November 2, 2009 at 1:30 am #

    Alana— That law doesn’t really sound all that unreasonable. In most cases it’s pretty easy to bend the law the same way we can go 5 miles over the speed limit.

  66. whatthehay November 2, 2009 at 1:41 am #

    I also live in Texas but until now, didn’t actually know what the law was…

    This is a good part of the reason why I really like the tinted windows on my car – doesn’t help on the windshield, but at least crazy people walking by the side won’t see in. I have left my little one, safely strapped into her car seat, while I ran into a gas station for two minutes. Doors locked of course. I’m not worried about anyone other than CPS being called…

    And, I also have routinely left my kid, with the car doors open, under lots of shade, asleep in her car seat in our driveway. I’ve always kept an eye on her, but personally feel that one should not mess with sleeping dragons. My mom friends in the last state that I lived in always let their little ones sleep in the car… until it got to hot for the summer. We’re tired and desperate, not stupid.

    When I was a kid in the 70s, my mom always left all 3 of us in the car while she ran into stores… One time, we decided to join her in the grocery store after we got bored. It took over an hour for a very angry dad to arrive with the spare keys!

    Last point about the original post… Where were the other moms defending this poor lady to the police and school official? Are we so scared of being targeted next that no one stands up in agreement? I’m not one to home school but… I may need to push hubby harder on getting a job outside of the US, someplace more sane, maybe a nice quiet 3rd world county…

  67. Shannon November 2, 2009 at 1:47 am #

    @ mammatiamat: Sure, free range kids ultimately help free range parents. But you seem to have some (bizarre) notion that the interests of one exist at the expense of the interests of the other. Free range is at least partially about trusting your kids to be alone for more than 20 seconds, and not getting Monday morning quarterbacked for it. It’s about reasonable precautions and accurately evaluating risks: five minutes and five hours, incidentally, are not the same thing. This is where judgment comes into play, and omitting degree makes your argument look sophistical. And while you seem to think that you’ve offered some big revelation by informing us that it’s in part prompted by annoyance with labor-intensive parenting, this isn’t the problem (or the ah ha moment) that you seem to think it is. The real argument is that excessive child-centeredness is both (recently) socially constructed and unhealthy for everyone involved, parents and kids alike. Merely reifying child-centeredness by alleging that parents are actually helped by free range kids, as if this means that children aren’t also helped, is what is kindly called missing the point.

  68. Blotz November 2, 2009 at 1:52 am #

    @Karen, Sorry if I ranted a bit. What you’re describing is mostly an insurance problem, not a lawsuit problem. The insurance companies want to reduce risk as much as possible so as to pay out as little in claims as possible, so they make more money. It worries me that that problem is conflated wit h the “frivolous lawsuits” problem and I see the two problems as mostly separate.

  69. Noel H. November 2, 2009 at 2:51 am #

    Hi all, I am the mom who recounted this story to Lenore. It is very reassuring to hear voices of support. I’ve previously shared this experience with only a few close friends, in part because it was so humiliating but also because it’s hard to admit in the current parenting climate that you would ever leave your child in the car.

    In defense of my son who remained in the car, he was not being obstinate or defiant, or even playful. He was terrified of the lightning, pure and simple. Always has been, and he was panicked in that situation to go outside. Plus he is a very responsible child and I have no qualms about leaving him in the car. He simply buckled himself into his seat while I was gone. My younger son is a different child and I still wouldn’t leave him unsupervised in the car now that he has reached the same age – not for fear of the remote possibility that someone would snatch him or that the car would spontaneously burst into flames, but rather the very likely possibility he would destroy my car. 😉 He lacks the necessary self-control and I know that.

    I do wish I had gotten the officer’s name to file a complaint but the one time I saw him again was the time I described trying to speak with him but he wouldn’t stop to listen. We were already planning to leave the preschool when this happened so the director’s threats were hollow to us short timers anyway. We did have an uncomfortable three remaining months there. Such a shame all the happy memories I have of this preschool are colored by one very nasty incident toward the end.

    Also, I too remember routinely waiting in the car while parents/grandparents did errands. We would have conversations through the open windows with all the kids in the other cars doing the same. A different parenting climate for sure.

  70. Jan S November 2, 2009 at 3:34 am #

    Hey Noel H, thanks for the additional background. I’m glad you’re leaving the school run by Fraulein Hildebrand. Maybe the Nazi hunters will finally catch up with her after all this… 😉

  71. Bob Davis November 2, 2009 at 3:54 am #

    A prudent habit, whether there’s a child in the car or not, is to place the shift lever in PARK, set the parking brake and then ALWAYS take the keys with you. It only takes a few seconds and it can prevent many bad things from happening. And if you park in hilly areas, a wheel block is added insurance (granted, if you’re dealing with small children, this can be one step too many)

  72. nor-cal November 2, 2009 at 4:06 am #

    I noticed reading this forum how much more it’s mothers, not fathers get reprimanded by administrators and police.
    There is a pecking order! I realize it’s a topic for a different discussion – how mothers are perceived and treated vs fathers in situations like this one. Sadly authoritarian power trips stories happen disproportionally more often with mothers.

  73. Kim November 2, 2009 at 4:08 am #

    “Show me some proof this is happening. Just as we who have chosen to participate in this community want to debunk myths about child abduction and child risk, it behooves us to avoid spreading myths of our own. And the whole “overly litigious society” republican talking point drama needs to freakin stop.”

    Blotz – I hate to break it to you, but this really DOES happen. I work for a liability insurance company, and I see the claims coming in on a daily basis. Minor accidental scrapes, bumps and bruises can easily turn into lawsuits. Daycares are getting sued when one child bites another, even when it doesn’t break the skin. True, most of the claims only get to us because the parents are seeking payment of medical expenses for treating an injury, and not because they’re trying to milk the company for every penny they can get. But sometimes you get the ones where the parents (or their lawyers?) are out to blame–and bleed dry–anyone and everyone in the vicinity because Little Billy was acting up on the playground, fell down and scraped his knee.

  74. Jan S November 2, 2009 at 4:12 am #

    Bob Davis— There was a case here in Washington State a number of years back where the family stopped at a rest stop near the Columbia River, leaving their 3 young children who were sleeping in their van. The van slipped out of gear and rolled into the river, drowning the kids. Really sad.

  75. Jan S November 2, 2009 at 4:13 am #

    They were just running into the restroom for 5 minutes.

  76. E. Simms November 2, 2009 at 4:14 am #

    @Karen “The restaurant’s sharp-eyed security guard spied my son in the car and made him come with him into the restaurant to find his “bad parent” so they could both be publicly scolded.”

    That security guard essentially abducted your child from your car. That’s really outrageous. I hope you filed a complaint against him.

  77. AirborneVet November 2, 2009 at 4:15 am #

    No chastizing here. I totally agree with the mom. A thunderstorm in itself can also be dangerous. Here in AZ, you can get hit by lightning in a matter of seconds outside, so in this particular case, I’d have to agree with the mom.

  78. pentamom November 2, 2009 at 6:13 am #

    Someone up above made an excellent point here. There are fifteen million people standing around watching this (presumably including the police officer) and NO ONE walks over and says, “Go ahead in, I’ll watch him”???????

    Police officers generally fall under the formal classification of “public safety officers.” Apparently this guy wanted to trade that role in for “wait until people get into untenable situations and then threaten to arrest them for harmless violations of the law” officer.

  79. cowtowngirl November 2, 2009 at 8:40 am #

    I would just advise anyone who leaves a child in the car to put on the emergency brake. When I was a kid, my cousin and I were in my dad’s car parked on a hill (we were probably 8 or 9). My cousin shifted the car in to neutral and we started rolling. Luckily, there was a car parked behind us and we just rolled into the bumper and stopped. Could’ve been worse.

  80. Patti November 2, 2009 at 9:25 am #

    If this poor woman can’t leave her preschool, she should demand that a policy be set that allows her to get her child while leaving one in the car. Where I work, many families have young babies that tend to fall asleep in the car (or sick siblings, or kids throwing a fit, etc.). Any parent may call the office and ask to have someone stand by the car while they run in to get their older child, or to have a staff member walk out the older child while they wait with the sleeping (or sick, or tantrum-ing) child. It’s not mandatory, and some people don’t do it, but the option’s there for parents who feel torn. And I can’t tell you the number of times one adult will wait with another family’s children outside so the parent can run in. That’s what nice people do and since we all know each other no one’s freaked out about it.

    Any school that threatens to kick you out for this kind of behavior doesn’t really deserve your business. It’s not like you walked away for a half hour while you chatted. Next you’ll tell me they don’t let kids play in the mud or something.

  81. Stacy November 2, 2009 at 9:36 am #

    Frankly, my not-quite-4 yr old still can’t get himself OUT of his car seat, so I can’t really see how he’d be a danger as far as buttons/brakes if I left him in a car (which I don’t because we’re in CA and the laws are crazy). Especially since the car seats are required until age 6/60lbs (kid’s petite) I fully expect him to not be a danger to himself when left strapped in until well after he’s old enough to know better and be trustworthy. It’d be LOVELY if the state/feds would trust my judgment as a parent in such things. Logically, if they’re going to second guess me every step of the way after I acquire a child, why aren’t they controlling/second guessing my fertility/contraception? If we’re going to trust people to get pregnant and have kids, why aren’t we trusting them to PARENT them? A little consistency would be awesome.

  82. tracelp November 2, 2009 at 10:20 am #

    I remember the first time my older daughter rode in a shopping cart instead of being in the carrier, I was at my car with the cart full of groceries and her still sitting in the seat, I opened the back of the car to put my bags in, and a car came zipping right past the cart, it gave me such a scare at how vulnerable she was sitting up there, and from that point on I have ALWAYS seated my children in their car seats and strapped them in before dealing with the groceries. Of course this leaves the problem of what to do with cart, sometimes I park it near the car, or if the cart return is close enough, I lock the car, sprint over with the car and sprint back. In my opinion this is FAR safer than having small children right by your side while dealing with your cart and groceries in a parking lot. Also I have on the odd occasion left my children locked in the car while doing such things as returning library books to the drop box with my car parked as close as I can get it, or if I’ve had to run into my older child’s preschool because I’ve forgotten to get her lunchbag. I’ve even done this when I’ve had to run back into the house for whatever I’ve forgotten. I don’t do this as a habit, but honestly, when you are talking about running in somewhere for literally but a minute, and unstrapping and unloading your kids from the car, bringing them along, only to turn right around to load them back in and strap them in again…see my point? I trust my kids not to get out of their car seats until either me or my husband unstraps them, and I always lock them in, and I always run! My kids know that I will right back, never had a problem with them panicking. On these occasions I have not believed my children to in any danger, if I thought they were, I would not have done it. The writer of that articles is owed apolologies from the police officer (who is being truly horrible community liason, responding “nope nope nope”, how unprofessional can you get) and the director, ditto on the unprofessional behaviour, especially since she lives in a state where the law is on her side, and the school board couldn’t find that she did a thing wrong. And I think that common sense and should apply in these situations, which I believe that the vast majority of parents do possess. Someone have a little faith in us, please.

  83. Alexicographer November 2, 2009 at 11:08 am #

    @Melissa, LOL, I just was on another blog where one mom posted her concerns about getting child/groceries into car and about 20 people then posted comments about how it’s always safest to put the child in first, then the groceries, then (I assume!) return the cart to the (nearby) cart corral. (I posted to the effect that either she lived somewhere much more dangerous than I do or she was overthinking things and got a nice email to the effect that yes, she probably was.) But it’s funny to me that all these moms took exactly the opposite position of your friends and yet both set is apparently convinced they are right.

  84. gramomster November 2, 2009 at 11:10 am #

    Just another thing about the sign-in/out sheets… if something goes horribly awry, with say crazy weather (I’m in Michigan… there could be a tornado, or a blizzard, or… when I lived in CA of course it was earthquakes), or perhaps a kid with a gun at a local high school (one in our neighborhood had 3 gun incidents in as many days) and every school nearby goes on lockdown, or a fire, or any of these crazy but possible things, the have to know who is actually there, in their care. What parents to call if school is closing. What parents to call if school gets locked down and they can’t release. Same reason elementary, middle and high take attendance. And with little ones, obviously, they aren’t going to be whipping out the cell phone to text mom themselves. So it’s liability, yes, but not necessarily driven solely be legal concerns. They are responsible for our kids. Losing one would be bad bad bad.

  85. bizzeedad November 2, 2009 at 11:14 am #

    to reiterate a point made before – I am more fearful of someone calling the cops/CPS than I am of something happening to my child while they are sleeping, strapped in their seat, in the car, on a mild day while I am gone for a minute or two. No, I don’t do it when it’s hot out, or in unsafe locations. But otherwise, there is nothing to fear in this instance except fear itself.

  86. Jan S November 2, 2009 at 11:57 am #

    tracelp LOL on the proper procedure for getting groceries in the car while also caring for your child—somehow your post reminds me of nursing school and learning sterile procedures, like how to insert a urinary catheter into a woman. First you provide for privacy, then explain to patient, then wash hands, don exam non-sterile gloves, wash peri area. Doff exam gloves, wash hands. Ask patient if they are allergic to iodine. Open sterile catheter package, don sterile gloves, lubricate sterile cath tip, set aside within sterile field, open provodine packet, saturate cotton balls, inflate balloon with normal saline to test, deflate leaving normal saline syringe attached. Prep peri area with provodine saturated cotton balls while identifying target area. Insert catheter with right hand, taking care not to contaminate, until urine appears in catheter tubing, advance a little more, inflate balloon, tug to test, secure tubing to leg, dispose of waste in appropriate receptacle.


  87. LindaLou November 2, 2009 at 1:44 pm #

    I can’t believe I’ve been glued to this thread only to find out that this happened two years ago.

  88. ejly November 2, 2009 at 10:26 pm #

    @Patti your alternative is so much more sensible than leaving a child unattended in a car – just have the school walk the other child out, or wait by the car for you while you go in.

    I don’t think leaving a kid unattended in a car is a free range issue; leaving a kid in a car gives access to the vehicle controls, and that’s not safe for themselves or others in the car’s path, and is a potentially very expensive proposition even if no one gets hurt.

    If the parent & kid had ridden in on bikes, I wouldn’t have any issue with leaving a kid with the bikes while the parent was getting the other kid.

  89. ChristyB. November 2, 2009 at 10:56 pm #

    Had I written my reply yesterday it would have been in full support of leaving a child alone in a car for a few minutes. I do it all the time – run to the atm, drop off or pick up from school, dash into post office, etc.

    But today I returned to my car having just picked up 3yr old to find 5yr old crying and scared in the car. We’ve done this plenty of times so it is not like this is new, though usually I make sure he has something to look at.

    I dunno, maybe it’s because he was hungry for lunch or it is rather dark and rainy outside today, whatever. I was gone no more than 5 min. but today, for him, that was too long. He was scared and crying and I felt TERRIBLE! And it made me think what I would have done as a parent had I passed by a car with a crying, frightened child inside. Would I wait for someone? Try and talk to the child? (probably would really freak them out!) How would I feel standing by someone’s car listening to a frightened child for 5 or 10 minutes?

    So now, I’m not sure what my response is. I still do not see a safety issue with children alone in cars if the doors are locked, the engine off and the child buckled up. But it has made me think a bit from the child’s persepective. Sometimes they get scared even if they’ve done it a hundred times so for now, 5yr old will come with me.

  90. Kashmir November 2, 2009 at 11:39 pm #

    These people would blow a gasket if they found out I have been leaving my kid home alone since he was 4 when I needed to run to the store. Jeff HATES shopping. Instead of dragging along a whining 5 year old, I left him at home with my cell phone number etched into the redial. I’d get 5 calls in the 30 minutes I was gone but he felt safe and is now completely secure about staying at home alone.

    He can also make his own sandwiches and turn on the wii by himself.

    Leaving him in the car? Oh heck yeah. Again, he HATES shopping and would really rather take a beating than go in a store.

    I’m working on allowing him out of my sight in the front yard. Years of ‘stranger/danger’ crap have invaded my brain so it isn’t easy. I’m glad I found this site.

  91. Alexicographer November 3, 2009 at 12:30 am #

    @Christy … I don’t know. Recently I’ve resumed attending the Quaker meeting I attend (er, intermittently), now with my 2.5 y.o. in tow. He goes downstairs to childcare and I stay upstairs for an hour of silent worship.

    This worked great the first 2 or 3 times we did it, and he loves the place (great toys, good care), and then last time something (or nothing) happened 45 minutes in and he burst into tears and wanted mama RIGHT THAT VERY MINUTE. But I was far enough away (a feature of the building layout, not something I could control) I couldn’t hear him crying and the care provider didn’t come get me (though I’d have rather she had).

    I mean, I get what you’re saying and I get that being in a car in a public area is somewhat different from what I’m describing, but simply because a small child might become woefully (but not dangerously, i.e., not in or with access to a dangerous place) sad doesn’t, it seems to me, provide enough of a rationale not to leave them (if it did, we never could).

    Here I’d probably decide (at least for young kids, say the under 6 set) based largely on whether I could/couldn’t see the car. Sounds like you couldn’t but the OP apparently could (also it sounds like she was somewhere where everyone knew, or could easily figure out, whose car had the kid in it, had a real problem, or upset, arisen).

    OTOH, similar to @Flicksam, I have left my son in strapped in a stroller (not a car, though it could have been — that, too, would have worked) while moving my horse from one location to another (on the same farm). And couldn’t necessarily see him. So he could have lost it, but it was part of a routine he was familiar with and (whether or not he got upset) was much, much safer under the circumstances (a penned, and pent-up, horse recovering from injury) than trying to move horse + child together.

    Finally, yeah … Lenore, you complain about the media digging up/replaying old stories of child abductions but then post this story like it’s a current one when clearly, per the OP’s comment, it’s not. Please let us know when you do this.

  92. Jim November 3, 2009 at 12:43 am #

    As a 24-year resident of Houston, I have to say that I believe every word of this letter. HPD has a lot of great officers but they also have their share of bullies who were raised with an excess of “because I said so!” parenting and have taken that attitude into their profession. Still, it could have been worse… this mom could have been in the Houston suburbs of Bellaire or Pasadena, in which case she would have been shot, Tasered or beaten to a pulp. This is especially true for people of color, since being “Black in Bellaire” is a crime that demands deadly force (generally .40-caliber bullets to the torso) from any officer who observes such an affront to the standards of the neighborhood.

  93. runwolf November 3, 2009 at 12:47 am #

    I’d file a formal complaint against the officer. He needs to be reminded that he is a servant of the people, not the judge and jury.

  94. LisaS November 3, 2009 at 1:19 am #

    actually, in St. Louis not only is there a state law against leaving children under 11 in the car unsupervised, within the City limits, if you leave your kid in the car AND your car is stolen, the parent is subject to prosecution. Try explaining that to your grade schooler …

  95. tracelp November 3, 2009 at 1:59 am #

    Jan S. Funny that, I’m an RN! Just how you get used to describing things I suppose. Either that or I think too much.

  96. BMS November 3, 2009 at 5:11 am #

    A mom at our bus stop this morning dragged her sick 3rd grader across the street to stand with her mom and her kindergarden brother waiting for the bus to come pick up the kindergartener. Apparently, the fact that there are 4 other parents there she knows is not enough protection for the kindergartener. And apparently, her 3rd grader cannot stay in the house alone for 10 minutes.

    Full disclosure: Yes I walk my kids to the bus stop. Not because I am afraid of them getting kidnapped, but because the little snots get in fist fights every time I don’t stand there. We are working on that behavior, believe me.

  97. North of 49 November 3, 2009 at 7:03 am #

    “I want your badge number, so I can have my husband, a lawyer, cite your threat of an unwarranted arrest for a non-crime and make sure your superiors know.” That’s my advice for mom, especially if her husband is a lawyer. Or, “go ahead, arrest me and I’ll have your badge faster than your head can spin.”

  98. Alison Fairfield November 3, 2009 at 9:05 am #

    Houston–a thunderstorm–a preschool–a sibling left behind– that could have been my letter (only I would have never mentioned the sibling to a school administrator.)

    So this situation prompts me to give a very personal response.

    A wise Jew once said: …with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in another’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own…

    A rush to judgment, such as that by the school administrator, the off-duty police dad and perhaps the parent onlookers who remained silent, is all the rage in our increasingly loveless culture. For love wills the good of what is loved. That sibling was in the best place he could have been. That mother, who did no wrong, was a least deserving of grace from those who judged otherwise.

    The self-righteous are that way because they are blind to their own need for grace and wrongly believe that they could bear up under the treatment they so freely mete out to others.

  99. Sierra November 3, 2009 at 10:23 am #

    Great timing! I left my kids in the car for the first time today, while loading up groceries from our coop. The kids are 2 and 5, and it was raining. Getting them out of their carseats and into the coop delivery area would have turned a five minute pickup into at least a half hour production while they both tried to help.

    Like this mom, I could at least hear and usually see them the entire time. I still felt nervous. One of my number one parenting fears has always been that I’ll be arrested or harassed for leaving my kids too lightly supervised in public.

    I have to say though, that the one time I locked my keys in the car with both kids inside, the EMTs and police who came to get them out were very reasonable. No one hassled me about being a bad mom. They were even willing to listen to reason and not insist that I take the girls to the emergency room for medical care after I signed a waiver saying I wouldn’t hold them accountable if HORRIBLE THINGS befell them after their ten minute ordeal.

  100. Jay E. Adrian November 3, 2009 at 1:24 pm #

    The retarded pig should have been arrested for having a firearm within reach of a child and then arrested for taking a firearm into a school. He’s not on duty, right? Danger is danger.

  101. Jan S November 3, 2009 at 1:32 pm #

    tracelp— lol, it’s definitely the training we got, your description was very nursing like, come to think of it. I must’ve picked up on it. 😆

    I work per diem in acute care, telemetry mostly or the cardiac care unit, or wherever in the hospital that I can get the schedule I want to fit to my life.

  102. surflife November 3, 2009 at 3:04 pm #

    There is a really simple solution to the school policy. The next time you child does not want to get out of the car stay with him. You are simply following the schools very strict policy on never ever leaving a child in the car. Believe me it wont take long for them to phone you to find out where you are and why you have not picked up your other child. The satisfaction you will get from telling them that you are sitting in the car park supervising your other child because of their rules and the annoyance they will feel at having your child stay late will be priceless.

  103. Jenne November 4, 2009 at 3:20 am #

    Someone said: ‘There’s nothing “free range” about being locked in a car and sitting around in there, whether for 5 minutes or 5 hours. ‘

    I think our ten-year-old would disagree; she was thrilled when we first started allowing her to sit in the car and read while we ran into the store. To her, there’s nothing free range about being dragged around a store you don’t want to be in instead of sitting comfortably and reading. When she got to stay home (it is legal in our state) instead of going with us to the grocery, etc. she was even more happy– but we only did that when she was sure she felt comfortable being home alone.

  104. Catherine November 4, 2009 at 6:31 am #

    “I would send a formal complaint to that officer’s precinct, and make sure I included the penal code in it. He needs to be talked to in a way he hasn’t been talked to in a long time.

    Ditto the Director.

    I’m angry, too!”


  105. Catherine November 4, 2009 at 6:47 am #

    Just found this news report about the laws for leaving children in cars in the state where I live (NSW, Australia).

    The main rationale for fining parents $22,000 (!) for leaving their children in the car is that they will become heat stressed and die. I was therefore quite surprised to read the date on this release which was July 2009 (ie, mid Winter in Australia).

    The call for anyone witnessing such a heinous crime to call 000 (equivalent to 911 in the US) is pretty amazing too. No thought that perhaps the 000 operators may be busy dealing with real emergencies such as people being assaulted or houses burning down.

  106. Liz November 6, 2009 at 9:51 am #

    OMG… I just pulled my son out of his preschool this week because they DID call CPS on me…. I should have paid attention to the warning signs…. 3 times I was accused of leaving a child in the car while dropping off another (over the course of several years). They claimed I was breaking Fl laws…and proceeded to MISQUOTE the laws. In reality, only 2x I had left a child in the car and only broke an unwritten policy of theirs in order to abide to other policies (such as dealing w/ sick siblings) they had and did not break any laws. One of those times, the admin had fabricated a story that a parent had seen my child alone in the car…. when in reality… she, the admin, had asked me as I was leaving the building where the missing child was at the time…. I had advised her in the car but neglected to tell her my hubby was in the car too.

    Anyway, I dismissed their vigilence of falsely accusing me of neglect. Then one day, I bring my child in the school w/ a rope burn… advised the administrator exactly what had happened to him… a freak accident where he had fallen into a retractable leash while my friend was walking her dog. The admin did not believe me… and called CPS… I got to the school to pick up my child only to find a CPS investigator and a police officer positioned to arrest me and take away my kids. It didn’t happen.. since I was able to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that my kids are not abused or neglected. But I still had to go thru 2 months of mental duress while CPS… lost our records, dropped the ball on procedures…and would never give us a straight answer. A NIGHTMARE… my poor kids suddenly were placed in a bubble. I was afraid of them even getting a scratch. Now that I pulled my youngest from the school… I feel MUCH better…but still aprehensive about leaving him in the care of others.
    So, if a preschool is soo unsupportive of you w/ having multiple kids w/ you while you try to sign a child in… then it is not worth the potential anguish… PULL them out. I don’t care if it is the best school in the area…. pull them. My child was at the best school in the area and I had a long standing repore with them. W/ the whole car thing they did try to work w/ me… but told me to call them when I entered the parking lot…. well, I don’t do cell phones. So that was out.

    They may not call CPS for leaving the child in the car… but they will. As soon as your child has a bump on the head the CPS will be called.. and your family will be put through the ringer due to protocol regardless of immediate findings of just an accident.

    I tell you all this because NO ONE deserves to go thru that nightmare.

  107. Jan S November 6, 2009 at 11:53 am #

    That’s terrible Liz! Just awful!

  108. Liz November 6, 2009 at 12:41 pm #

    Tell me about it.
    The leading questions my children were asked…. were just awful! I wasn’t ready to subject my kids to those topics.
    I have learned a lot these past two months… it really makes me rethink the whole homeschool thing. It would be easier to protect my kids from the very agencies and helicopter type people who claim they only desire to ‘protect’ the children. Instead they often end up risking the wellbeing of good families and wasting a lot of taxpayer dollars.

  109. Jan S November 6, 2009 at 2:41 pm #

    These types have major control issues. It’s a huge part of their psychological make ups. These types border on sociopathy in my opinion. They are like religious legalists, using the letter of the law to exercise control over others. Jesus encountered this spirit with the Pharisee leadership. The law had become their God and they used it to dominate and gain status.

    You see this in all religions, professions, and ideologies.

  110. Tiaras & Tantrums November 7, 2009 at 1:36 am #

    WOW – the school my children attend ( a private christian school) actually PROMOTES parents to leave the younger siblings in the car. When I first started to take my son to this school 3 years ago, the principal came up to me and told me to leave the children (two little siblings) in the car each day to pick up my son. They (the school) has 4-6 teachers or aides outside in the Am and the PM and they ask parents with little one to park in the handicap and leave their children and the teachers who are outside will watch your car. At first I was really freaked out to do it , but now, especially when it is 0 degrees outside – no problem

  111. liz December 29, 2009 at 12:02 pm #

    Since everyone’s sharing their “took the parking brake off and car rolled” stories, my little brother did that while we were waiting for mom at the recycling center. He was 6 and, obviously, in the front seat, and I was 11 and in the back of the mini-van. After I realized we were moving, I leaped over the middle seat and into the driver’s seat and hit the brake before the car went out into traffic.

  112. Elizabeth Richter July 1, 2012 at 7:00 pm #

    There are always the Mommy police out there. I never knew that until I had children myself. It is amazing how many people feel that they have the right to intervene in your parenting or tell you what to do as if you lost your brains as soon as you became a mother. Anyway, I was in a business where I had to go the postoffice every day with my two children ages 5 and 1. Once, I was in a hurry and I went in to get my mail. Unfortunately, I was delayed ten minutes because they had to get some packages for me in the back. The front of the post office is totally window, so the children were visible to me at all times. Anyway, this couple reported me to the police and I was arrested and I had to go to court. I received accellerated rehabilitation and was embarassed in front of my entire community. The thing is, having a small business and raising young children, one of whom I was still breastfeeding, simply made me tired, and that day I just wanted to be able to get quickly in and out. Yes, it was a hot day, but the windows were cracked, and the kids were perfectly fine. It was one of the most traumatic days of my life as a mother and I will never forget the pain and suffering I endured as a consequence.


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