Home Alone

If you are a parent on social media, it would be hard to avoid seeing posts on this story, about a mother who endured two years of the judicial system after she left her 4-year-old in a car on a cool day for five minutes.

My two cents on this story is that if I had seen this scenario going down, I would’ve called the cops on the creeper taking pictures (or video) of this kid in the car. That’s the person I would’ve confronted. Maybe (in the absence of the creeper), I would’ve hung out in my own car for a bit to see if someone returned to the car in a short time.

I suppose if more than 15-20 minutes passed, I would’ve been concerned.

Now, another writer who participates in a podcast I like (Mom and Dad are Fighting, on Slate) found himself in a similar situation, but with more extenuating circumstances. Or maybe less extenuating. First, there were two children, and they were older (he estimates their ages as 12 and 9). However, it was a warm day with outside temperatures nearing the mid-70s. The author hung out for a bit, then left water outside of the car. He saw the mother return to the car as he was pulling away.

This story gave me a little more pause. I don’t know that I would’ve gone straight for 911, but I find it much more worrisome that it was hot outside.

I leave Kate and Flora in the car sometimes, usually when I am running into pick up M from daycare. I am unlikely to do it when it is too hot. I don’t like to leave to car running, but I have (putting the emergency brake on before I get out of the car), especially when it’s been very cold. And I don’t leave Kate alone in the car. I still judge her on the young side for that. Plus she is more impulsive than Flora.

Furthermore, sometimes, when I run an errand that I know will take me an hour or less, I leave Flora “in charge” at home. We have explicit rules about it; she and Kate know how to call 9-1-1; and my in-laws live right next door, about 10 yards away, door-to-door.

The worst that has happened is that I come home to squabbling siblings. “No one listens to me,” Flora tells me. I explain that I didn’t leave her to boss her sibs around, I left her to hold down the fort. She gets a little power buzz sometimes. We’re working it out.

I trust my children. That is first. Second is the fact that the world, while it has lots of risks, is not full of danger around every corner. We buy into the media drama around the Very Bad Things that can happen to children. And yet: we send them to school, we put them in cars to drive them places, we let them swim, we feed them food. Heck, I don’t fuss too much when my children decide to try dirt. (They usually don’t like it.)

Our children are precious. They are (to us parents, in any case) unique and special and the best thing that we do. Of course, we want them to be safe. We want to protect them. But we also have to teach them how to assess risk and let them take risks. We have to let them know that we trust them to “hold down the fort” for a short time.

It seems that our children are more at risk from well-meaning strangers these days than from our decisions as parents. To those well-meaning strangers: butt out. Unless it is clear-cut neglect or danger, do not call 9-1-1. If you are unsure, hang around and wait for a parent to appear.

Oh, and children playing outside alone? Biking to a park? Walking to school? THOSE CHILDREN ARE NOT IN DANGER OR BEING NEGLECTED. Close your curtains and mind your own damn business.

These children are not in danger.
These children are not in danger.


What would lead you to call the police on a parent? Any of the stories here? Why or why not?