From my mailbox, two neatly twinned items. First, a Facebook rant sent in by a mom disgusted by it:
“Nana” – It was selfish to leave your Grandchildren strapped in their car seats in the sun today as you bought your Subway. I was in Subway with you and continued to 7 11, on my way to my car your precious grandchildren yelled for me and I stopped, they pointed where “Nana” was, still in Subway.
Nana appeared at the Subway door and I asked her why the children were left in the hot car? Her answer was: The windows are all down, I’ve only been gone a minute and I should mind my own business. I called your bluff Nana and you decided to call me every name in the book. I didn’t care. I stood my ground and told her I was not leaving until the children were removed from the vehicle. Eventually angry Nana left the comfort of the Subway door and removed them.
Naturally, the Facebook scold proceeded to call 911, but seems to have left before anyone arrived. What does it mean for society when parents (and grandparents) face possible legal action for making a decision about their kids that some onlooker doesn’t like?
Here’s what. It’s scary. Please read and share:
Regulars on this site already know that a small child faces more danger crossing a parking lot than waiting in the car for a short period. So how do we convince society at large of this basic truth? Statistics don’t seem to convince people, but scary anecdotes do. So, I will share my own scary anecdote, and you are free to pass it along:
I have three small children, who sit in the back seat as follows: The baby sits in the middle car seat, the safest spot, facing backward. The 2-year-old and 4-year-old sit in carseats on either side. To get the baby out, I have to lean into the car with my whole body and use both hands. But I can’t get him out without getting one of the two older kids out first, because there isn’t enough room to reach across them and pull a baby out. Whichever older child I take out first, will be unattended in the parking lot for the solid 15-20 seconds it takes me to get the baby out.
I learned quickly that I cannot take the 2-year-old out first, because she cannot be trusted to stay still next to the car while I lean in with my whole body to get the baby out. Despite constant admonishment, she’s just too young to reliably behave. So I follow this very specific process any time I take them *anywhere*: I unbuckle the 4-year-old, help her out, and have her hold my pocket while I lean in and take out the baby. I then carry the baby and hold the 4-year-old’s hand while we walk around the car to let the 2-year-old out. While my 4-year-old holds my pocket and while I hold my very heavy baby using only my right arm, I unbuckle my 2-year-old using only my left hand. While still holding the baby in my right arm, I use my left arm to help swing the 2-year-old out of the car. I then hold the 2-year-old’s hand, the baby in my one arm, and the 4-year-old holds my pocket or the baby’s foot while we cross the parking lot.
All of the above still depends upon some moderate level of good behavior from everyone. If the baby starts to squirm and writhe, I have to break my hold on the 2-year-old’s hand in order to secure the baby. If either kid recklessly darts off, I’m helpless to catch them. Every day, multiple times a day, my heart is in my throat until we make it to the threshold of our destination.
Every weekday I drop them off at day care on my way to work. I follow the above ritual to get them across the parking lot. Day care parking lots are especially dangerous. Cars are constantly coming and going, everyone is in a hurry to get to work, and all the kids are tiny, unpredictable, and hard to see.
One day, my 2-year-old was having a rough morning and was particularly defiant. I knew she wouldn’t behave in the parking lot, despite repeated warnings. The weather was 60 degrees and overcast. I knew the safest action was to bring only my baby and 4-year-old into the day care, sign them in, kiss them goodbye, and then come back for the 2-year-old. But my inner lawyer got the better of me: I thought about how day cares are “Mandatory Reporters,” and how all it would take was one parent seeing my 2-year-old in the car, reporting it to the front desk, them calling the cops, and me ending up in a legal nightmare that I didn’t have the time, energy, or money for.
So I took all three out at once. We were almost across the lot when my 2-year-old broke free and ran toward the door, just as a car came whipping around the corner into the lot, not watching. I screamed “STOP!”
Although my 2-year-old didn’t stop, the car mercifully did, just about 6 inches from my sweet toddler. The mom apologized profusely, admitted she wasn’t looking because she was busy looking for an empty space to park. I didn’t know what to say. This is a woman I know and like, ordinarily a very good mom, who made a terrible, almost fatal mistake and almost killed my kid. I couldn’t say it was “okay.” I knew she felt terrible. And I was so relieved my child was safe that I didn’t want to waste time being angry.
But mostly, I was angry at myself for not trusting my own mommy gut. I *knew* the safest thing to do that morning was leave my kid in the car alone. But I let the judgment of *other people* trump my own judgment about the best interests of my child. That day, I vowed never to do that again. If my child had died that day, I would have never forgiven myself. My maternal judgment is the best tool I have. I am an intelligent and moral person, no one loves my children more than me, and no one can predict their behavior better than me. How can I possibly let anything other than my own judgment govern how I raise my kids and keep them safe?
From that day forward, any time I believe it’s safer for my kids to wait in the car, I have them wait in the car: At the dry cleaners, the bank, the gas station (when pay-at-the pump is broken), and even(!) the day care.
If it helps anyone defend their own parenting choices, feel free to use my story.
You can bet I’ll use this story. It reminds us in a heart-stopping way that parents must not live in fear of being second-guessed for making rational decisions about their own kids. It is demonstrably safe to let your kid wait in the car a few minutes. If anyone doesn’t believe me, try it for the length of time it takes to walk a child into daycare, or to order a submarine sandwich.
What we are really criminalizing is any parent who, for one reason or another, refuses to conform to some stranger’s idea of perfect parenting. That includes good parents like the mom of three above, who loves her kids and knows what works for her and her family.
This shaming and criminalizing must end. While it might take a while to stop folks like the Facebook scold from calling 911, in the meantime we CAN fight the laws that criminalize perfectly fine parents making perfectly fine decisions. Let’s let our lawmakers know that we the parents care more about our kids than anyone, and unless we are putting those kids in immediate, egregious and indisputable harm, it is up to us how we raise them. – L