Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Through the Wardrobe: On the "Good Samaritan" Controversy from Another Perspective

This is a rambling sort of post that I feel like needs a disclaimer of some kind.  I've seen many articles on this subject and this isn't a criticism of the very real objections people have to the subject I'm writing about.  It's just sort of stream of consciousness about all the thoughts I had when reading those articles that aren't really appropriate for comboxes but that I just haven't been able to get out of my head.  

I've watched all the news articles pop up in my feed lately about moms being arrested for leaving their kids in the car for a few minutes, or being harassed by various authorities for letting their children walk to a park unattended.

It's odd to read the articles from my particular vantage point.  In a way it's fascinating because I cannot even begin to wrap my head around the idea of being able to let our kids who are in the same age range do the particular things named in those articles and so seeing what the vast majority of my friends feel is appropriate for a typically developing four or six or eight year old is amazing and odd to me.

I have no point of reference.  Reading the articles and comments sometimes feels like visiting a strange land where anything is possible.  I almost feel like I've stepped through the wardrobe into some magical land where animals talk and anything is possible,

Yesterday both girls were in therapy sessions (Sadie at OT and Mae at ABA) and I had an hour to burn and a wiggly little two year old.  After walking around the hospital we returned to the waiting room and Patch raced around pausing briefly at the various toys in the room.

One of his favorite things to do was to run up and put his little toes against the line where the carpet changed from hallway to waiting room so that he could look out down the hallway.  He would then turn around to look at me and giggle because he knew that he wasn't supposed to leave the waiting room, but he was so, so close to doing it and he thought that that was hysterically funny.

It was a little moment, but it was sort of mind boggling to me.  That was so far outside the range of what either the girls could do at two that each time he did it I marveled at the control he had to stop and not go racing away down the hall just to feel his little legs moving and the air moving past his face.

Last month we had a scare.  We'd gotten home from a walk.  Sadie was feeling sick and I was trying to think of any possible wheat cross contamination so I told her to go upstairs to the bathroom.

I did what I always do.  I walked the kids into the house.  I told Sadie I'd be right back.  And I walked outside and locked the door and grabbed the stroller and ran to our garage.  I took James with me this time because he was asleep and I didn't want him screaming in his little bed from me waking him up and then leaving him for a couple minutes.

Our garage is around the side of the house.  Putting the stroller away takes me approximately 90 seconds.  And it terrifies me.

I constantly debate exactly what I should do with the stroller when we get back from a walk.  Since we have lived here there has been a bullet in our front yard.  Paul's bike was stolen from our garage.  Someone set our leave bags on fire last month and this week I found (look away if you're squeamish) two condoms and an empty pack of cigarettes (not in their packages) on the grass as I was getting out of our car to walk to our front door.

All of this is to say that our neighborhood is not the sort of neighborhood where one can leave a stroller outside and expect that it will still be there in fifteen minutes or an hour.  When we walk I do not wear my engagement ring because I'd like to still have it when we finally move someplace else.

As a one car family that stroller is my ticket to getting out and not sitting around our house all day. It takes us to therapy sessions and doctor's appointments and the store and the park and museums and anyplace else that my feet can carry us.  I really, really would rather it not disappear to go where ever Paul's bike went.

So I ran to the garage and pulled James out of his seat quickly and then I heard screaming.  I paused for a split second, praying that it wasn't what I thought it was, that I'd imagined the sound, that it was just the ringing in my ears from eating too much salt.

Screaming is kind of like ringing, right?

 But then I heard it again, more clearly this time.  I took off running, clutching James against my chest.

I only half saw the flash of pink fly past me as I shot out my hand and caught her by the arm.

If she was standing here with me it meant that the door was open.  She'd undone the lock.  The door had to be open.  Where was Patch?

I took off running, with Maggie crying as she stumbled along behind me, still holding James.  I could still hear Sadie screaming from the doorway that her sister was gone.

 I came around the corner and Sadie said "Mommy, Maggie's gone! I stopped Patch but Maggie's gone!" as she clung to her little brother's hand in the doorway, panic written across her face.

"I got her!" I said and then tearfully thanked her about a hundred times for letting me know that she needed my help and that her sister had gotten out, that Maggie had finally figured out how to operate the hard to open lock on our front door.

I spent the last several weeks thinking about that moment and how things could have gone differently.  We live between two busy streets.  I think of the different paths she could have taken.  She took the only one that didn't lead onto a street within a few steps.  Her guardian angel must be working over time (although I guess we already knew that).

I guess the point of relaying that story was that the idea of doing any of the things parents are getting in trouble for is so foreign to me that it's hard to wrap my head around.  Not that I'm saying they're wrong (because that's not what I'm getting at at all).

At the same time as we spend ample parts of our day outside now that the weather is warming, I find myself thinking, more and more that this particular problem is one that doesn't affect all zip codes equally.

Little tiny kids walk past me unaccompanied every day.  They get off the bus and walk home.  They skip down the sidewalk by themselves and in groups.  One small boy stood and watched our kids playing in the backyard, and waved back when I waved at him before slowly trudging on down the street kicking up piles of leaves with each step from the sidewalk as he went.

Then there was the time during the great ice storm of two winters ago a tiny boy, accompanied by a boy only slighter bigger, threw glass bottles at cars on an icy road as we drove past, laughing as the glass exploded across the ice packed pavement.

The police are busy here dealing with crime, with too many calls and too few officers.  Sometimes I hear that a child has been shot.  I have never heard anyone complain that they were so much as warned that their child shouldn't be out and about town by themselves.

Our neighborhood does have a neighborhood watch.  Someone called 911 when our front yard had been set alight.  Another neighbor told us that our street used to be a place where ladies of the night waited to be picked up, but that they'd called the police over and over again and that it had gotten better.

I do worry about the small figures I see walking by though, because we don't live in an area where there are many mother's watching out their windows to make sure that everything is fine and some of those kids are awfully tiny.  If I check the sex offender data base(which I don't do often because it makes me feel panicky and not want to unlock our door to step outside)  it will tell me that there are over 60 offenders within a mile of my address.

Even if our kids were entirely typical I can't imagine sending them out there alone until they're much, much older.

Perhaps that's why, whenever I see these articles I feel a small ache in my chest that is twofold, firstly because it shows me how vastly different some of our "differences" (delays) really are and secondly because I'd really rather live someplace where those are the sort of problems that our neighbors are worried about, instead of worrying about whether that guy who's walking slowly by our house for the fiftieth time today carrying a brown paper bag, about to get into the nice car of a nervous looking college student I've never seen around before is a drug dealer.

I agree that these articles point to a great overreach, a breakdown in community when people would rather call the police than say something to a neighbor.

At the same time though each time I read them I almost want to point out what a blessing it is to live in an area where this is the particular brand of problem that people are highly concerned about.

I guess that deep down I'm hoping that before too terribly long we're living someplace where I have to worry more about what the neighbors think than about the criminals that came to my door repeatedly last spring trying to convince me that they were from our alarm company (and that they were later selling books) and that I should let them in.


  1. Sigh, I know your anxiety well. Especially with a child who cannot speak. We live in a suburban, nearly rural, subdivision yet here we are with frequent car break-ins and the occasional assault. A police officer stopped and told us our boys (who are typically developing and were on our property) were not allowed to be outside even if we were inside keeping an eye on them alone until they are 12!!!! I have to remind myself this is not the same world I grew up in, so more necessary precautions must be made, even if what happened to us was pretty out of line. The previous owners of the house behind us were convicted of dealing drugs and we highly suspect they were cooking and growing their product in their who knows what kind of people came in and out of there. It's such a fine line we walk as parents. I think of how one of the parents who the cops were called on were in Baltimore...and after recent events in Baltimore... Sorry, this is a rambling sort of comment. Basically, I get where you're coming from. I totally get it

  2. Wow... you have your hands full! What a scare with Maggie.... nothing like that to make your heart skip a beat.

    I had to laugh at the Patch story looking out the door. When my son was much younger (hmmm 2-3 years old) where we lived had an area of carpet right next to hardwood. Hubby was very proud of the hardwood and had a strict "no wood building blocks on the wood floor rule". One day I looked over and my son had one of those 2 feet long, hardwood building blocks in his hands, standing on end so that about a 2x3 or so inch area was touching the floor. The little goose had it setting so that it straddled the line exactly - half on carpet, half on wood. When I told him to move the block off the wood to the carpet, he slyly smiled and said "but mom, it IS on the carpet - see!" And indeed, it was touching carpet - so in his eyes he was the most clever child ever born and had tricked mommy, and was quite proud of himself.

  3. Over twenty years ago, when I was in kindergarten, my grandmother walked my cousin and me five blocks to and from school. But the next year, as six-year-olds, we walked to school without any adult supervision. We crossed five streets, only two had crossing guards. My children are homeschooled, but if they were not, I would not let them walk five blocks to and from school at six years old. Just thinking about it makes me cringe.
    I read several of the articles that you reference, and I think it is extreme that these moms were charged so severely. Would I have called the cops on them? Most likely, I would not have. More than likely, I would have quietly and from a distance kept watch until they returned.
    On the other hand, in the same situation, my decisions were different from the ones that they made. Whether they were sleeping or not, my toddlers were taken into the store, every time. Once my oldest son was twelve, I would sometimes send him in the store if we only needed a few things, or he stayed in the car with his younger siblings. But I never left it running.
    I guess my point is we all try to make the best decisions for our family, and those decisions look different. We are not all one size fits all, so our parenting decisions will be vastly different. That doesn't mean that our decisions are wrong or neglectful or overbearing or too cautious.
    We need to realize that while our parenting choices are different, they are made out of love and care for our children. I think once we align our thoughts in that way, we will be better able to recognize true neglect when we see it.
    Great post, Cammie. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on the subject. :)

  4. I think it is hard to have one rule for all kids and situations:
    1) There is a huge difference in an urban lower income neighborhood like yours and an upscale suburban or rural area. I live on a 1/4 mile long dead end gravel road in a very rural area. My neighbors are barely within sight and are very careful when my kids(7 and 10) are riding their bikes or playing outside. Only crime ever happened in my area in 15 years was the teenage boyfriend of a girl down the road hit our mailbox in the night.
    2) Kids vary hugely in their ability to handle independance. You said yourself your older girls are not typical. You know your kids and act accordingly. Even so, at 7, Sadie knew to grab Patch before he got out the door. My kids have always lived in the same place and have slowly learned to handle our large yard and the creek bordering it. They recognize what bugs and wildlife might be dangerous and know they may only play on the edge of the creek if I know they are down there(and check on them far more frequently) and only get in the water if I am supervising. They go together without me if they want to use the bathroom in Walmart and just find me again when they are done. Again, I live in small town/rural America. The chance of anything happening is tiny. Some of the cashiers go to church with us, and you never fail to meet people you know at the store. If we visit DC, they are hopeless at safely crossing a city street because it is not part of their everyday life and I watch them vigilently.
    3) Don't presume the tiny kids walking by are that young. Your kids are tall for their age. My 7 yr old is extremely short. She is the size of a short 5 yr old and at camp last Summer the other kids guessed her age as 4. At a recent scout event I saw my 10 yr old next to other 10 yr olds who looked like they were 15. She is not yet 5 ft and very much a kid, these girls were nearly 5" 3" and fully developed. If that 10yr old walked to the park alone, no one would ever question them.
    4) I, too, am sad that people want to call the police on others instead of knowing them and their situation. It seems like no one is given the benefit of the doubt and neighbors take pleasure in getting others in trouble. I once lived in an apartment where a neighbor called the police because I put my trash can on the curb an hour earlier than the law allowed. People like that clearly need a hobby.

  5. It's hard to balance wanting to teach kids independence, and not to fear the world, and keeping them safe. You don't want paranoia to rub off, nor do you want to see your kids hurt. The USis safer than ever, but there are pockets where risk is increased. I think kids need a little latitude, and to have experiences that aren't adult-supervised - but I also think it's hard to know if things are truly "risky" or play into the fear instilled in us by a 24 hour media cycle where we hear about every.bad.thing.ever. Obviously kids with special needs need special care.

  6. I hope you're able to move soon....your neighborhood sounds scary!

    I have read these articles with interest as well. While I would never call the police or CPS on someone who left a child in the car, I would also never leave a toddler or young child alone in a car while I ran into a store or did any errand where there was a factor outside my control that couse cause a tie-up (like waiting in a line). I would run in to drop off library books or drop off an already labeled package to UPS or something like that, but not something where I would be out of sight of the car and could potentially have to wait in line or could get held up.

    It's not that I woudl be worried about kidnappers necessarily, but I know that my particular kids (especially as toddlers) could easily wake up, get scared, start crying, freak out, etc.

    I think the line is more iffy with older kids (like the 6-10 range). I think that is where parental discretion should really come into play, because I do think an 8 year old could be perfectly to safe left in the car (or not...depending on the particular child and the situation). Not that I don't think a toddler or young child isn't "safe' in a car, but they are more likely to get scared or freak out, and while that may not bother some parents, it would bother me. And it would worry me that a toddler could not get out of the car and walk into the store to find a parent on their own volition, if they needed to, while an older kid could do that.

    And I definitely respect the rights of parents to make these decisions for themselves, and I would never call the police or anything. I did once see a little girl left alone in the car. She was about 3-4 and was crying and looked scared. I was going to wait, just to make sure someone came back, but her dad came pretty quickly so I didn't worry about it.

    And I definitely don't think it's bad for other people to be concerned if they see a young child alone in the car. After all, if you are just walking past, you have no idea if the kid has been in there for 2 minutes or 20 minutes or 40 minutes, yk And yes, you could wait and see if someone is coming back...but how long should you wait? And why is it your responsiblity? And sadly there are neglectful parents out there

    I don't know, but it's one of those situations where I can see both sides. As I said, I would not call the police unless a child has been in the car for quite some time, but I also don't think it's generally a good practice to leave a toddler in the car while you go shopping. Maybe I am just a slow shopper (well, I am and I'm indecisive and generally when I shop I take awhile and I know that for me, a "quick 5 minute trip" can easily turn into 20 minutes while I'm looking for something or can't find something or stuck in line or remember something I need, etc, etc., etc.

    1. I do have to say, for me, the decision whether or not to call the police on a small child left alone in a car seems to depend largely on location and season. I live in Texas, and almost every year there are news stories about kids dying from being left in the car during the summer. Down here, I would call the police in a heartbeat if I saw a little kid alone in a closed car in the summer, because the temp in the car can shoot past 120°F in a few minutes. During the other seasons, I wouldn't be nearly as concerned. Likewise if I lived in an area without summers as brutal as here. :)

  7. How scary for you! That guardian angel is certainly working overtime. And God bless sweet Sadie, Maggie's other guardian angel.

    I am pretty much in the "don't let them out of your sight until they're about 30" camp. There are simply too many dangers out there, and little ones don't have the judgment and skills to avoid them, generally speaking. I walked to school, decades ago, and we never thought anything about it. I couldn't imagine letting our daughters or grandchildren do the same.

  8. Things are very different these days than when we were younger. Back in the day, we knew our neighbors. We knew who the cranky old guy was and to avoid his yard. We saw people, we interacted with neighbors, we knew their stories. We knew when something was amiss, we knew when a family needed help. It is astounding to me that people call the police so quickly, just because they see a child alone. (Man, does it sound like I'm at least 80 years old?)
    As for the kids walking alone in your neighborhood, even their parents could be making the best choice. It's possible that it is safer on the street than inside their own homes.

  9. I watch my niece after school, the bus stop is at the corner, one house away. She's nine and although I have a straight line of sight to the bus, I must meet her at the bus door to escort her off the bus. This makes me extremely cranky because at 9 I think I should be able to trust her to walk the 20 yards to my house. Not all kids are so responsible, so this district policy becomes a burden.

    The thing I find scary is that while she's not allowed to leave the bus unescorted at 9 years of age, in just 4.5 very short years she can begin driving on a hardship permit in order to get a hardship license (age 14).

    My biggest worry with this push for 24/7 surveillance is it doesn't allow parents to do what is best for their family. You have the right to protect your kids, and it's wonderful you can stay home with them. My sister (single parent b/c of abandonment) needs the right to allow her daughter passage to and from school safely. It's so crazy that in protecting kids we're actually making their lives worse. Special needs kids need to have parental protection for as long as they need...sometimes well into "adulthood" yet we shame it. I cringe remembering the special needs young adult made to walk to work for the sake of "independence." He was not self-aware, he was easily distracted and not safe at all, but because once he passed the age of he was 18 he was supposed to magically be able to navigate the 1.5 miles to his job. (he could live alone and was a great employee, but an unfenced area was a hazard) Fortunately, co-workers stepped up and gave him rides when the pressure from many places for him to "be a man" made his parents stop providing rides. They were scared and bullied into it...and after knowing them for 2+years I know it was way more than as one person told them "an inability to let go". There's no more dangerous words and I am very hesitant when I now hear that..

    Sometimes, I hate the disparity...a 15yo with 3 younger siblings and absentee parent who is forced to grow up way too soon and a 21yo who isn't given the services to really be independent without endangering his health, but it is what is. I can only hope that people realize that each family should be given choices and that we should step in when we see danger, either way.


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