Needed: Your Encounters with “What If?” Thinking

Hi Readers — One of the biggest frustrations in Free-Ranging is dealing with other people’s “What If?” fears. Why? Because they can never be answered! If a parent starts worrying about, “What if X, Y or Z happens while my child is doing…” rzfniraery
there is no way to say, “Don’t worry, it won’t.” Because, of course,  something bad always COULD possibly happen.

“What if??” doesn’t take into account probability, or even reality. It just builds big, bright, horrible possibilities and projects them, Power Point-like, into the conversation: “Ha! You tell me not to worry, but LOOK at this! This COULD happen! What if it DOES? Then what, huh? You’re going to say you’re sorry? THAT’S NOT GOING TO MAKE THINGS ANY BETTER! I simply will NOT allow this, that or the other to (possibly) happen to my child!”

And pretty soon there’s no sleepover (because what if it’s an orgy?) and no field trip (because what if the bus flips over?) and no time to play, unsupervised, with friends (because what if he breaks his arm? What if they bully him? What if he’s thirsty and he forgot his water bottle?).

I’m trying to come up with great examples for my (potential next) book because WHAT IF I don’t? Yiiiikes!

I’d like stories of other folks’ “What If?”s and your own “What If?”-ing, too: A time you worried about something, and managed to put those fears aside, and what happened next.

So I hope you had a great Thanksgiving and now let’s rock this pessimistic, paranoid culture to its core! — Lenore


129 Responses to Needed: Your Encounters with “What If?” Thinking

  1. Ashley November 28, 2010 at 1:30 pm #

    Most of my post-birth “what ifs” have been pretty mundane. There was the time my next door neighbor simply couldn’t believe I’d let my 1 year old eat a carrot. “She has to be teething on it, right?” Well, the fact that it’s half gone suggests otherwise.

    However, as someone who planned a homebirth, I got all sorts of “what ifs?” “What if the placenta’s in the wrong place” (Not possible for my pregnancy) “What if the shoulders get stuck?” (Switch positions) “What if you need an emergency c-section?” (It’s not like the hospital 5 minutes from my house actually staffs doctors overnight, as I found out the hard way). It was rare for there to be a specific what if, but lots of completely vague “what if something happened?!?!” Considering all scientific evidence shows that homebirth was safe, it was fun having to trot out studies, statistics, and explanations for every part of the birth process to prove homebirth was safe all. the. damn. time.

  2. Leanne November 28, 2010 at 1:54 pm #

    I have a good one:

    Last week, my 3.5 yo and I went to a Walmart to do errands. We had some lunch in the McDonald’s there. It’s our little guilty pleasure. He was enamoured of the Happy Meal toys in the case beside the counter and after we had eaten said, “I go look at the toys, Mama!” while I was getting the garbage together. I clarified that he was talking about the Happy Meal toys and said, “OK, you can look at the toys and I will throw out this garbage and get our coats and get you.” This all took me about 30 seconds but when I got to the toy case he wasn’t there. I double checked that he hadn’t gone back to our table and he hadn’t. I checked just down the aisle where there are toy vending machines and he isn’t there either. By this time I’m getting a little panicky. I’d been talking about giving our children more freedom and responsibility a la Free Range Kids and here I was having it backfire in my face! Could the What If become a reality? I could feel tears threatening to spill over. But, he said he wanted to look at the toys, so maybe he really meant the toy section of the store? So I hustled over there, and it was at the opposite side of the store, too. He had asked if he could buy Lego when we planned our trip and I looked in the Lego aisle by no son. OK, I thought, this is now serious. No more wasting time. I turned around, asked the first employee to help and she set in motion the first steps of their “Code Adam” system for lost children. After providing her with the pertinent info, she recommended I meet her at the front doors. A moment later, she waived me over to the customer service area: they had him. A woman on the phone was smiling and talking with an employee in a department adjacent to the toys. She made a second call to another employee and again smiled and then told us: “He’s in toys. He’s fine.” It turns out, he had overshot the toys, went to the seasonal department, was spotted by an employee who had just been alerted that he was missing, attempted to accompany my son to the customer service area, except my son yelled at him: “No! Don’t touch me!” and followed up with “I’m going to the Lego.” Part of me wanted to weep from the rush of fear and adrenalin I’d experienced and my thankfulness that we weren’t going to be a sad story. But, a bigger part of me wanted to laugh, because the very night previous we had walked with my 7 yo son, who walk home from his schoolbus stop in the afternoon and we reviewed what he was supposed to do if anyone other than his parents, grandparents or aunts ever tried to get him to go with them anywhere: “I want you to shout “No! Don’t touch me!” as loud as you can. Make a lot of noise and try to get someone’s attention. Now, can you two show me how loud you can shout that?” So, my little fella did exactly as he said, and reacted exactly how he had been taught to when approached by strangers who wanted him to go with them anywhere.

  3. SKL November 28, 2010 at 2:01 pm #

    What if someone calls the cops on me – that’s probably the biggest one, since I tend to be unconventional. I usually don’t let it stop me, but it makes me look around myself a lot more.

    What if my surefooted kid makes a mistake while climbing far above the ground? But the only time either of my kids got hurt badly enough to need medical attention (or even first aid), she was walking on a flat floor with nothing “dangerous” anywhere near. The fact that I’ve only had 1 such incident in over 3 years with 2 wee kids is probably because they are allowed to do all sorts of climbing, etc., so they know what to do if the unexpected happens. (Now I’m thinking, what if I just jinxed myself . . . .)

    What if a critter from the woods messes with my kids? I still let them play outside during bright daylight hours, though I’ve seen some critters hanging around closer than I’d like, a couple of times. It’s a matter of weighing the risks. I think kids need to be able to play outside for a good stretch of time when the weather allows. If I have to step inside to attend to something else, I don’t want to make them drop what they’re doing and follow me inside. So I don’t, but I still think about those critters the whole time I’m inside.

  4. Mrs. S November 28, 2010 at 2:24 pm #

    I worry about getting in trouble legally as well because we do try and allow our children freedom.

    For example, we let our 6 yo keep the woodstove going in our home in the winter and we feel he is competent to do so (plus he loves doing it)…what if he gets a severe burn AND we get charged with child endangerment or someting even though we deeply love and care for him?! It is hard enough to fight off the excessive worry for our children’s safety and then also fear that you will be blamed for any accident.

  5. SKL November 28, 2010 at 2:30 pm #

    Oh, and then there’s my 3-year-old who has become confident enough to go to the next destination on her own. She is remarkably good with directions, too. A few weeks ago we were in a hotel restaurant and she needed to go to the restroom. I was in the middle of something so I told her to go look around for a restroom and I’d follow after. (I figured there would be one in the restaurant itself.) By the time I got out of my chair, she was nowhere in sight. I went looking and asking for the nearest restroom, which was in another part of the hotel that she hadn’t checked. I started asking staff if they’d noticed a little girl (they hadn’t). I went back and told my party about the situation in case she came back to the table. My other kid mentioned she thought Sis had gone upstairs, but I didn’t pay her any mind. Finally I went upstairs and checked the hotel room, and there she was at the door. Makes sense in hindsight – that was the closest restroom she knew how to locate. She was not ruffled in the least, but I was, a little. What were my “what ifs”? Mostly that she’d get lost and scared and draw the attention of people who would make it into a “big thing.”

    This reminds me of a story my grandma told. When she was 5 (about 95 years ago), she had recently come from Hungary and didn’t speak much English. She’d wandered off and gotten lost. She was crying and couldn’t provide any information. She just said “no” to every question because she didn’t understand. (Though they figured out the answer to “do you need the restroom” was actually yes, thankfully.) Someone gave her a chocolate bar which melted in her hand as she cried inconsolably. Eventually her dad came and found her. I’ll never know the details of how they were reunited, but I know it didn’t involve police or child protective services. All was well in the end. And I’m pretty sure that was the last time Grandma got herself hopelessly lost.

  6. John Hritz November 28, 2010 at 4:13 pm #

    A gentle counter to “what-if” thinking: Reasoning about what can go wrong isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I think the measure is whether it is making your life bigger or smaller and whether it is making the kid more self-reliant or more dependent. The answer to reducing the risk to most activities worth doing is training, tools and experience. This is the difference between a miserable night on the side of the road and an unexpected night of camping. My niece went to a Brownie event this summer and I sent her along with a whistle. On the lanyard was a tag that said “blow this three times if your are lost (or if everybody else is)”.

  7. Alison November 28, 2010 at 4:49 pm #

    None of my what-ifs have come to pass. The field trip bus didn’t wreck. The plane with my unaccompanied minors on it didn’t crash. My son didn’t get molested in the men’s bathroom.

    I’m sure there are more what-ifs, but I can’t think of them now. Perhaps I’ve forgotten what they were.

  8. Ross November 28, 2010 at 7:42 pm #

    >>>“The answer to reducing the risk to most activities worth doing is training, tools and experience. This is the difference between a miserable night on the side of the road and an unexpected night of camping.”

    I’m going to memorize this… what a great response to the sky-might-fall people! Oh, and tell them to turn off their TV too. They’ll be a lot happier for it 🙂

  9. Jennifer Jo November 28, 2010 at 8:29 pm #

    My 9-year-old daughter was to ride her bike the 1/2 mile to her aunt’s house. She was getting ready to go when I received an email notifying our church that a former member, a now 20-year-old girl, was hit by a car (in broad daylight and on a straight road) while riding her bike with a friend. She was killed instantly.

    I didn’t say a word to my daughter about the horrifying news (she didn’t know the girl anyway) and sent her out the door, my heart in my throat. Part of me wanted to panic, but the other, bigger part knew (or, desperately hoped) that she’d be fine. Accidents might happen, and they might happen to us, but by golly, if they are going to happen, then they’re going to happen while we were FULLY living.

    (I do have reflective vests on my shopping list, and I want to buy a few more bike lights—hopefully those purchases will buy me more peace of mind and the kids more independence.)

  10. Jennifer Jo November 28, 2010 at 8:30 pm #

    Oh yes, and getting rid of sensationalist media (no TV in this house) helps to GREATLY reduce the “what if” component.

  11. Becky November 28, 2010 at 8:49 pm #

    I’ve been inspired by your blog and hope to get your book soon. My children are at the perfect age to start incorporating free-ranging (3 & 6).

    We recently took a big shopping trip to Walmart. I do daycare and only shop every 2 weeks so we can load up a cart to overflowing! My 3 year old was in the seat at the front of the cart and my 6 year old was helping me unload the groceries at the check out line. I soon realized that we would need a second cart to get all of the groceries out to the car. I thought this would be the perfect chance to let my 6 year old practice being “grown up”. I sent her to go get another cart. I reminded her not to go anywhere with anyone. She walked confidently toward the front of the store to get a cart and soon was out of sight (since I couldn’t see the carts from my check out line). I soon had “what-ifs” start popping into my mind…. “what if she gets scared and can’t find her way back to me?” “what if she is approached by someone “bad” and I haven’t taught her enough to know what to do?”
    I pushed these thoughts out of my mind as they popped up and tried to busy myself with unloading the cart while I kept an eye out for her returning with a cart. I have to admit I was relieved to see her return just a minute later with a new cart. I waved to her so she could see which line we were in. She could hardly see over the top of the cart. She had the biggest smile on her face as she pushed the cart back to me. She said that she had to pull really hard to get the cart away from the other carts but that otherwise it was no big deal. I told her that I was so proud of her and that she acted very grown up. The look on her face was all it took to remind myself that it was worth the tiny, tiny risk that independence carries with it, to have my daughter feel so proud of herself and to build her confidence.

    She loved telling Dad when we got home about how grown up she was! 🙂

  12. Carrie November 28, 2010 at 9:48 pm #

    I let my 5 and 3 year old stay home alone while I drop their big brother off at art class 4 minutes away. I am gone a total of 9 minutes (I’ve timed it). We’ve taken the time to teach them NEVER to open the door or take a phone call from a stranger. We’ve put our pictures in our phone so they know if it is one of our cell phones calling home. They know how to dial 911 in an emergency. They even know that if they get scared and don’t know what to say when they call 911 to just leave the phone on and the police will come.

    I don’t feel the What Ifs of what could happen to them while I’m gone. I mean, I spend more time in the basement doing a load of laundry and not knowing what they are up to than I do being gone from the house in this entire round trip scenario. What I worry about most is someone finding out and calling the police on us. I actually had to lie to my oldest son’s friend at art class one day because his mother was there and I KNEW if she found out they were alone, she’d call the police herself. My kids are THRILLED with their growing independence and they have done a GREAT job.

  13. Rex November 28, 2010 at 10:10 pm #

    This is a particularly vexing problem in rocky relationships where a child custody battle may eventuate.

    One spouse — usually the husband — allows the kids more freedom and independence, while the other spouse — usually the wife — keeps them on a tight leash. Given the propensity of the courts to favor females in custody conflicts, and given their propensity to trust risk-averse child services, the husband is screwed if he doesn’t smother and copter over his children. All the “What ifs” will come pouring out during a custody battle.

    At some point there will have to be recognition that the overprotection problem is largely an outgrowth of the puritanical feminism which has forbidden boys to play with guns and pushed fathers out of the house and away from their kids. An ideology that has labelled all men rapists and obstreperous boys diseased does not tilt in favor of the free range, the very idea of which conjures up the “cowboy mentality” that has been so reviled during the feminist era.

  14. Erin Lee November 28, 2010 at 10:39 pm #

    My son, Dexter, is a very friendly, social and outgoing toddler. He loves going shopping and talking to all the people from his seat in the cart. One day when he was around 18 months old we were waiting at the deli counter at the supermarket. as usual, he was smiling and flirting and saying “hi” to everyone else waiting. Everyone seemed amused except one older woman who had a look of disgust on her face. Eventually she couldn’t take it anymore and approached us. She said, “You shouldn’t be so amused by his antics. If you were a good mother you’d be teaching him to keep his mouth shut and keep to himself. He’s going to get himself killed and it’s going to be your fault.” (I still don’t understand how) After the initial shock, I simply said, “I don’t know what happened to you in your life to make you see the world that way, but I feel very sorry for you.” Which was met with, “Don’t worry about me, it’s his funeral.” Ugh.

  15. Karen November 28, 2010 at 10:54 pm #

    My “what if” thinking isn’t related to the horrible things that could happen to my son. I’m worried more about “what if some other parent sues me….”
    We live at the end of a quiet dead end street with a big back yard and woods on two sides of the house. It’s the gathering place of my 9 year old son and all his neighborhood friends. They race around with nerf swords and sticks, climb trees, sit on top of the swing set, and have a great time. My son fell a good ten feet out of a tree, and we spent a mildly worried few hours of observation at the ER, but he was released with nothing more than a scrape, and he still climbs trees. (and one could argue he’s safer now that he’s fallen out of the tree because he has a much better sense of his physical capabilities). what kept me awake that night wasn’t “what if he’d died”. Instead I kept thinking, “what if that was some other kid who fell from the tree, and what if that kid was hurt, and what if that kid’s parents come after us”. We live in such a litigious society, it feels like a possibility. I do the reality check that I’m not providing anything illegal, or recklessly dangerous, and I let them play. without a signed waiver 🙂

  16. EV November 29, 2010 at 12:05 am #

    The “what if” question lives in all of us. When it takes over how we function, then it can be classified as a neurosis.

    I have often taught children whose decision making processes have been co-opted by the “what ifs”. One child in particular couldn’t try anything new (and most of school is new stuff) because he looked at all the negative possibilities (never positive ones). Arguing the point and trying to encourage the child to see the positives NEVER works. Logic plays no part; Mathematical odds play no part. This is not rational.

    The only thing that has consistently worked with the child who is in this thinking pattern is to train him to say to his brain, “we’ll see,” and then set off and try it. I always come back and ask the child to discuss the ways it went well or was a positive experience. Often in the case of food, the experience isn’t wholly positive, but it is never as bad as his brain was telling him. Eventually, through a stable classroom and enough experiences where the ceiling doesn’t fall, the child will ignore the what ifs and just live his life.

    Society as a whole is fed regular diets of fear leading them to not feel stable and safe; this allows their minds to be wrapped into the neurotic pattern of thinking irrationally. “We’ll see” is the only response I can think of to combat my relative’s, neighbor’s, and coworker’s thought patterns.

  17. Cheryl W November 29, 2010 at 12:09 am #

    I have a friend who has a 10 year old son. When we lived in CA groups of parents and kids would go to the beach together so the kids could play in the waves. She refused to let her son go out past his knees with his boggie board even though my 4 year old was going deeper. She was afraid of sharks.

    I told her that because our kids were so close to shore, that any sharks that came up would go for the much easier to reach guys that were 50 -100 yards off shore, not our kids in 3-4 feet of water. She never believed me, and it was compounded by the fact that a couple times we went home and found out that there had been shark sitings in the mile or so of beach near us. Only a couple of surfers have been bitten there in the last 20 years, but listing to this mom you would think they were coming up like the the SNL Land Shark after toddlers on the shore building castles.

    We no longer live there, but I am glad that my kids have great memories of going as deep as they wanted, now that we no longer have access to beach with big waves.

  18. Serena November 29, 2010 at 12:16 am #

    I have two sons, 11 and 6 tomorrow. I really love the idea of free-range because I was always thinking to myself, “I stayed home alone starting at 6 or 7–why can’t my kids do that too?” So last year I took my older son out of daycare and let him stay home alone in the morning after I leave for work and come home by himself in the afternoon and be alone till his dad gets home about 1/2 hour later. So far he’s done great–gets ready for school, walks (even in the snow and rain) and was only late for school twice last year. This year I decided that he was old enough and responsible enough to watch his younger brother on half days and school holidays so that’s what we’ve been doing. Well, the day before Thanksgiving they were home alone and when my husband got home from work he called and asked me where the boys were. Of course I didn’t know–I was at work. I called my older son’s cell phone but my husband answered, meaning the boys left without taking the cell phone. For a minute I panicked but then common sense took over. Surely they would not have been kidnapped right out of the house–my rottweiler would have made sure of that even if they had opened the door to a perfect stranger, which they know not to do. I figured they had gone out for a walk or over to a friends. Since they were both missing it wasn’t as scary because I know they would take care of each other. Well, 20 minutes later my husband called me back to tell me they had walked to McDonald’s together for lunch. I was proud of them for sticking together, agreeing on something (for once), and making it there and back without any mishaps and without fighting. The only reprimand was to my older son to either leave a note, call me and let me know where they were going, and take the cell phone. Which, had he called and let me know I wouldn’t even care about taking the cell phone–I never had one growing up and I wandered about all the time. They reported that no one asked them any questions and no one bothered them.

  19. JaneW November 29, 2010 at 12:19 am #

    @Karen: I like skating on ponds, and my grandfather was a devoted pond skater all his life. My family helped me become a pond skater by teaching me ice safety in and out. I can judge the thickness of the ice, and test it before I put on skates. I monitor the pond and the temperature as the freeze approaches. When only half the pond is frozen thick enough, I can stay on the safe half. If the ice begins to crack, I can hear it coming and get off.

    However, I don’t skate on thin ice any more, for the simple reason that someone with less experience might see me, decide the pond really is safe, and fall in. This has nothing to do with lawsuit fear, this is pure, honest, “I don’t want people drowning” fear. I won’t go out unless it’s safe enough for half a dozen kids to follow me.

    Of course, I don’t take the route of the town I grew up in. They’ve decided that pond skating, on a pond 18 inches deep, is too dangerous to happen ever. They’ve ordered the police to tell everyone at all times that the ice is too thin. On a day when the ice is thick enough that I’d cheerfully drive a car over it, this can be pretty funny.

  20. karlinda November 29, 2010 at 1:29 am #

    There is one answer to the ‘what if?’ question: All your real or imagined ‘what ifs’ have a tiny chance of happening, but if a child doesn’t get any independence then them growing up dependent, useless, scared and unable to handle themselves isn’t a ‘what if’ but a definite.

  21. AlanaM November 29, 2010 at 2:12 am #

    Well I could play the “what-if” game a thousand times over because my 8 yo is outside in the garage right now sawing and shaping his Pinewood Derby car. But I will trust his skill and presume the only “what-if” will be a nicely completed car.

  22. Shannon November 29, 2010 at 2:16 am #

    There’s a “what if” has been on my mind for a while, and the more thought I give to it, the more it bothers me. I received an email from a friend (which had been circulating around our small group of local friends) which was an invitation to attend a “free” legal seminar at a kids’ indoor play area. The idea was to let your kids play while the parents get info. from a lawyer on how to put a “kids protection plan” in place.

    On the surface it seemed like a good idea. Of course it is the responsible thing to do, to get our affairs in order, and have a plan, just in case something were to happen to myself and my husband. But the more I thought about it, and re-read the email, the more I realized that they were trying to sell me something based on fear. I did not attend the “free” seminar + kids play time, but I have a feeling that if I had, yes there might have been some good info., but then I would have been encouraged to obtain some pricey legal services.

    The lawyer’s website/ad for the seminar used these phrases: “if you and your spouse died tomorrow, without an adequate long and short term plan in place, your kids could end up in foster care, a judge could decide who will raise your children, and any money or insurance you leave behind could go to your kids directly at 18 (and we all know 18 year olds aren’t ready for that)!” and “I know that the thought of someone else raising our kids is frightening! Yet, the reality is that no one is promised tomorrow. Everyday in the news we hear stories of tragedies.” And the name of the seminar was, “7 Simple Steps You Must Take To Protect Your Child in this Crazy World”.

    Maybe I am a little bit cynical, but I felt that the urgency of this message was insincere and that again, someone was trying to sell parents something based on fear. I am not all that familiar with the laws on this subject (in CA), so anyone can feel free to enlighten me. I don’t know if its the truth that if my husband and I died tomorrow, that our children would be placed with strangers or in foster care until a family member is appointed to care for them. We do have a plan in place already so I believe that it wouldn’t be an issue. But the message of this seminar was that even if you think you have a plan, it may not be good enough!

    So, while the idea of having a plan in place is a reasonable one, I did not like the way this was particular lawyer was try to sell it.

  23. Sarah November 29, 2010 at 2:18 am #

    I have been pretty proud of Free-Ranging it with my kids as much as possible. A few weeks ago I questioned myself, though, for a few moments.

    I let my kids walk to and from school. They are in 3rd and 1st grade and the school is a quarter-mile away on a military post. I figure there are fewer places safer. I still drive to the school at the end of the day because my 1st grade son has Asperger’s Syndrome and has a hard time getting things together at the end of the day….also, I check in with his teacher on how he did.

    My kids always beg me to walk home up the large, wooded hill with the concrete bike path that takes them from the school to our home. I agree.

    A few weeks ago they cut through the woods and my daughter decided to climb the 5 ft fence. She is a fantastic climber, but she had a heavy backpack that day which pulled her head-first over the chain-link fence. She broke her arm and hit her head on the concrete path.

    I took her to the ER and when I tried to explain (defensively) how I give my children a sense of freedom by allowing them to walk home, she assured me that it was okay.

    “You can’t put ’em in a box,” she said.

    I can’t stop all bad things from happening to my kids (I can’t even accomplish that with myself). I can tell them not to climb the 5 ft fence, but if they make those choices, they have to learn from it. I am grateful for modern medicine, though. There was a time, hundreds of years ago, when a broken arm in childhood would haunt someone their entire lives. Now it’s just 4 weeks of unscratchable itches, awkward showers and poor handwriting.

  24. Arianne November 29, 2010 at 2:39 am #

    @ Ashley–I am so glad somebody brought up birth on this topic. I too am a converted homebirther and childbirth educator, and the studies that convinced me of the safety of homebirth really showed me that “what if”ing (not to mention SO many other FR topics of discussion) has mutilated the perspective of birth in our society. And, unfortunately, that actually HAS served to make birth a bit less safe in our culture.

  25. Starr November 29, 2010 at 2:51 am #

    The other day, I allowed my young 3 year old daughter to go to the next door neighbor’s house to play on their slide. I am new to my city, so the neighbor was not a close friend and…he was a stay-at-home dad. A man, I tell you! I mean, we all know the unfortunate image men have when it comes to kids…I had to tell myself that it was no big deal–He has two young boys who are polite and well-behaved. And dads are cool, too, right? Sure, she came home with a huge scrape across her knee, acquired during some fun rough-housing with the boys, but it was nothing a good boo-boo kiss couldn’t fix.

  26. Trep November 29, 2010 at 3:09 am #

    Shannon- Having a clear will, even if simple, is a good idea IMHO. My father died without one and though there were no child custody issues (my sister is still a minor), property issues have been another story. We were able to have his house sold and receive the funds with only a year of legal wrangling and multiple affidavits etc. We have yet to get the money from one of his accounts- the courts take too long to figure it out and I can’t take that much leave.
    I have a plan for custody of my children should I die or be incapacitated, and my family knows when I would want to be on life support. I also have a will stating this, not because I fear government action, but because I have seen too many people go… weird when really bad things happen. I don’t want fighting, I don’t want anyone to feel that the onus is on them, I don’t want them to worry- it was my decision and they can blame me all they want.
    If you go to the California state page and search for ‘will’ they have a form to make your own. You just need two witnesses and a notary.
    My what-ifs almost all center around someone calling the police or child services. I think a lot of that is due to living in Alaska. We had moose, bear, and foxes in our yard, and wolves in the neighborhood. Hypothermia and frostbite could happen quickly. Ice was ever-present so wayward cars and accidents were frequent. Being outdoors here in Maryland seems much less scary. My boys (3 and 6) are asking to go skiing this year, and I must admit that the idea of sitting them on chair-lifts scares me to death. I am afraid of heights, so even getting on them myself is sketchy. Maybe I will bring a friend for moral support.

  27. Jacob Hugart November 29, 2010 at 3:10 am #

    We have a 7-year-old daughter, and live in a residential area of Saint Paul, Minnesota. Our daughter likes to visit other families on our short block. One is a retired elementary school teacher, the other is a couple with young adult daughters living with them.

    So the what-ifs are always there:

    What if someone tries to entice her into a car? (It could happen, there have been news reports of it…but we’ve also talked with her about how to deal with that.)

    What if one of these adults is a child molester? (You never really know, do you? But we’ve also talked about this with our daughter, and that she can always tell us true things, even scary things, even if someone else says they will hurt us if they know, and so on.)

    What if she trips on the ground when it is cold outside, and gets hurt and lies there, unconscious? (OK, this isn’t something we really worry about, but it is the sort of thing that flits through _my_ mind on occasion, but I also realize it is far more likely she’ll trip at home while running around inside.)

    So let’s contrast these with some What-Did-Happen items:

    She once followed my wife, who was going on a long walk around a nearby lake, but a block behind. She was stopped at a busy street. The two young women who live on our block were bicycling, and saw her, realized what she was doing, and walked her back home (they have also baby-sat for us before). A neighbor on another block saw this and called the police, who drove by, saw my daughter sitting on the front step, and approached her; but she ran inside to me before the officer could say anything. I’d already heard the whole story from the two young ladies, and the officer related what he’d heard, but wasn’t concerned beyond making sure my daughter wasn’t lost.

    Another time this same daughter was approached by an excited dog from another neighbor, and she tried to run on a gravel driveway but fell. The dog wouldn’t have harmed her, but she did get cut while on the driveway. No one was at fault, and we repeated what she’d learned in school about dogs: Stand still, don’t run. We treated her cuts at home, and she was fine. Real life involves knocks and scrapes.

    So the things that are likely to happen — the things that Did happen — are easy to deal with, relatively speaking. The others, the What-If items, are rare at best, and you can prepare your kids for them…but, eventually, they will have to deal with life on their own. Getting our children to know that they are capable of handling what can occur is the important thing.

  28. Coach Liz November 29, 2010 at 5:41 am #

    When raising my kids, I used to think of my feelings about any given issue as a “thermostat.” In other words, if I had “high anxiety” about something, I said “no.” If I had “low worries” about something, I said “ok.” Consequently, I said “no” very seldom because most issues were really not that serious…or worth a battle. Was I just tolerant? I don’t think so. I made an educated estimate about the best interest of all involved and went with my gut reaction. Both of my kids have turned out great! 🙂

  29. Anna in Atlanta November 29, 2010 at 5:45 am #

    Not exactly a danger scenario, but I was peeved anyway. My son’s basketball team had 14 players and only 12 pairs of uniform shorts, so the coach sent an e-mail asking all 14 boys to bring in their own shorts (which we didn’t have and I didn’t want to go buy) so that 2 boys wouldn’t feel bad not matching everyone else. Cripes!

  30. LoriW November 29, 2010 at 5:52 am #

    When my son was 15 he went on a strenuous hike with his Scout troop in the mountains of New Mexico. I was worried about a bunch of things – bears, mountain lions, falling off a cliff, whether he could handle a 50 pound pack at high elevations (we’re from Louisiana!) Of course, I didn’t tell him about any of my fears, and the whole group had extensive training so they knew what to do in any situation.

    On the first leg of the group’s journey, the van my son was riding in was HIT BY LIGHTNING in a storm. Everyone was fine but the vehicle’s electronics were fried and they had to wait for a replacement. When I got the call to tell me what happened and that everyone was okay, I had to laugh. Of all the things I had thought of to worry about that had never crossed my mind. I figured if they could go through that okay they would be fine the rest of the trip. And they were. 🙂

  31. Tracey November 29, 2010 at 6:08 am #

    The only what-if that has happened to *any* of my three children, a stranger walking away with one of them, ironically happened because said ‘stranger’ thought he was alone!

    I took my 21-month-old son with me to a major chain bookstore. We were on the edge of the children’s area where there was a tall, square revolving display. I was on one side, and he was on he side right next to me. We were holding hands.

    He suddenly dropped my hand. He’d done it once before to reach for a book, and then quickly grabbed my hand again.

    This time, about 15 seconds went by, tops, and he didn’t grab my hand again. So I looked at the side where he was, and he was gone.

    Thinking he’d gone into the “pit” with a bunch of colorful beanbag chairs, just behind where he’d been standing, I took a few steps. I checked behind all the displays in that area quickly, and didn’t see him.

    At this point I panicked and ran to the front of the store, calling his name. He was nowhere. No one had seen him.

    I got to the front of the store and jumped the lines to see if one of the cashiers could do an Adam-style Alert, when the loudspeaker blared:

    “We have a small child who is lost at the back of the store. He is blond and wearing black bib overalls and a striped shirt.”

    Turns out what happened is that an *employee* saw him right after he dropped my hand, and assumed he was alone. Instead of taking him to the front of the store, she took him back to the manager’s office! By the time I looked around the side of the kiosk, she had to have been several rows behind me. When I turned around to check the pit, diagonally behind me, I walked past the visibility of the aisle. And then instead of looking behind me, I ran to the front of the store, neither she nor I looking behind us.

    So that’s my “what if” come true, at the hands of a well-meaning stranger who thought a what-if was happening.

    Since then, I’ve had to teach both my daughters (my son is the oldest) not to climb trees while wearing ball gowns. I’ve had to repeatedly tell well-meaning strangers that my kids are perfectly safe walking on chairs (both started walking before 6 months and have an incredible sense of balance, as well as self-preservation); that my son is just fine jumping out of the second floor of the playset (gymnast who took Tai-Kwan-Do knows how to land properly); my son is just fine handling a knife to do wood carving. And my daughter is just fine without her coat. She knows how hot she feels. I don’t and a stranger certainly doesn’t!

  32. Ann in L.A. November 29, 2010 at 6:21 am #

    A little over 30 years ago, when I was 10, I remember taking a Red Cross babysitting class (in Milwaukee) as part of girl scouts. It dealt with basic safety, diaper changing, basic first aid, etc. I remember being taught that the rule was: at 10 years old you can babysit during the day, at 11 years old, you can babysit at night.

    I remember this clearly, in part because the parents around the corner a few years later had me babysit their 9 year old son, this despite the fact that he was the most responsible kid you’d be likely to meet, and I remember asking them why they bothered with a sitter.

    I believe we received some sort of handbook or handouts from the Red Cross during that class. I’d love to know if there are any copies still existing out there somewhere. They’d be hard-copy proof of how far we’ve fallen in our expectations for our kids in the last three decades.

  33. mary Beth November 29, 2010 at 6:46 am #

    What if it was a bat and why my son now has more self esteem

    My son Henry is a sweet, generous, active and smart boy. He loves his friends and would give them the shirt off his back. He was 8 at the time of this “what if” story.

    Henry went to a very experiential, non-threatening pre-school. The kids could run around without shoes, get their clothes wet in the rain and stomp in mud puddles. Lot’s of free play, making up obstacle courses with odd pieces of lumber and a pile of old bikes to learn to ride on. When I talk to his teachers from back then they always say how sweet he was and how helpful.

    When he got to kindergarten he was forced to sit still and write, do math, not be silly. He started to run away from the class and rip up his work and they started sending him to the principal and then home. If he was forced to do something he couldn’t do he would act out, sometimes in a threatening way. By the end of 1st grade I requested an IEP (he was already receiving speech services since 3 years). By second grade the school diagnosed him as severely emotionally disturbed. and treated him for a behavior problem. After 11 days suspension they offered to send him to a different school for emotionally disturbed kids across town, he was no longer welcome in our own school district. I disagreed with that diagnosis and home schooled him, or unschooled him, had tests done by an independent professional and Henry had a diagnosis of PDD along with sensory and motor skill development problems. He has a very difficult time writing and has a tremor in his right arm/hand. This year Henry is in a very small school with tons of hands on learning, circus arts, no shoe policy, climbing trees allowed and he is flourishing.

    At his public school his friends called him weird. But he loved all these boys and even taught several of them how to ride a 2 wheeler. He is funny and a class clown but the other boys didn’t appreciate it.

    He played baseball on a team with his classmates. At the last game he played because he subsequently left the team, Henry hit the ball and and ran, It was a very close call at 2nd and they called him out. He got very upset and threw his helmet at a base umpire and stormed off the field crying and ran away. We decided his days of baseball were over. A few days later an email came from the head of the league explaining that it was requested that Henry not play as some parents were concerned “What if it were a bat and he attacked a kid”? Well it wasn’t a bat and a he didn’t hurt a kid. The other ironic thing is we see this behavior from professional athletes on TV often.

    It was about this time that Henry left public school and was home with me. We would pick up my daughter from school and Henry would see his friends and be excited to see them. There was one boy who lives near us that Henry really loved and would ask him to have a playdate every time he saw him. The boy would just shrug his shoulders or ignore him. I left messages for the Mom to set up playtimes and she didn’t return my calls. I asked her in person if she was going to return my calls. I finally emailed her and asked her what was up. Henry was feeling so sad that the boy was ignoring him, not even talking to him.

    She replied that her son was afraid of Henry because of the last baseball game and “What if he had a bat”? This kid was never afraid of Henry. They were best friends and Henry never did anything to hurt this kid, ever. Henry taught the kid to ride a bike.

    Henry did end up playing one time with this boy through a playdate with a third kid and the Mom told me they were arm in arm best buddies. A friend of my daughters was at the the kids house when he got home and she told me he said to his Mom that Henry was his best friend and he wanted a playdate with him. She never called to arrange anything.

    At the end of 2nd grade Henry had a party and invited all his friends from (public school) that he had been missing. All the girls showed up – no boys! The girls loved Henry and thought he was sweet and silly and compassionate.

    Out of Henry’s class of 20 kids not 1 parent of any of Henry’s boy friends called us to check in and see how Henry was doing. We were in a small single school district with 150 kids. I was at the school for 6 years and volunteered my time there endlessly from the moment my older daughter started kindergarten. We are in a very small mountain community within a larger beach community. I was so disappointed in the support I got from my neighbors at our local school.

    I am so grateful for Henry’s new school Orchard School in Aptos, Ca for teaching children with tons of love in their hearts.

    Well that’s my what if story.

  34. Lara Wechsler November 29, 2010 at 7:26 am #

    How about every time you put your child in a car there is always the “what if” possibility that the child could get seriously injured or killed in an accident. And then how about the people who use their car with their child every day upping the chance of getting into an accident.

    How about this statistic:
    About 115 people die every day in vehicle crashes in the United States — one death every 13 minutes.

    So why as an adult put your child in that situation, what about that “what if”? accidents can many times not be your fault but that doesn’t matter about serious injury or death.
    Why don’t you as a parent live in an environment, city or otherwise where you rarely ever have to get in a car. huh? huh?

  35. Lin November 29, 2010 at 8:09 am #

    My mom lives in “what if” mode, and has since I was a child (maybe before?)

    As children, my brother and I were taught to yell “You’re not my mom/dad!” if we were ever taken by a stranger, because a crying child being taken from a store/car/house/etc appears to be having a tantrum, even if they are the victim of kidnapping.

    She would tell us this EVERY TIME we went to the store. My brother and I still joke about it.

    I’m actually giving my mom a copy of your book for Christmas because I have a new daughter (1 month old today!) and I don’t want her to grow up in fear of random strangers.

  36. Cheryl W November 29, 2010 at 8:28 am #

    I think that Pink Floyd said it all. (The fears, of course were put there by mother.)

    Mother (Waters) 5:32

    Mother do you think they’ll drop the bomb?
    Mother do you think they’ll like this song?
    Mother do you think they’ll try to break my balls?
    Mother should I build the wall?
    Mother should I run for president?
    Mother should I trust the government?
    Mother will they put me in the firing line?
    Mother am I really dying?

    Hush now baby, baby, dont you cry.
    Mother’s gonna make all your nightmares come true.
    Mother’s gonna put all her fears into you.
    Mother’s gonna keep you right here under her wing.
    She wont let you fly, but she might let you sing.
    Mama will keep baby cozy and warm.
    Ooooh baby ooooh baby oooooh baby,
    Of course mama’ll help to build the wall.

    Mother do you think she’s good enough — to me?
    Mother do you think she’s dangerous — to me?
    Mother will she tear your little boy apart?
    Mother will she break my heart?

    Hush now baby, baby dont you cry.
    Mama’s gonna check out all your girlfriends for you.
    Mama wont let anyone dirty get through.
    Mama’s gonna wait up until you get in.
    Mama will always find out where you’ve been.
    Mama’s gonna keep baby healthy and clean.
    Ooooh baby oooh baby oooh baby,
    You’ll always be baby to me.

    Mother, did it need to be so high?

  37. Belladonna November 29, 2010 at 8:29 am #

    Another horrible example of Politicians jumping on the ‘what if’ bandwagon; cynically exploiting the instant headlines they know will result.

  38. Times & Latte November 29, 2010 at 8:51 am #

    I can give myself as an example. My 10 year old son received a money gift and wanted to shop by himself. We were at a Big Box store and I let him go off by himself while I got what I needed. Of course, we spent a bit of time looking for each other and my mind went to all the “what ifs.” I found him with a bag of stuff he picked out and paid for himself, very proud of the way he got a lot of stuff for his money and handled the transaction himself.

  39. Friend of What If (FOWI) November 29, 2010 at 9:02 am #

    Meh. I think I would have been a little less anxious and a little more healthy as a kid if someone who cared for me ever thought to themselves, “what if”.

    E.g., What if it’s going to be seriously hot during little league practice? How about tell me to bring a bottle of water and a brim hat? Sun poisoning is just one fact of life that took me by complete surprise as a kid. My sister once had a nail through her foot from going around with no shoes all summer. When she was 12 and I was around 4 and often under her care all day, I remember her carrying me across the beams of a mostly-rotted pier, to a little fishing hut perched up high over low tide at the end where she and her friends smoked and played cards. If anyone over 18 were watching from afar, clearly they weren’t concerned to wonder “what if” one of these boards breaks, or she slips? “What if” doesn’t always resemble paranoia, sometimes it’s simply common sense that children lack and need to be taught. In my childhood, benign neglect (which was all kinds of fun) was heavily mixed with *actual* neglect, and that’s a parenting style that unfortunately did survive the 70s (unlike some of my peers).

  40. kcs November 29, 2010 at 9:08 am #

    At our church the youngest children leave the service after the first 20 minutes. They leave the sanctuary and are escorted by the two child care attendants across a courtyard to the building where the church nursery is. Since the two attendants walk at the pace of the littlest kids (two years olds) a few of the older kids (four and five year olds) liked to run ahead. This meant that they would arrive at the nursery a whole 90 seconds sooner than the two adults and the rest of the kids. But we had to institute a “no running ahead” policy when one Mom had a sever “what if” attack, thinking of all the disasters that could befall these kids during their 90 seconds of unsupervised time.

  41. Nanci November 29, 2010 at 9:27 am #

    Instead of “what if” I always think “what are the chances”. As in what are the chances I’ll win the lottery or what are the chances I’ll win the publishers clearing house, or even the school raffle for a new T.V. I just apply the same logic to parenting, what are the chances my kid will get taken, or die choking on a hot dog.

  42. Dean November 29, 2010 at 9:45 am #

    Short answers,
    What if it doesn’t? What if lightning strikes?
    Years ago, as a Girl Scout troop for which I was an assistant leader was ascending Mt. Whitney. A former Army Medic, I made sure all were well-grounded for first aid. Suddenly, one of the girls stopped and asked me, What if someone gets sick or has an accident?”
    I pointed out that everyone was first aid trained and added as a former medic, I could handle deliveries too.
    The 12-year-old gasped and said, “You wouldn’t!”

  43. Mike November 29, 2010 at 10:05 am #

    Counter with reality-based what if’s.

    What if they have a good time?
    What if they learn something?
    What if they make a new friend?
    What if it’s enjoyable?

    It usually works to get the nut jobs under control.

  44. Melanie November 29, 2010 at 10:05 am #

    When my first child became able to move under his own steam the world was one big ‘what if’. Everything is potentially dangerous to a six month old baby. I knew that I could end up tying myself up in knots and getting totally obsessive. So I set up a mantra in my head:

    “Could it (the coffee table, the 7cm step, the TV remote) kill him?”
    Yes – step in.
    Probably not – next question.

    “Could it permanently maim him?”
    Yes – step in.
    Probably not – next question.

    “Could he get hurt?”
    Quite possibly – but I can live with that.

    After running that through my head a few times it started coming naturally. And so now, at the age of six, he and his three year old brother have never broken a bone or got a scar, but they’re almost constantly scraped, bruised or bumped. And they’re happy and confident.

  45. Amy November 29, 2010 at 10:49 am #

    When my youngest started Kindergarten, so did the little boy next door. His mother, Theresa, is one constantly-worried helicopter mom. My son confidently hopped on the school bus with his siblings, but even though the bus stop is just in front of her house, she always drove him in. Why?

    What if the other kids are mean to him?
    They are all the same kids who go to school with him, if they get along at school, they probably will on the bus too.

    What if he falls asleep on the bus and forgets to get off?
    He’ll be riding with my kids and they’ll shake him awake.

    What if he gets on the wrong bus at school?
    They have monitors to prevent that, plus he just has to remember that he rides bus #31, they are all clearly marked.

    None of this made any impact, Theresa was just too afraid to let her son ride the school bus. But what finally swayed her is that she likes to think of herself as ‘eco-conscience’ and when I pointed out to her that driving when a bus went right by her house was very un-green.

    So when her son started first grade she said she was finally ready to have him ride the school bus. She asked me for details about how it works and I said he just hops on the bus and that’s all there is to it. Theresa was surprised and asked how you ‘sign them onto’ the bus. I said no sign-in is required and we had this little conversation.

    What if there is an accident? How will they know exactly which kids are on the bus?
    Um… ask the kids their name?

    But what if the kids are all so badly injured that they can’t say their own names?
    Um… that has never happened, don’t worry about it.

    What if it DOES happen? I read about a school bus that was hit by a train and all the kids were mangled?
    Um… the bus our kids takes doesn’t even cross a train track.

    Well, she didn’t let her son ride the bus that year either. But the next year, he stared second grade and she was sick of the commute. She said she was finally really ready to let him ride the bus.

    So what happened? Well he’s become closer friends with the kids in the neighborhood since they all ride the same bus together. He’s learned some hilariously inappropriate songs. He’s become a Pokemon fan since a lot of kids play that on the bus. And maybe, just maybe, his mom is a little tiny bit more relaxed.

  46. Cheryl W November 29, 2010 at 10:52 am #

    Another “what if” thing that happened with us.

    My youngest son is amazingly aware of his body in space. He stood at 9 months to the day and was running and climbing two weeks later.

    So, when he was 10 months old he was climbing up the “big kid” slide at the park. This tube slide has curved tubing that goes over the head and under the step, which leave a big gap in between steps. Every one of my three kids had fallen through and then learned how to go up safely. At the top (about 8 feet up) was an open area for the kids to go through, and because of the spiral configuration of steps, it was conceivable that a child could fall. (I only saw 8 year olds jump.) If I went over to the slide to “help” my son, he would dance at the edge and not go down the slide! Very nerve-wracking. Rather than ban him from the slide, I went and sat at the other end and then he would come laughing down the slide in a quick manner. Because he is a big show off!

    We attended a park day for preschoolers at that park. I will never forget the mom, who, trying to be helpful, was hoovering near my almost one year old at the top of the slide and trying to get him to go down. She called to me – I had to tell her to come over to me – he was fine if he just did it on his own and didn’t show off! From her face it was clear that she didn’t believe me, but as soon as she came to the end of the slide, down he came!

    He gave several other mothers fits too – once on the ladder structure (just a ladder that went straight up about 10 feet.) When they started talking to him asking him if he was ok, (safe) he took both hands off while standing and leaning over the top! I had to ask them to come away so he wouldn’t do it again!

    My neighbor, a bit of Free Range/Unconventional herself, got my son a t-shirt that said “I do all my own stunts!” He would wear it with pride to the park day every week! (And actually, it helped some of the moms back off!)

    Did I ever feel like he might fall? On his own he had demonstrated that he could do it. Yes, when the moms were talking to him. But I began to understand my mother at that point. When we were kids and would climb the huge sugar maples in our yard, my mother always found a reason to be inside. We kids all acted just like my son – showing how we could hang upside down from 40 feet up. (We were safe – we hooked our legs under other branches – the only way to fall would be if our legs came off at the calf.) But my mother refused to watch. The one time I got stitches (tripped and fell on a rock) my mother was at a craft meeting. When my step father called she was sure I had fallen from the tree because when she left I was 40 feet up and upside down!

  47. rhodykat November 29, 2010 at 11:15 am #

    I have to comment on the pond skating…I live in RI, where 4-inches as checked with an axe by a capable father has always been deemed “safe” ice – stay away from ingress areas and known currents, stay in the boundaries, etc. We would build a bonfire and stay out all day and night playing hockey and skating with a thermos of hot cocoa for breaks. I can’t remember where I was, but the topic of ice and skating came up and a father ended up telling his kids “pond ice is NEVER safe. Don’t ever try to go out on it. If you want to skate, go to a rink.”

    But I had to send this letter to the editor written by a local politician when bus monitors were eliminated from the mid-day Kindergarten run (and only this run). This is a run where, even with the monitor, a parent has to receive the child in-hand before the bus continues to move down the road. The whole letter was $3 to access, but this is the beginning:

    “The school administration announced last week that a decision to eliminate monitors from mid-day kindergarten school bus runs will save the School Department about $8,000.
    I urge that this decision be reconsidered and reversed. Certainly, cost cutting in the School Department, and all through the municipal budget, is important. Yet, I believe it would be more appropriate to find savings in an area that does not directly risk the lives of school children.”

    He goes on to say that he understands the hand-off-to-parents nature of the bus run, but “Isn’t a child’s life worth $8,000, and what if something were to happen”

    That is why we are in the mess we are in in the first place – politicians. There is nothing a politician loves more than saving children.

  48. Katy November 29, 2010 at 11:15 am #

    Last year my 15 year old daughter went to Australia for three and a half weeks with my brother. (He was 27.) Since we’re in Seattle, I had to put her on a plane to San Francisco where he lived, she took the BART to his place in Berkeley, and then they flew out of S.F. the next day. I heard ‘what ifs’ from everyone. What if she gets on the wrong BART train? What if the plane crashes in the ocean? What if she gets abducted in a foreign country? What if she gets lonely on Christmas? (This – seriously – was what people were most freaked out about. That she would be lonely on Christmas without her parents. Right. She was too busy celebrating Christmas on the BEACH!!!) What if, what if, what if…

    She came home safe and sound, had an AMAZING time, got to know her Uncle individually without Mom as a go-between, gained the self-confidence of traveling alone, and has wonderful stories about her trip. Of course she wants to go again but we can’t afford to send her every year – that’s our biggest problem resulting from the trip!

  49. Lisa November 29, 2010 at 11:28 am #

    I’m happy to oblige. Sadly, this story is from my HUSBAND! We were driving up to Tahoe for a weekend visit with our children. We stopped at a McDonalds and I was happy to see it had a playland play area attached which would be great to have our toddler son run around for a bit and get some energy out before we resumed our drive. I pointed out the play land to my husband and said, let’s try to get a table near it. He said, “and let our kids play in a ball pit with hypodermic needles???” And yes, he was serious. I was stunned and proceeded to point out that a) there was NO ball pit at this particular location. It was only those tubes and slides meant for climbing and sliding. b) Did he really, truly think our kid was going to get pricked with a needle left in a ball pit? I was shocked that he actually uttered that sentence. It was an insight into his paranoia, essentially, about our children getting hurt and it opened my eyes!

    Sheesh. I never realized until we had children that I am the more common sense-oriented of the two of us! I have shown my husband several of your posts in hopes of having some of the free-range kids thinking rub off on him. Perhaps I need to buy him your book too? 😉

  50. gramomster November 29, 2010 at 12:09 pm #

    @ Cheryl W
    My grandson had that shirt! He too was running at 9 and a half months, and doing the big slides by himself very young. Probably closer to a year, just because of his May birthday. Nine months is pretty wintery around here…

    I remember one time at the park, he climbed up the steps, up a ladder, and leaned out onto the sliding pole. Got a good grip, slid down, no problem! I’d helped him a couple times from the ground figure out how to get the right limbs on there in the right order. He’s been a pro since before he was 3, and could actually reach the thing. Anyway, there was a mom with her little girl at the park, and the little girl was watching in awe as Connor did this amazing trick. The mom, just watching her, said, “Don’t even think about it sweetie. That’s for older kids. You’re too little, and you would fall and get hurt.”
    The mom then turned to me and asked, “How old is he? 5?”
    “No. He turned 3 a couple months ago.”
    The little girl looked at her mom and said, “Mommy! He’s just a baby! I’m going to be 5 in 2 weeks!”

    For the record, grandboy is 4 and a half, and we have yet to need stitches or a cast. He’s a seriously serious climber, leaper, runner, jumper, roller, risk-taker. But he is very aware of his body in space, which is pretty cool. My old kid, now 25, had ZERO awareness of his body in space. Every time the kid breathed, something broke.

    And homebirth… Oh. My. God. I was fortunate enough to live in a very progressive area of Northern CA when I had my kids, and fortunate enough to have a mom who had 2 of 5 kids at home in 78 and 83, but man I knew some folks who got a little wonky, and once we left there and met new people, they were shocked! Shocked I tell you!
    “But what if ABC HAD happened?!”
    “I would have done XYZ. We had backup plans. It was not a worry. Ever. Not nearly as much of a worry as EVER giving birth in a hospital again was!”

    Then when my daughter was 15 and pregnant, and we decided she would deliver with midwives in a birthing center (our really good midwife friend was going to be in Turkey of all places for 6 weeks, or she would have attended a homebirth), people were completely taken aback.
    “But she’s so young!”
    “It’s so dangerous!”
    “What if she can’t take the pain?”
    “What if she needs a c-section?”
    “What if the baby has meconium?!”
    Yes, she’s young. And strong. And in perfect health. And evolutionarily the perfect age to give birth. She’s still all elasticy and stuff.
    The girl is an athlete and a risk-taker (obviously). Danger is her middle name, right after Rose. The girl can take more pain than any man I know, and keep right on tickin’.
    Not as dangerous as letting some resident talk her into an epidural she doesn’t want, thus making her labor to intense thus CAUSING a need for a c-section. And if she does? The city has the highest rated teaching hospital in the state less than 2 miles away. Pretty sure that’s plenty of time to get there. And these midwives are highly trained, and have transported many women to the hospital, and have an excellent working relationship with the ER staff.
    Meconium? Well, you know, they make these great little thingies now that actually let the midwife clear the meconium. And if need be, see above.


    So of course, after a 6 hour labor, the barely 16 year old pushed out an 8lb 12oz baby boy who Apgared perfectly, and is today the Tazmanian devil child who is mentioned frequently in my comments. Certainly no negative outcome from having a teen mom for him. Other than her irresponsibility and ending up living with Gramma and Papa, but healtwise… sheesh. The kid never, and I mean NEVER, gets sick. And I’ve seen him lick my headlight covers in the rain, he chews his shoes while in the car, he licks the dog (gross!!!)… immune system of steel. He also had pertussis at 7 weeks. A nurse friend asked if they were able to minimize the brain damage. Ummmm… we’re not idiots. He was coughing horribly, we took him to the ER. His lips never turned blue, he was never oxygen deprived. Her response? “But his mom is so young! How could she know that wasn’t normal? How did she know he should be seen?” Really?! Like just because you’re 16 means you can’t tell when a baby, YOUR baby, has a bad cough?! And what the hell is Gramma for anyway, if not to come to and say, “I’m worried about his cough. Do you think we should take him in?”

  51. Metanoia November 29, 2010 at 12:24 pm #

    The only time I have been seriously hurt…. running in my own house + very young = stitches. A month later, running in my nannas house + very young = exactly the same accident and my mum thankful that she had a witness that I’d just tripped over my own feet. whoops!
    And then 13 and ignoring my inner voice that I didn’t want to do the hurdles on sports day. Some were taller than my waist and I knew in my gut it was a bad idea and said no. I was pressured by the teacher and broke my ankle badly. I’ll be teaching my kids to listen to themselves – to give things a go, but if they really don’t think it is a good idea to be solid in following their gut.

  52. Steve November 29, 2010 at 12:40 pm #

    Lenore, how about writing: Free Range Kids – The Novel? – A novel “shows” the difference between helicopter parenting and Free Range. You could include everything – humor and “what iffing” and all sorts of idiotic scenarios like schools out lawing pencils, etc.

    A novel might even lead to a movie deal.

  53. Lori W. November 29, 2010 at 12:42 pm #

    I’ve found that it actually helps to take the “what if” thinking a step farther than usual.

    What if the plane crashes? Is there anything I can do to stop this? No? Stop worrying.

    What if a crazed gunman takes hostages in my child’s school? Is there anything I can do to stop this? No? Stop worrying.

    What if we get in a car accident? Is there anything I can do to stop this? Yes, drive defensively and always wear seat belts. And stop worrying.

  54. Katy November 29, 2010 at 12:47 pm #

    @gramomster I love you. That is all. 🙂

  55. Donna November 29, 2010 at 1:01 pm #

    My biggest “what it” is “what if my child gets hurt and I end up prosecuted. I don’t worry that I’ll be prosecuted for allowing my child to do something successfully but I do know that I probably will if she is injured while free ranging. But I also worry a lot about being prosecuted for random stuff that will probably never happen. Hazard of working in the criminal justice system and spending a lot of time in jails and seeing people prosecuted for stupid stuff.

    @ Shannon – You should have a simple will that states who you want to raise your children in case of your death for ease of court proceedings (and deals with your property since that’s a bitch to distribute intestate). However, your child will not go into foster care if you die without one. Your child will go live whomever you’ve arranged – who will be appointed temporary guardian – until the matter is sorted out by family court and they are given permanent guardianship. It will be a much bigger hassle but foster care has enough to deal with without taking on kids who have suitable homes. One of my coworkers does a lot of work with underprivileged kids. One of the mothers just died while living in a homeless shelter (obviously no will). The kids who were living with her simply were handed over to her closest living relative who wanted them. The kids who were not living with her stayed where they were although no formal guardianship arrangement had ever been made with the woman who was raising them. The two placements will eventually be formalized in court but no kid went into foster care (I do think the younger ones with their mother were taken into care until a relative could be found but that was due the homeless situation and would never happen in a normal family).

    Overheard today at Target – I’m planning on getting my daughter a handheld video game (LeapFrog) for Christmas in hopes of her playing with that instead of my phone. I don’t know which one to get so was letting her test them out to see if she had a preference. A woman walked down the aisle with her kids, one of whom went over to the Mobi-go. The mother actually said “Don’t play with that. Other kids touch it and you might get sick.” REALLY? Germs can’t live forever on a plastic game console and, even if they did, this kid was about 4 so certainly he was not planning to suck on the Mobi-go in the store.

  56. Eve November 29, 2010 at 1:03 pm #

    I was unwittingly a free-range kid. When I was about six—give or take—my mother, in a fit of rage, threw me out of the house. Literally chased me out. I was in my pajamas and wearing a pair of white sox and I knew right away that I’d be in terrible trouble if I got those sox dirty, so I took them off. So I walked barefoot, down the sidewalks and up the streets. It was summer and the pavement was hot. I came home hours later, my feet black and burned and cut up, and all she wanted to know was, ‘Why did you come back?’ (My offense? Continuing to move a bookcase that we were moving together when she stepped away to take a phone call.)

    Did I mention that this was in inner-city Chicago?

    I am almost forty and my mother is out of the picture by my own choice (this was just but one of her ‘greatest hits’ that she loved to retell, tee-hee), but I did plenty of stuff as a kid. I rode my bike to the suburbs, only getting caught once when I got a flat. (I somehow managed to escape punishment.) I took the train downtown just to have lunch. I went to the mall on Friday afternoons by myself or with a friend. I took the bus to visit my dad or to go to the dentist. And yes, I WALKED to school, across major streets from corners without traffic signals! All this before the age of ten. And if I wasn’t snatched off the streets of Chicago in the late ’70s-early ’80s, well…

    My daughter is almost three and of course I’m concerned. But mostly I’m concerned about speeding cars (which, I swear, seems to have gotten worse) and fingers caught in doors. When I’m at Target and she’s within a few feet of me I keep looking back—not so much to see whether she’s wandered off (she usually doesn’t) but to see what adults may be looking at me with disapproval. But for the record, I’d never, ever throw her out of the house—dressed or otherwise.

  57. Sara November 29, 2010 at 1:56 pm #

    What if they call the cops/take grainy cell phone footage of how horrible it looks when I’m restraining my Autistic child to prevent him from injuring himself, me or property in the middle of a meltdown?

    Tons of therapies and 1 on 1 work has made life great in many ways, but occasionally he still has a meltdown…….like, oh, say……this morning.

    I would have been charged with assault had I slapped the woman who said, “He’s crying because you’re hurting him,” but I didn’t have a free hand at that moment. I did manage to explain, “He’s Autistic and started crying because I wouldn’t give him the watch he threw, which is when he started hitting me”, which is when I began to hold his arm and a full blown meltdown quickly developed from there.

    “WHAT IF” someone reads this on the internet and freaks out?

    Well, it can’t be worse than the 50 or so eye witnesses walking past us on the pavement this morning. Thankfully 10 or so of those are other regulars who know us and our situation, and the staff was able to assure gawkers that, ugly though it may be, it was for his safety.

    WHAT IF you saw a child screaming and crying and trying to escape an adult’s grasp, the two of them struggling on the ground??????????

    WHAT IF people took a moment to learn to tell the difference between an Autistic meltdown, an attempted abduction (very rare), “Bad Child Syndrome” and “Poor Parenting Disorder”?

    Perhaps you can entertain the possibility, if for only a moment, that I haven’t chosen the cement slab outside Brugger’s to “abuse” my child in public.

    Perhaps I go to day long classes every year to learn the proper way to keep him, me, you, and property from harm.

    I’m breaking a sweat, but I’m calm, I’m a good mom, and I have a great kid.

    Can’t distinguish between Autistic meltdown and possible abduction attempt? Approach the adult, slowly and calmly. “Can I do anything to help?” My child wouldn’t scream, “HELP!!!!!!!YOU’RE NOT MY MOM!!!!!!” He will spit on you, attempt to bite, bang his head on my hand (placed there so he’s smashing my fingers into the concrete, not his head), and screech.

    Still can’t tell the difference? In about 10 minutes it will suddenly end and there will be a glazed, sedated look as he curls up in my arms and rocks. 5 minutes after that he’ll be in line at the bagel shop saying, “Plain bagel, please” when prompted, and, in all honesty, get complimented on how polite he is by someone who just arrived moments ago.

    WHAT IF the judgement of others keeps us from having any sort of life outside our home with our son?

    WHAT IF I continue to have to fight to get the services he needs to help him learn to communicate, and am unable to do so before he gets too big for me to “Handle With Care” (look it up)?

    WHAT IF you gave me a smile or supportive nod?

  58. Jay November 29, 2010 at 2:02 pm #

    I think I’ve posted my “what if” story on here before about letting my (Canadian) 15yo daughter go shopping alone in downtown Seattle.

    SHE was fine. I had foolishly not set an exact time to meet up again, saying just “see you at the hotel at supper-time”. I thought “supper-time” was 5pm… she thought it was later. Enough later that I had worked myself into a bit of a panic and was trying to figure out how I was going to explain this to the police and/or child protective services!

    But she came back safe and sound, and out of breath, lol. When she realized the time (her cell phone that she uses as a watch had died) she had RUN back to the room, knowing that I would be worried! :love:

  59. Steven November 29, 2010 at 3:18 pm #

    Lets not have playgrounds/ parks, etc….what if a kid breaks their bones, hurt each other, gets kidnapped, runs off unsupervised (Oh the horror).

    Lets not leave kids with a babysitter, they could be bullied, hurt, raped, kidnapped, and or murdered by them.

    Lets not leave kids with older siblings, what if the siblings are thought to be young parents somehow damaging the pureness of kids.

    Lets create a utopian (The Giver- like) / sheltered society for kids because of any sort of perceived negativity.

    Lets not have our kids watch movies with ratings beyond they’re level. Don’t watch horror movies because they’ll become murders (which never happened to me since I started watching horror movies since the 7th grade). Don’t let kids watch “American Pie” because that’ll make kids hyper sexual (as if Twilight with Tayler Lautner isn’t doing that already).

    Lets not have kids be alone walking from one destination to a close second destination because what if they’re kidnapped or worse because of it.

    Here are a few “What If’s….?” for you, many of which I summarized from what I heard from time to time on the news or a good (but fictionalized real life stories) from Law and Order: SVU (which in part deals with crimes against children). Who knew the TV could be so useful :D.

    On a personal note and speaking of the 7th grade, I am currently 24 years old but 10-12 years ago(whatever age a 7th grader is) in the 7th and a couple times 8th grade Many times after school, the bus was 30 minutes late to pick my group up. So I, with a friend at the time, walked home. Guess what? It was only 2 miles and it was on the main road ways so no worries there! And a bigger guess what, no problems during the 2 miles which roughly took about an hour or so to walk (it was a pain to walk but we walked it).

    Use my story in your new book, if you like Lenore, and good luck with it! I’m sorry if I sound a little aggravated, all these irrational worst case scenarios and such can be frustrating haha

  60. Leppi November 29, 2010 at 5:09 pm #

    2 counter-quotes to “What if?”

    1: From Kurt Tucholsky (1890 – 1935, German-Jewish journalist, satirist and writer). EXPERIENCE CAN NOT BEQUEATH!

    2. Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (

    1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.

    2. States Parties shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity.

  61. Mom of Two November 29, 2010 at 6:47 pm #

    I had a “what-if moment” yesterday, as a matter of fact…

    My 5-yo son and I ran to Goodwill to drop off some donations. He wanted to peruse the toys and I the Christmas decor, so we went in. He came up to show me a toy guitar he had found. An older gentleman walking by commented something about him being a musician in the future. When we got to the next aisle, my son informs me he has to go the bathroom. “Huh? Really? Can you hold it? I don’t even know where the bathrooms are. Okay. Let’s go.”

    Found the restrooms and instinctively showed him the men’s. I mean, he IS old enough to go by himself. Besides, who uses the Goodwill bathroom anyhow? He opens the door, walks in, and because I’m standing in front of it, I can see a man at the urinal. Oh, geez. Okay, back away from the door, Mom. haha I saw my son choose one of the stalls. Just at that moment, another man walks in. I felt a little better now that there was another man in there. Nothing can happen, right? All of a sudden, here comes the man who had spoken to us, and he walks right in. Oh, crap. First guy walks out (what’s taking him so long?) Second guy walks out and I see my son sitting on the toilet through the crack in the stall (he had to go #2???) And now it’s just my son and this gentleman in the restroom. And it was taking FOREVER!!! My mind was racing. My heart was pounding. I wanted to grab the nearest man and ask him to go inside. I wanted to open the door myself to move him along. But I didn’t. I just stood there. Waiting.

    Just as my nerves were getting the best of me, a little boy walked up to the door to go in…as my son opened the door to come out. “Did you wash your hands? Good.”

    Three aisles later, the older gentleman commented to me TWO more times – joking with me about carrying my son’s coat and then asking my son about the Vikings shirt he had on. Maybe he misses his grandchildren??

    Made me wonder if there’s safety issues in the men’s bathroom. I know NOTHING about what goes on in there. Guess it’s a conversation for my husband. 🙂

  62. Sean November 29, 2010 at 7:16 pm #

    My mother constantly says ‘But I worry because X COULD HAPPEN!’ I explain that the likelyhood of X is very low and that riding in a car is one the most dangerous things we do. She says, “I know, BUT….”

  63. Sandra November 29, 2010 at 8:31 pm #

    Oh, I was a victim of an endless barrage of “what ifs” and “you’re a horrible mom” rants when I once stated (on a mainstream parenting message board – WHAT was I thinking?) that my children often crawl out the dog door – installed for our very large black lab – into the fenced back yard. They often go out and play on their own, any time of the day and sometimes before bed.

    I mean, what if they get hurt and I’m not within 36 inches of them?

    Ironically, the ONLY time any of my four children were hurt in our fenced back yard (set up with swingset, trampoline, sandbox, garden swing, etc.) was when one was running towards Daddy and fell down – within 12 inches of him. GASP – my child fell down and got a bruise! For shame! All because I allow them to crawl out the dog door! (insert rolling eyes)

  64. Allison November 29, 2010 at 9:52 pm #

    My mother was a homicide victim (she went walking one night and was brutally stabbed, the killer was never found) so I’ve had to deal with “what if” scenarios for 20+ years because one time when we didn’t ask “what if”, something horrible happened.

    However, I realized long ago that I can’t live in fear of the “what ifs” or else I can’t live and neither can my children. In 5th grade, my oldest no longer wanted to go to daycare but school got out at 2:30 and my husband and I both work full time. My office is about a mile from the school in a downtown area with sidewalks, crosswalks, and lots of foot traffic due to the university. So, we bought her a bus pass and let her ride the bus the few blocks to campus and then walk to my office from there (some days she walked the whole way) People thought we were crazy for letting her does this because of all the horrible things that could happen, even on the city bus! Guess what? Nothing happened except getting missed by the bus a couple of times because they couldn’t see her at the bust stop due to a parked car!

    The first day I met her and rode with her so she would know what to do (she’d never ridden a city bus before). The second day, my husband “tailed” her and the very observant crossing guard near the school saw him sitting in his car watching her wait for the bus so she went up and asked what he was doing. Our daughter wouldn’t have found out about that except the crossing guard talked to her the next day and told on my husband! LOL

    She did (and does) carry her phone with her but that was for my peace of mind so I could get in touch with her if I started to panic. She still rides the city bus home from school some days and people are still surprised that she is allowed to rid alone (she’s 11 now). I actually did call the bus company and the age to ride alone is 6.

  65. Corinne November 29, 2010 at 10:35 pm #

    I struggle with this daily. I still ask myself, what if, but then ignore it. I don’t want to give my children the same insecure feelings I’ve always had. One of the reasons I never asked that boy out in high school, because what if he said no, or laughed at me. Looking back I wish I had, even if he said no, it would not have been the worse thing ever. Every day I try to stop myself from living in a world of what if.

  66. Lola November 29, 2010 at 11:14 pm #

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong about the “what-ifs”. The wrong thing is thinking you can avoid them. When someone says “what if I let my child ride the underground solo, he gets kidnapped by a maniac, and then is left in an unknown station and falls onto the rails?”.
    Okay, it’s a possibility. But being there with him does not prevent any of these things happening.
    The logical thing to do is teach the kid what to do in any of those stances, whether you’re there or not. After all, what if YOU’RE the one being kidnapped?? Who knows, it could happen…

  67. Jen C November 29, 2010 at 11:39 pm #

    My 6 yr old daughter is in first grade, and walks home from school every day. It’s close to a mile, all through our neighborhood (no busy streets). In fact, when they built the new school two years ago, they designed it to have a walking path that led straight into the neighborhood because there are a lot of kids that walk home. Our neighborhood is comprised mostly of families with school-age children. Pretty safe, in other words.

    Anyway, she started walking home alone halfway through her kindergarten year, so she knows where she’s going and how to get home. She also knows which houses along the way are “safe” houses (friends/classmates homes). We haven’t had an issues until this year. Not once, not twice, but THREE times this year, she has been escorted home by a teacher or another parent because they were worried about her walking home alone. (All of these occasions happened on after-school club days, when the kids in clubs are let out at 4:45 – an hour after normal dismissal time. When she gets out every other day of the week with the rest of the school, no one’s felt the need to accompany her.)

    My daughter is a very bright, mature, capable, and extremely independent girl. I’ve never thought twice about letting her walk home until this year. I sometimes worry that the school officials are going to turn me in for neglect or whatever for allowing her to walk home alone. But when that happens, I just remind myself that 1) I know my daughter and what she is capable of doing and 2) this is OUR neighborhood. I refuse to allow paranoia to take that away from us.

  68. annie_a November 29, 2010 at 11:39 pm #

    my funniest “what if” that I can remember came from my 80-year-old grandmother, who was truly horrified when she found out that I moved my bedroom in the basement, while my 2 children, aged 5 and 7 at the time, had their bedrooms upstairs.

    this is what she actually said: “what if they get up in the morning and decide to throw knives at each other to play?”
    funny, they never thought of that one.
    the only thing they did with a knife was use it to spread Nutella on their bread in front of their morning cartoons, while we were still in bed.
    (on a side note, now that my kids are 11 and 13 and their hormones are taking over, NOW would be the time to be worried about them throwing knives at each other!)

  69. Carrie November 29, 2010 at 11:48 pm #

    My neighbor’s girls were about 5 and 7 years old. My son was about 18 months. They’ve always loved to play with him and have always been mature/responsible for their ages. Our neighborhood is very safe, little traffic, and has sidewalks.

    So, they wanted to take him for a walk in the stroller. I needed to get a few things done around the house because my parents were on their way to visit us. I let them, with the instructions to stay on the sidewalks and on our street (it’s a short street). Honestly, I wasn’t worried because the odds of something happening to him were minuscule.

    My parents arrived about 10 -15 minutes after the girls left. They wanted to see their grandson so I went about trying to round him up. First, my mom was horrified. “You allowed two young girls to take off with him in a stroller?!” I told her they often walk him and it’s no big deal. They’re smart, behaved, and mature. The girls’ mom came out to look for them and she started panicking. They were not on our street. I tried to keep everyone calm.

    I suggested that they probably walked to the end of the street and took a paved trail to the park behind us, which has a paved walkway behind our houses. That was exactly what they did. While the girls’ mom was looking for them, my mom gave me the third degree. “What if someone approached the girls and tried to take your child?” “What if the girls left him some where?” “What if they got lost?”

    I really just wasn’t worried because I knew they had to be around and it was ridiculous to think they get so lost in their own suburban neighborhood (it’s not the woods or mountains) and it was doubtful someone was lurking around – waiting for two young girls to push a stroller by with a child, ripe for the snatching.

    To this day, my mom still nags me about allowing my (now 3 year old) to play outside – in our FENCED yard, without constant adult supervision. “What if a someone comes up to your backyard and takes him?” And she worries about letting the girls next door (now 8 and 10) take him around the neighborhood. The oldest is about ready to babysit, in my book! I would feel safe leaving them to watch him while I ran out for errands and I do let them watch him while I shower. It scares the crap out of my mom! The funny thing is, she used to let us roam free. She claims that ‘the world is much scarier today.’ I think she spends too much time in front of the TV getting all worked up.

  70. pentamom November 29, 2010 at 11:54 pm #

    Just yesterday I engaged in a small “what if” myself.

    We were traveling home and had stopped to eat at a Subway. There were long lines both for the food and bathrooms. When we were in the bathroom line, a mother with two young childrne, boy and girl, about 6 and 4 I’d guess, decided to let the kids stand in the bathroom line while she got the food. Only, she was pretty hovery from ten feet away, looking up about every three seconds even while she was ordering. Eventually the girl went back to mom, but the boy was still in line.

    The little boy seemed not to understand that he didn’t have to wait in the WHOLE line, but only the men’s line. When he would have been next he kept waiting until the whole line got closer to the bathroom. So when my teenage son was next after the little boy, I told my son to go ahead. I figured, what if the mom would insist that SHE NEEDED to go with him to the ladies room, or that I was a criminal for sending him in alone. (They were separate bathrooms, single stall for each sex, but you just never know.)

    So I engaged in “What if she gets all up in my face if I do the wrong thing,” and made the kid wait an extra turn. Just after my son went in, she came over and said, “Oh, I guess he didn’t need to wait for me, he could have gone into the men’s room.” So then he went in after my son.

    BTW, I know for some of you “what if she gets all up in my face” is a non-issue, but I’m not that type, though I probably should be.

  71. Caitlin November 29, 2010 at 11:58 pm #

    This past weekend we were visiting my parents for the holiday. My mother is a total TV addict and was watching some special about a girl who was abducted from her job as a lifeguard at the beach. My Aunt, who was also watching with us, proceeded to discuss the merits of helicopter parenting. She went on for some time about the ‘what ifs’ and finally said we should put microchips in our children, like we do dogs!!!
    That was the last straw. I couldn’t hold my tongue any longer. I let her know that it was unacceptable to put tracking devices in our children. Not only that, but the first thing that a criminal would do would be to cut the device out of the abducted child.
    The way to solve crime is not through ever increasing big brother measures. I’m horrified and disgusted that my family holds these beliefs. Of course the conversation ended with ‘ well if it was your daughter you would be singing a different tune’
    For the sake of family relations, I had to walk away at that point.
    I hate the ‘what ifs’!

  72. Larry Harrison November 29, 2010 at 11:59 pm #

    A stranger’s “what if.”

    My wife & I were at a garage sale about 2 months ago, this girl about age 9 or so was playing with my 1½ year old son, holding him & admiring him etc. I grabbed a photo of it. (I take my camera everywhere almost to the extent that a typical woman carries her purse everywhere.) The girl was the daughter of one of the friends of the persons having the garage sale.

    The mother actually came over to me and asked me to delete the photograph, because “I don’t know who you are.” I “fake deleted”–that is, I didn’t delete it, but made out like I did. I later approached the person before we left & asked if she had heard of free range kids, when she said she hadn’t, I referred her to it & told her was it was about.

    I was mad enough I almost said “well I don’t know you or your daughter either, for all I know you’re both drug addicts trying to get my son addicted.”

    As I walked off, she yelled out “it’s a different day & time these days,” to which I brushed her off by waving my arms in the air still walking away from her.

    I still have the photo on my hard drive. My son’s in it. The girl was holding my child, it was sweet–and I’m not going to let someone else, not even the mother of said girl, try to make it ugly.

    Now, for a time I was thinking “what if?”

    The main “what if” which I do is when I leave the children in the car while I go to the PO Box to check the mail, or leave them there while garage-sale shopping. I’m totally of the “in & out” nature with the PO box scenario, in the garage sale scenario I’m right there, so they’re typically in there 5 minutes or less (which, by law, is not in violation).

    I’m not worried about harm so much as busy-bodies summoning police, but since–again–it’s legal, and I’ve decided to “fight on the hill” of that I have the right to parent my children as I please or I’d just assume not have them at all (it doesn’t mean I don’t love them), then I do what I think is right and let whatever happens, happens. If they’re removed it isn’t because I failed to respect society’s feelings, it’s because society refused to respect my parental authority and butt out of it. I’d sleep like a baby if that ever happened, not mad at myself at all–just mad at the society we’re becoming, or are already.


  73. pentamom November 30, 2010 at 12:31 am #

    One of the stranger what-ifs I’ve heard in my life related not to children, but to home safety. I knew a lady who refused to keep her kitchen knives in a block on the counter, but instead kept them in the drawer, because “What if a burglar came into the house they could grab the knife right off the counter!”

    It was a situation where the polite half smile was the only real response, but really, burglars intent on killing homeowners (a very rare breed to begin with) don’t rely on easy access to knives — I think they’d bring their own weapons. And if someone really wanted to do something like that, and hadn’t come prepared, would opening a drawer be THAT MUCH HARDER?

    And, of course, if you really want to get picayune, keeping the knives in the drawer is actually somewhat less safe for real world dangers, since you could cut yourself reaching into the drawer, but you can’t cut yourself on a blade as long as it’s held in a block.

  74. Uly November 30, 2010 at 1:01 am #

    Not to mention, tossing them in a drawer means they bump up into each other every time the drawer is jostled. This dulls the knives. Dull knives require more pressure to use and are more prone to slipping, they also do more damage when you do slip, they’re far less safe than sharp knives.

  75. Cece November 30, 2010 at 2:38 am #

    My daughter just truned 1 yesterday. She was a twin – they were born and 38 weeks and were perfectly heathly. The second night we brought them home, Nora died. For reason. She was sleeping. For weeks after that, I tried to stay awake to watch Maggie. All the time. But then I realized, there was nothing I could have done to save Nora (very rare heart defect) and I couldn’t just stand there and hover over my babies (I have an son a year older). their whole life. So I stopped. As best I can. But every night for a long time I had the whole, what if I walk into her room in the morning and she isn’t ok? And it was hard to get away from that – and I’m still not 100% there – but as a mom whose been in the worst case scenario, even I know that we need to jsut let our children LIVE. And play. And not be subjected to hovering and ‘what ifs’ – becasue it’s no way to live.

  76. Sky November 30, 2010 at 2:42 am #

    What if my six year old has been drawing pictures of eggs on paper and cutting them out and she comes to me with her cut-out eggs while I’m working and says, “Can I make more eggs?” and I say, “Yes, of course,” but then she goes and tries to make real scrambled eggs on the stove IN A COLANDER?

    Oh, wait. I never asked that “What if?” It just happened of its own unlikely accord. Fortunately, no major harm occurred, except to my burner, and I decided to respond by teaching her to make scrambled eggs properly and safely–in a pan.

  77. BJ November 30, 2010 at 3:01 am #

    My boys are grown now, but I remember in the 80’s being just as scared of community/legal/child welfare intrusion as parents seem to be today. I was a single mom in a rural, midwestern area.

    My precocious older boy, age 4 at the time, had been sent to his room for a “time out.” It was a beautiful spring day, all the windows were open in the house to let in the breeze. Steven, having paid very close attention to his preschool lessons and after school specials about abused children, sat in the middle of his bed (positioned directly in front of the open window), and proceeded to cry out plaintively, “NOoooo! MOMmy! NOooo! Don’t HIT me Mommy!” (Please note, no one has ever laid a punitive hand on that young man in his life – although at that point, on that day, I was certainly tempted!). I was aghast, but not about to let him win this round. I went outside, quietly, and stood in the middle of the cul-de-sac, where I was clearly visible to all my neighbors (most of whom were already familiar with my son’s antics). Some of the other moms came out to keep me company. Steven’s wailing suddenly came to an abrupt halt when he caught sight of his mother, me, outside with the neighbors. My overriding fear was that someone would hear him and call the SRS or police on me for abusing my child.

    Both of my boys are in their late 20’s-early 30’s now and we all still laugh about that incident. That being said, however, I think this movement of regulating IN safety to the point of regulating OUT a normal, fun childhood has been afoot for decades and has now reached ridiculous, epidemic proportions, causing parents who are guilty of nothing more than good parenting to be constantly fearful and looking over their shoulder for “Big Brother.”

    Even though my kids are grown, I’m still all for a resurgence of common sense!

  78. MrPopularSentiment November 30, 2010 at 3:23 am #

    We’re expecting our first soon, so we’ve been hearing a few “what ifs.” Most people around us know better than give us any unsolicited advice because I’m the kind of person who over-researches EVERYTHING.

    The big one I can think of off-hand was my declaration that we were going to use a baby-carrier instead of a stroller for the first couple months (partially because of a space issue – we intend to move, but not until summer and our apartment is cramped enough without a big stroller getting in the way!).

    My mother-in-law was really upset and started an all-out campaign to convince us otherwise. “You’ll need one! Babies are heavy!” If I find I need one, I’ll get one. “What if you slip and fall and crush the baby?” What if I slip and fall and the stroller rolls out into the road?

    Finally, in hysterics, she says “but if you have the baby in that position, it might crush his spine!” referring to the weight of his head.

    This may not be quite the situation you’re looking for because she’s not behaving irrationally because of ‘what if’ thinking, but is rather using ‘what if’ thinking to try to legitimize her irrational thinking. I find it funny enough to share, though!

  79. Patricia November 30, 2010 at 4:47 am #

    Twelve years ago we moved because of ‘what if?’ Our oldest son was just turned two at the time and we lived in a small apartment building, on a street with several apartments buildings close together.
    One night my son, who had been falling asleep on his own for 18 months, decided he did not want to go to bed. There was nothing wrong with him, he just wanted to stay up with mommy and daddy. We tried to let him cry it out in his crib, but the manager from the building next door called the police and reported that we were abusing our child! The cops showed up, talked to us, looked around our apartment and looked over our son. I had to unzip his sleeper jammies to show there were no bruises or anything on him. The cops were nice enough, they could see it was nothing more than a two year olds temper tantrum.
    I was really upset, all I could think was ‘what if he throws another tantrum?’ or “what if he falls and gets hurt?’. If this nasty neighbor reports us every time my kid gets noisy I could loose my son.
    One week later, our son was running around outside when he tripped and fell, scraping up his nose and mouth. Of course, he screamed bloody murder and threw an even bigger and louder fit when I tried to clean the debris out of the scraped skin.
    Sure enough, ten minuets later cops show up again, checking a report of an abused child. Fortunately, two of my neighbors saw him fall and were able to back up my explanation of his injuries.
    By this time I was a nervous wreck, realizing every time my kid cried I might get a visit from the cops or social services. The owner of our building said there was nothing she could do because the person reporting us did not live in our building. We moved within a month.

  80. crowjoy November 30, 2010 at 4:49 am #

    Because we’re a 2 mom family and had to MOVE to another state to be able to adopt our own kids (one bio each) my what ifs used to and still sometimes habitually show up as “what if someone takes issue with xyz and I have no legal rights?” As in, before the legal adoption, I was a legal NOBODY to my partner’s bio kid. Worse than a stranger!

    My what ifs now usually center around some well-meaning (maybe) or bigoted person taking issue with something that would be normal for anyone else. The ones that come from the kids’ behavior or choices or my choice to let them do something I can usually quash those with some sensible self-talk.

    I work in emergency management. It’s my job to think of every what if I can and then decide if it’s a risk we can accept. It’s the same thing with kids, except for the busy-body variable.

  81. Tracey November 30, 2010 at 5:00 am #

    @Patricia: most people do not realize that it’s a FEDERAL offense if they report child abuse and none is happening. We need to get that message out there!

    Another of my what-ifs:

    Two years ago my daughter was invited to a prestigious international student ballet competition final, by virtue of her ensemble taking first place at the regional competition. The entire ensemble was invited, so a bunch of kids from our ballet school were going.

    The finals were in Manhattan, and the whole event was going to take a week.

    My daughter was 9 at the time of the regional competition, and turned 10 the day before she was to leave. We could only afford to send her, just barely; so she was going to go to Manhattan with one of the other families, who had a child several years older.

    Her hotel was near Times Square. She was going to spend a lot of time up and down Broadway, and near Union Square. She needed a subway pass and a Trader Joe’s gift card so she could eat healthy while she was there. She had at least one ballet class a day; at least one rehearsal a day (sometimes two–one for the competition itself and one for the gala).

    The problem was that the older child didn’t have the same rehearsal or performance schedule, except for the gala.

    We’re talking pretty little ballet dancer here, going to Manhattan for the first time. What if she were talked into friendship with a pimp? What if someone decided to rape her? What if she got mugged?

    My husband and I have talked to her about safety since she was very small. We’d prepared her. And we trusted her chaperones.

    She was fine. Just fine! She had the experience of a lifetime, performing on stage alongside ballet greats, performing on Broadway, learning so much from the classes, making friends with kids from all over the world.

    The one thing that happened to her was that she tripped and fell while running to catch up with her chaperones. She banged her knee on the curb and got her pants dirty.

    So I can say “I sent my 10-year-old ballerina to Manhattan for a week, and all she brought back was a banged knee.”

  82. pentamom November 30, 2010 at 5:28 am #

    “This may not be quite the situation you’re looking for because she’s not behaving irrationally because of ‘what if’ thinking, but is rather using ‘what if’ thinking to try to legitimize her irrational thinking.”

    IMO, it’s six of one, half a dozen of the other. It even gets kind of recursive sometimes. The point is that what-ifs tend to both foster AND reinforce irrational thinking, and that’s why they’re not a helpful thought process either way.

  83. gramomster November 30, 2010 at 6:13 am #

    So, I couldn’t believe this, given the park pole sliding story I just wrote about the other day, but this actually happened today.

    We went to the playground, It was 50 and sunny, and right at the tail end of November in Michigan, let me tell you, we don’t let those go wasted. So, just as we get to the park, another gramma and another little guy get out of a car next to us. Connor was stoked! He’d hoped for another kid! They played a little, we had a little bat and ball, so I pitched a couple to each boy, asked names and ages. Other kid was 5. Connor, again, 4.5. Just.

    So we all traipse into the play equipment area. Connor climbs up the ladder, and shoots down the walkway to, you guessed it, THE POLE!! The other gramma goes visibly stiff. Connor leans out, grabs the pole, Zip!, on the ground, safe and sound. The other boy looks, reaches, catches sight of his gramma, goes down the other way. Second trip, Connor again – Zip! – down the pole, ‘C’mon, Robin!” (They are by this time Batman and Robin). The kid reaches out, Connor provides instruction from the ground, kid slides down – Zip! – kind of a hard landing. His first time and all! Other gramma kinda freaks… “Agh!!! ARE YOU OKAY?!?!?!? I knew that looked to dangerous!!!”


    Then, they go running around, then back to the playground. Connor climbs over the 3 foot fence into the play area. Other gramma: “NO!!! You are NOT climbing fences!!!”
    Kid goes all the way around, into the play area, gets onto the BABY SLIDE!!! Not kidding… they are in the little kid area… and the gramma starts, “BE CAREFUL!!! Beeeeee caaaaaaarrrrrrrfullllll!!!!!!”

    At this point, I suggest a walk up to the top of the sledding hill (which, by the way, Connor went down solo last winter… okay, he went out onto the ice, but the damn pond is literally 10 inches deep, and the ice was at least 4) and RUN down. The other gramma decided it was time to go find something else to do.


    I facebooked this as it was happening. My SIL (mother of 2, ages 4 and 7, and a whopping 25 herself) commented, “hahahahahahahaha…. talk about the perfect formula for making a future agoraphobe!”

    Love that girl… think my niece and nephew will be just fine.

  84. bequirox November 30, 2010 at 7:34 am #

    My daughter is 2 year’s and 3 months. I found out today that she knows how to climb up onto the bathroom sink and turn on the water. I decided to test her abilities, and it turns out she can now get herself a drink of water with minimal splashing. I was so excited that I won’t have to get up every time she’s thirsty! When my husband got home form work, I had him come to the bathroom while our daughter demonstrated her new skill. And can you guess what his reaction was?

    “I don’t know if we should encourage this. She might fall and crack her head open!” From 3 feet?

  85. Michele November 30, 2010 at 7:42 am #

    I am a high school basketball referee and we are now required to get full background checks before officiating games. How many referees have you seen take advantage of a teenager ON the basketball court?

    But what if?!

  86. Sammi November 30, 2010 at 9:49 am #

    Here’s one that I wasn’t able to answer:

    My boyfriend and I sometimes enjoy going for walks and looking at the outside of houses. Well, there was this one house that had a park right outside. I made a comment about how any future kids could go out to the park, and he said that it was unsafe. After we went through the usual “what if they were kidnapped?” routine, he pointed out that the kids could be bullied.

    While it’s not as scary as kidnapping, it’s also not as rare either.

  87. JaneW November 30, 2010 at 9:52 am #

    @Patricia: When I was seven years old, someone with a grudge against my family (yes, we know who, not that it matters anymore) called Child Protective Services and reported a fascinating story, almost entirely made up.

    Thank God, my mother managed to stay sane in a completely insane situation, and at least some of the lies were checkable. I didn’t even find out for twelve years.

    It doesn’t matter if you do everything right, people still do crazy things.

  88. ChickyBee November 30, 2010 at 10:36 am #

    A friend & I were discussing with her father what to get her 2yr old godson for Christmas. Various toys got rejected for safety reasons, until they reached

    “I might get him one of those big-ass balls you sit on and bounce on.” “What if he falls off?”
    “How about a normal ball then?”
    “What if he throws it at your face and breaks your glasses? Or at his sister and breaks her nose? Or knocks over a vase or a glass and someone gets hurt?”
    “I guess it’s down to a toy car.”
    “But what if he doesn’t put it away, and someone steps on it, trips and breaks their neck?”

    I interjected at this point and said “And he might be laying in bed one night, sound asleep when a drunk driver comes crashing through the window and lands right on top of the bed. A tree could fall onto the house during a storm.”

    He shut up, my friend tried not to laugh and got him a kitten. (cleared with parents first of course)

  89. Uly November 30, 2010 at 10:44 am #

    Oh, BJ, my mother did that as a kid (she was born in 49, so I guess that would be in the 50s?), with about the same result – the neighbor turned to my grandparents and said “Wow, if I didn’t know you were out here talking to me, I’d think you were killing her in there!”

    For that matter, my older niece at 3 (never been to school or watched broadcast TV at that point) pulled something similar on the SI Ferry! She was kicking and screaming up a storm about SOMEthing, and she flopped on the floor to do it louder. Not wanting her clothes to get dirty I hauled her up again, and she stopped the hysterics long enough to look at me, cringe away, and wail dramatically “Don’t HIT me, Connie!!!”

    Never wanted to hit her before in my life, but BOY did I want to when she said it! Not that I did, though. There may be a time and a place for spanking, but that was assuredly not it.

  90. pentamom November 30, 2010 at 10:54 am #

    Just on Thanksgiving at my in-laws’, the 11 year old son of the fiance of a distant relative was goofing around and said, “Don’t hit me, Dad!” The father looked at all of us who didn’t really know him and said rather defensively, “I don’t hit him!” I smiled and assured him I had no doubt. Of course in this case the kid was smiling and obviously goofing off, but it might have had something to do with being the only two black people in a sea of white faces as well — he might have been more sensitive to a wrong judgment.

  91. pentamom November 30, 2010 at 10:57 am #

    Michele, those stories of people being forced to get background checks to interact with kids solely in crowds of people crack me up. But of course it’s not such a laughing matter when it’s an unnecessary pain to deal with.

  92. pentamom November 30, 2010 at 11:01 am #

    Sammi, kids can be bullied in school, but that (in itself) isn’t a reason kids aren’t sent to school. (Those of us who homeschool rarely do solely for that reason unless it is a REALLY bad situation.)

    So I think it’s a risk you take, not something you arrange your life around avoiding, other things being equal.

    It also depends on the atmosphere of the park and the neighborhood. In some parks in some neighborhoods, no doubt there’s more of a “jungle” mentality where packs of kids play power-dominance games. Other settings would be perfectly fine. You just have know what you’re dealing with and weigh things.

  93. SKL November 30, 2010 at 12:33 pm #

    Ha ha, “don’t hit me!” Yesterday my kid rounded up all the adults in the house to make a “beating machine,” which she and her sister gleefully crawled through again and again. I can only imagine what they tell the folks at school. But, so far, nobody has tried taking them away.

    Oh yeah, I remember when my kids were about 2. I used to joke, “don’t hurt my baby, or I’ll beatcha.” And then if anyone did take a tumble, “beat, beat beat” (love taps) were a part of the comforting ritual. Just a way to lighten things up. One day my youngest took a tumble in gymnastics class, and the two-year-old said, “Mama, Sissy fell down. It’s my turn to beat her.” Then she started going for her butt. (I stopped her because I didn’t want anyone to think my kids were in the habit of smacking each other around.) Not sure if anyone wondered where my kid got the “beat her” idea.

  94. Zhenefaire November 30, 2010 at 2:51 pm #

    Here’s what I learned to do about “what-if’s” shortly after my son was born 11 years ago: Any crazy random thing you anticipate happening to your child will probably not, because accidents are just that–UNANTICIPATED. I gave myself the freedom to imagine all the horrible things that might happen, and then I let them go, knowing that I couldn’t control them, and they probably wouldn’t happen anyway. It was sort of like a checklist: “Well, I’ve just imagined that loose brick falling off the chimney and caving his head in, so I don’t have to worry about that anymore. CHECK!” We all have dark, morbid fantasies that are driven by the deep emotions of having children, but rationality has to take over sometime.

  95. Jennifer November 30, 2010 at 4:22 pm #

    Our local tax-dollars are hard at work taking care of a big “what-if” right in my own backyard. We live literally across the street from the local elementary school. From my front door to the school doors, would be AT MOST a 2 minute trip on foot. But none of the kids in our neighborhood walk to school. Nope, the school bus comes through the neighborhood four times a day (morning pick-up, morning kindergarten drop-off, afternoon kindergarten pick-up and afternoon drop-off). I’m not even sure if there’s an official policy against kids walking to school, or if my entire neighborhood is full of lazy people.

    When we bought our house 4 years ago, we were shown maps of the local community walking paths. The one that runs across the front of our neighborhood is connected to the path across the street (where the school is) via a pricey (had to be re-done twice because of drainage issues) under-road pedestrian tunnel. We were told when we moved in that the pedestrian tunnel was so the school kids wouldn’t have to cross the street. But again, in four years, I’ve not seen a single child walking to school either crossing the street or using the pedestrian tunnel.

    2 years ago, the streets department spent time and money on a project to upgrade the traffic lights in front of our neighborhood. Who knows how much it cost to add the eight pedestrian crossing signals (yes, EIGHT! so you can cross as few streets as possible!), and all the wiring and programming that goes along with them? But even then, no one used them, because no one ever walked to school.

    Anyway, over the past week, I’ve noticed a lot of activity up and down the street that separates our neighborhood from the school. Almost every day there have been construction cones, and men working and shovels and noise. I wondered what they could POSSIBLY be doing now? Well, as I discovered today, they were adding a BLINKING “School Zone” light and sign to each side of each direction of traffic (two lights/signs northbound; two southbound) about 200 yards earlier on the street than the previous “School Zone” signs had been placed. Oh wait – they did the same thing on the other end. So make that a total now of EIGHT School Zone blinking lights and signs, and a nearly 1/2-mile-long school zone, for a school that no one walks to (and no children are EVER seen outside of, even when they load the busses!)

    Ah – I’ve been enlightened! Because…

    What if…a child decided to finally walk to school? and,
    What if…that child did not use the expensive, twice-rebuilt under-road pedestrian tunnel provided for that specific use? and,
    What if…that child ALSO did not bother to use the expensive crossing signals provided as the back-up for said tunnel? and,
    What if…a car coming toward said child couldn’t see the School Zone signs that are already 250 yards from the crossing in plain sight?

    Well then, we’d have to add a more obvious sign, 400 YARDS away from said child, so that should any kid around here go insane and actually refuse to ride the provided bus safely to school…

    You fill in the blank for me there. I can’t write any more because I have to leave early. The new, improved, extra-long School Zone is going to slow my exit down significantly.

  96. sue November 30, 2010 at 6:24 pm #

    I had a “what if” last year, when my son took the railroad bus by himself for the first time at age 10. He was going up to a friend’s house for a sleepover. The friend’s father lived about 30 km from my town. My son’s friend and the friend’s father were going to meet my son at the train station, where the bus would stop. He would normally have taken the train, which he had done several times before, but riders had to take a bus due to track maintenance. The bus schedule was slightly different from the train schedule. At first I had a case of the “what ifs,” the main ones being: What if my son got off at the wrong stop (his friend did that one time) and what if his friend’s father wasn’t at the station because of the schedule change? I wasn’t worried at all about him being harrassed on the bus or about him being abducted. My “what ifs” died down quickly because my son had both a mobile phone and a piece of paper with his friend’s father’s phone number on it. I knew that he was resourceful enough to call if he got off at the wrong station or if there was nobody to meet him at the station. Another thing that helped to calm the “what ifs” is that when my son got on the bus, he viewed the bus ride as an adventure instead of something to fear. He knew that if he had a question, he could ask the driver or another adult on the bus.

  97. Ruth November 30, 2010 at 8:47 pm #

    My mother in law called last night, from her vacation, to warn us about thieves using baby monitors to case out homes. She saw it on the Today Show, of course.

    The premise is that somebody drives through a neighborhood with a baby monitor receiver and uses the device to either look into your home or listen to your conversation and uses this information to determine if you are a good target for a burglary and when the best time to do it is.

    What if a bad guy can use the audio and video from my baby monitor to case my house out for a robbery? I think I worried about this for about 10 seconds…

    I have no doubt that it has been done, but I certainly don’t think it’s anything I need to worry about. This would only work in an area with a large amount of kids and street parking for the thief to blend into while watching/listening. I live in a tiny town, and any strange cars stopped on our road get a neighborhood welcoming committee.

    Additionally, most video monitors are only pointed into a baby’s crib, not showing anything of value to a thief. Conscientious parents will turn off the camera/microphone to save energy when it is not in active use. And if I talked loud enough to be heard over my monitor’s microphone outside my child’s bedroom, I’d probably wake him up.

    The most likely scenario is that this actually happened to a family whose home was being cased for a crime, anyway, and this was additional surveillance that was used. And knowing the baby’s sleep schedule would help a perpetrator find a time when the family was out of the house for sure: if the baby is always in her crib at night by 8 pm, and the perp looks at the monitor at 11 pm to see nothing, he might be able to get in without being caught.

    But do the rest of us need to worry about it? I doubt it!

  98. BMS November 30, 2010 at 9:45 pm #

    I get a whole slew of ‘what ifs’ every time I mention that I don’t own a cell phone. Apparently I missed the memo where it says that it is impossible to exist/breathe/function in society without one.

    But WHAT IF your kid gets sick at school? Well, there is a nurse there. They have my work number. They have husband’s work number. They have the number of two trusted friends. They presumably know how to call 911 if it is life threatening. Worst case? He sits in the nurse’s office until one of us gets him.

    But WHAT IF you are driving with your kids and you get a flat tire? Well, I can change my own tires (learned that in girl scouts, thank you very much). On the turnpike, there are constantly state highway vehicles and police going by. Most other places you can find a public phone (yes Virginia, they still exist, and I know where they tend to be found) or a kind person to lend you a cell.

    But WHAT IF you are late? How do you tell your family? Well, presumably if I don’t show up on time, they know I am late. The kids know how to let themselves in and hang out. The husband has faith that given my black belt in kung fu I am unlikely to be being pummelled in an alley somewhere. He can also log onto the commuter rail website to find out that, once again, the train is delayed. Basically, we just don’t automatically assume the worst.

    But WHAT IF you get lost? I ask for directions. From a human.

    But WHAT IF you were kidnapped/mugged/carjacked? Pretty bloody unlikely. And seriously, like an attacker is going to just stand there while I make a call? I’d rather put my energy into disarming/disabling an attacker and running like hell than fumbling for a cell phone.

    I get that cell phones are convenient, but I don’t think they are akin to oxygen, and I don’t seem to encounter all these what if situations that people assume will pop up constantly if they don’t have their cells to keep the demons at bay.

  99. msmama November 30, 2010 at 10:54 pm #

    My WHAT IF’s have changed since I started reading this blog.

    As I left my 2 1/2 year old in the car (not buckled in his carseat *gasp*) while I returned our shopping cart to the cart return a whole 7 spots away, I found myself looking around to make sure there was no one around who would tell me I was harming my child.

    Worried about someone stealing my car in the 30 seconds I was gone? That’s just silly.

    Worrying about someone calling the police on my for endangering my child? That’s actually a concern.

  100. Tracy December 1, 2010 at 12:35 am #

    An excerpt from a recent blog post of mine. THe second story in the post is equally, if not more, amusing. I was actually expecting that incident to be a “stranger danger” moment, but it ended up being that the concern was my son….

    I’m in the locker room at the local high school for C’s swim lessons. I just got done changing him into his suit, and stood him on the tile floor while I grabbed our towels. He starts to run toward the door (what, a 2 year old running? Get outta town), slips, and falls on his butt. Wide-eyed, but no where near tears, he looks at me, waiting for my reaction. Which was:

    “Bud, you can’t run in here, remember? When the floor is wet, you can slip and get hurt. Ok?”
    “Ok, mommy.”

    Great, we move on. Oh, wait, no we don’t. Enter well-meaning stranger.

    “You know, you really should put shoes on him when he’s in here.”

    I smile at her in my very non-confrontational way and internally start to stew. Look, well-meaning stranger, I’m pretty sure that I handled the situation. I’ve been trying to teach him pool safety, which includes running on wet tile, and was confident in my choice to take this opportunity to teach my child, as opposed to shield him. So thanks, but I am all set with not putting shoes on a toddler in a bathing suit who will be entering a pool in less than 2 minutes.

  101. Uly December 1, 2010 at 3:21 am #

    I don’t know, Tracy, you might want shoes to avoid veruccas or athlete’s foot, which spread through damp areas like that. Ideally, people with those problems wear shoes to avoid spreading contagion, but that’s never the way.

    Still, they’re not life-ending disasters either. If you don’t worry about it now, no use starting, is there?

  102. BMS December 1, 2010 at 3:38 am #

    I let my kids run barefoot constantly, being a person who hates shoes my self. I am always getting strange looks from other parents “WHAT IF they cut themselves/step on a nail/step in dog poop, etc.”

    I have been wandering barefoot since childhood. I cut my foot exactly once – while wearing shoes. Jagged piece of glass went right through a brand new pair of gym shoes. Bare feet are definitely safer. And I’ve never picked up athlete’s foot or anything else – my feet are too tough for the germs to penetrate!

  103. Grimalkin December 1, 2010 at 4:40 am #

    Same here, BMS. I had incredibly tough feet and I could walk right over broken glass without any problems. Now that I live in the city and have started wearing shoes all the time, I’m often hurting myself by stepping on splinters, etc. I’ve never had any kind of athlete’s foot or veruccas!

  104. Cheryl W December 1, 2010 at 4:43 am #

    So, how many parents are actually worried about (or have had) CPS called on them? Or been threatened with it?

    That fear does occasionally run through my head when I do things like, oh, work on our 3 acres of fencing all afternoon while the kids are inside. Or walk to the mailbox at the end of our private lane (past our Sheriff neighbor) without my kids. (all of 10 minutes to walk up and back.) Or anything else…

    I have never had anyone threaten to call CPS on me. My neighbor did – she was working her minimum wage job that she took the bus to every day. Her daughter was sick at school. The school called mom and told her to come get the daughter. The mom said she had to get someone to come in for her, (she was alone and couldn’t close up shop) and then she would take the bus and be there in an hour or two (the bus went past the school every two hours) The back up person on the emergency list couldn’t get there. The principal told my neighbor that if she wasn’t there in 15 minutes that she was calling CPS. Somehow the mom got someone else to come get the girl, but man! A single mom, trying to stay off the dole and do the right thing, but can’t win for doing it! And, penalized because she didn’t have a car to boot (For some reason she felt that food was more important.)

  105. Uly December 1, 2010 at 5:49 am #

    I walk barefoot all the time myself… because I know that by having my feet out of the damp, dark environment of my shoes I’m helping keep breeding places for nasty ickies down.

    But if I mostly wore shoes, and didn’t go barefoot – or if I mostly had my kid wear shoes and not go barefoot – I’d wear some sort of foot covering inside a public shower or changing room where it’s damp.

    There’s a big difference between walking over some contaminated area with bare feet when your feet are going to dry out quickly and naturally, and when they’re *not*.

  106. Audrey December 1, 2010 at 7:41 am #

    I allowed my 3-year-old son to stand on the escalator in front of me in an airport over Thanksgiving break. The woman in front of me turned around and told me that I should always take the elevator instead because “what if his shoelace was untied and got caught between the steps and he got his foot ripped off?” Never mind that he was wearing shoes with Velcro straps.

  107. kherbert December 1, 2010 at 8:01 am #

    That is awful. When I was living in an apartment, I woke up to this awful noise. It sounded for all the world like a toddler/preschooler who had cried his/herself to the point of breathlessness and exhaustion.
    I jumped out of bed, dressed and went to knock on my neighbor’s door. I knew her husband was going to school and working odd hours. There was a nasty tummy bug going through the school. All I could think was that the lady next door had gotten sick and needed help. They were the only ones with kids in our little block of 4 apartments

    When I got there, her husband happened to be leaving for work. He said all was fine.

    I endured that awful noise for 2 more hours before I finally traced down the source. The maintance guy adding water to the pool!. There was a crimp in the hose. So the can’t catch your breath breathing sounds were the water pressure building up and the wailing sound was when enough pressure built up to push the water past the crimp.

    I straighten up the hose. Everything was fine till the pool opened. The guys left the hose in because it wasn’t up to the correct level. The kids started playing with it. I went out and explained the horrible noise it was causing in my apartment (I have been woken up 3 hours early and was trying to sleep) the kids stopped, and left. Another set of kids came a hose in the pool fun. After 3 rounds of this I went to the office and begged for mercy. The water was high enough for the day, and they took it out of the pool. They also replaced it because it was also leaking.

    Neighbor was upset because she thought I was complaining about her kids. (they had trouble with the landlord over minor kid things). I explained the reason I was concerned was I NEVER heard her kids and she had mentioned feeling poorly the evening before.

  108. Niki December 1, 2010 at 10:44 am #

    My husband and I are preparing to start our family. We’ve had a lot of debate about whether this is the right time, are we ready financially, etc. Our biggest worry (and what-if) so far has been, “What if someone calls the police on us for letting our children be children?!”

  109. owen59 December 1, 2010 at 12:16 pm #

    Hi Lenore,
    this jogged me to let you know about that my writing team had completed the first design of a social discourse script writing workshop, and had its first trial last month. Here is a clip of some of the material out of that design, as it was workshopped and then played by a couple of part professional actors. We called it Out of the Box Theatre with the obvious double meaning as you will see from the clip. Enjoy.

  110. SKL December 1, 2010 at 2:58 pm #

    The other day I had a post-placement visit with my homestudy social worker. We got to talking about getting kids to stay in bed for their naps. I mentioned that when my kids started getting up and playing around during nap time, I used the threat of swaddling them to get them to stay in bed. I followed through on the threat a couple of times so they’d know what it was and that I’d really do it. (I used a soft bedsheet. They could still wriggle out, but slowly.) I mentioned that someone had told me that was considered child abuse.

    She was quiet for a moment and finally said, “I don’t know. I’ll have to ask my husband about that. He works for CPS.”

    Oh, great.

    In the end, she left the kids with me, and this was my last post-placement visit.

    Being an adoptive parent and having folks checking up on me over time, I am sure I’ve had the fleeting thought: “what if they try to take my kids away?” But the what-ifs on the other side scare me more, because I’ve seen them happen more: kids who can’t control their impulses and/or can’t take care of themselves at an age-appropriate level.

  111. BMS December 1, 2010 at 9:05 pm #

    I’m an adoptive mom too, and homestudies are “What if” crazy inducing things.

    My few moments of what if paranoia come because my kids and I don’t ‘match’. I worry much more about “What if we are going through airport security and they separate me from my kids because we don’t look alike and they don’t believe they are mine?” than I do about random accidents and stranger danger.

  112. Grimalkin December 1, 2010 at 10:18 pm #

    @kherbert – imo, that’s the proper reaction when you hear something weird involving kids, or are worried that something bad might happen. You go over to the parents and see if everything is okay and/or if you can help.

    It’s the same when I see kids unattended. I just keep an eye on them until their parents come back (unless they look distressed, in which case I might go over and help them find their parents).

    Calling social services? Completely inappropriate unless you’ve already gone over to talk to the people involved and it’s become clear that abuse is happening.

  113. Sherri Brandt December 2, 2010 at 3:16 am #

    I recently moved in with my mother so that I can finish school full time. I’m 38 and my son is 9. Not only is he a 4th grader, but one with a genius IQ…literally. My mother insists that I be at my son’s bus stop because he can’t make it the 3 house down the street to get home without something “terrible” happening to him. It drives him crazy. If I don’t go she will hobble down the street in a huff and do it herself.

  114. SKL December 2, 2010 at 11:55 am #

    Today I received a letter from the police, attached to my kids’ December daycare newsletter. Some excerpts:

    “In our community, we have seen children, including infants, left unattended in vehicles while their parents make trips into business’s [sic] or schools. We do not find this acceptable and ask you to notify all of your students’ parents and/or guardians that if we find their children unattended in motor vehicles we will investigate the matter fully and take measures we feel appropriate, up to and including, criminal charges.”

    “We know that the threat of criminal charges is not the only answer to this issue, and that is why we are partnering with you to help educate and inform parents that this type of activity is dangerous for their children and subsequent tragic repercussions may be felt for a lifetime.”

    “Please help us by poting a notice of your choosing in your school urging child caretakers to not leave any children in vehicles unattended while delivering students to your school.”

    Please note that we live in the snow belt, and the chances of a child getting overheated in a car during daycare drop-off here are zero even in the summer. (I mean, how long can it take to drop off a kid?)

    I wish I could sit this cop down and ask him: just what is dangerous about leaving a kid strapped in a car seat in a comfortable, locked car for a few minutes? How is it more dangerous than unloading all of the children into the busy parking lot and herding them through the cold and in and out at every stop? And perhaps more importantly, don’t the cops have anything better to do than harass parents of multiple small children?

  115. SKL December 2, 2010 at 11:59 am #

    As an addendum to my above comment: there is a pair of twins at my kids’ daycare who are behaviorally challenged. Their parents bring them in / take them out one at a time because they need to be held in a tight grip the entire time until they are securely belted into the car / deposited into their classrooms. (They are in separate classrooms because no teacher is willing to deal with both at the same time.) So now I suppose these kids’ parents should go to jail for taking measures to prevent their kids from dashing into the parking lot and getting run over. Nice job, cops.

  116. Uly December 2, 2010 at 1:24 pm #

    Audrey, when I was a little kid, I did see a small child whose shoelaces were trapped in the escalator. My father tugged her foot out of the shoe, and that was that. It was scary, and escalator accidents are more common than you think (no, really) – but that’s the only such incident I can recall in my life, and I live in a city full of escalators.

    My mother has one story too, of a kid who fell and got her hair stuck in the escalator, but again, my mother hit the emergency stop and the girl got disentangled fairly quickly. It was no doubt frightening and it could’ve ended badly, but it didn’t. The girl could have as easily fallen down the stairs.

    So you can tell the next old biddy that it’s a small concern. (I *will* say that this is why you shouldn’t drag your foot at the side of the escalator, because if your shoelace is going to get trapped, that’s where it’ll be. If you take an escalator with a brush on the side, that’s why – the brush is there to keep your foot from getting near that little gap between the steps and the side. This is a very inexpensive way to reduce the risk, such as it is, of riding an escalator – it’s something like $5 for one escalator.)

  117. Grimalkin December 2, 2010 at 9:27 pm #

    @SKL – Trying to manage a gaggle of small children through a parking lot (short people aren’t terribly visible to drivers, I might add) is far FAR more dangerous than leaving them for five minutes in a locked car, regardless of the temperature.

    I would urge you and other parents attending your daycare to write to your police station letting these cops know that the repercussions of trying to lead several small children through a parking lot can also be felt for a lifetime…

  118. bbbbarry December 3, 2010 at 5:37 am #

    Your trump card is the automobile.

    “If you won’t let your child do x, but *will* put your child in the car, then you are not as concerned for its safety as you think you are.”


  119. Sandmama December 3, 2010 at 11:48 pm #

    I’m laughing as I am reading the comments here because at 6:15a my neighbor rang my bell to inform me that my children were outside.
    I explained to her that we just got home from 9 timezones away so we’re up really early in the morning.
    Then she told me that it was dark out. I kind of laughed that off and said “well, they have flashlights…”.
    Then she told me that it was cold out. By now had the sense of where this was going so I just pointed out to her that they were wearing snowsuits (they were playing ‘space’) and asked if there was something she needed.
    She was pretty exasperated, I guess she expected that they had snuck out and I would bring them in immediately. She told me “ANYTHING could happen to them!”
    I did manage to stay polite and explained that while this was true, I wasn’t about to keep them from playing outside since it was far far more likely that NOTHING will happen to them and they seemed to be having fun.
    My neighbor informed me that she thinks I’m stupid, and that she hopes I’m right. Whereupon she left my doorstep.
    Part of me is feeling happy that I stayed calm during this exchange, but I’m also slightly scared she will get the authorities involved, causing me no end of a headache. Its such a sad commentary on our society that people believe little ones shouldnt be allowed to play in their own yards.

  120. BMS December 4, 2010 at 12:33 am #

    We sometimes get weird looks about our kids playing outside in the dark as well. But in the winter, when it gets dark at about 4:30, what else can we do? They get home from school at 3:30 or later. They need to blow off steam. As long as they are not playing in the street, why is this such a shocker?

  121. SKL December 4, 2010 at 1:52 am #

    Oh Sandmama, you deserve a prize for keeping your cool! I can’t believe that woman had the gall to call you “stupid” for letting your kids play outside! I’m hyperventilating all the way over here!

  122. CA Mama December 6, 2010 at 10:48 am #

    I haven’t read all the comments but wanted to respond with another flip on the “What If” game. Hopefully it’s not a repeat. A co-worker of mine (A MSW specializing in ECE) shared with me her strategy for raising two independent, now 20 something year olds. She encouraged them to explore the world and have experiences without her supervision. But, before they would leave the house, they would always play the “What if game.” Some of the scenarios weere serious. “What if you lost your keys?” “What if you tripped and hurt your leg?” Others were intended to inspire creativity and fun, “What if a spaceship landed and green aliens came out?” What if it started hailing jawbreakers?” It worked well for them and had some great conversations about how to stay safe while allowing the child to be the problem solver and independently come up with ways to make smart choices when away from mom/dad. It’s become such a tradition in their family that it’s common for the kids to ask the parents, “What if…” when they went out, too. Not only do they all have a healthy sense of humor as a result but they came up with some great answers to all those “What if” questions – And they never let the “What ifs” stop them from experiencing life.

  123. bequirox December 7, 2010 at 6:49 am #

    Oh! Oh! I have an even better one! My husband was nervous about me nursing our daughter, because “what if my breast pressing on her nose causes her to suffocate?!”

  124. Debra December 8, 2010 at 4:48 am #

    This made huge headlines up here as we are only twenty miles from North Pole, Alaska. Last year the USPS was going to cancel all deliveries of letters to Santa to North Pole, Alaska where they are answered because someone routing the letters in the east coast was recognized by another worker as being on a sex offender registry list. I attached a link to a quick summary of the incident that I dug up. I was glad to see calmer heads prevail and they reinstated the program.

  125. Beverly December 13, 2010 at 1:43 am #

    “what if” is related to obsessive thinking, which can be managed by an experienced OCD therapist. My most recent “what if” is related to flying on an airplane. “what if my child has a meltdown on the airplane?”

    My lovely spouse remarked, “that may happen. And if that happens, we’ll deal with it the best we can.” –that neutralized my “what if.”

    If my spouse hadn’t said that, I may have cancelled the plane trip. I know that line of reasoning may sound silly to some, however, that is the power of the beast and bully called “anxiety.”

  126. Nicolas December 13, 2010 at 9:13 pm #

    @ Beverly
    I strongly disagree with the notion that medicalizing failures in parenting will lead to self-reliant and independent children. What the kids need are self-reliant and independent parents, not reliant on psychiatrists and pills to guide their choices. Choices are not diseases.

  127. Jacqui January 13, 2011 at 1:49 am #

    Hi Lenore!

    I don’t want to hijack your blog with my own, but here are a few examples of mine from the first two weeks of school in 2011. Dealing with other adults’ “What if thinking” is driving me nuts!

    Week One:

    Week Two:

    Keep up the great writing!

  128. david p. February 2, 2011 at 7:18 am #

    a big one in my sphere is the fear of sleepovers. even though we all grew up going on them, now all of my peers seem certain that letting your children go on a sleepover is an invitation for drug use or molestation. it’s very difficult to wrangle the “what ifs” and i guess i’m not sure how to respond to it.


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