This was going around on FB the other day: Two parenting stories from the country that used to be America:
Hardened Criminal #1: Stay-at-home suburban mom lets kids ride scooters on her cul-de-sac. Pain-in-the-ass neighbor calls to complain. Idiot cops fail to tell neighbor to get bent, and instead arrest the mother for child endangerment: overnight in jail, orange jumpsuit, 18 hours behind bars and all.
Hardened Criminal #2: Working, lower-income mom gets daughter a laptop so the daughter has something to do while she waits in McDonald’s for mom to finish her shift. Laptop gets stolen. Daughter asks if she can play in a nearby park with fresh air and cool water rather than soaking up the atmosphere in the nation’s primary fat factory. Mom gets daughter a cell phone so she can check on her and then let’s her go play. Mom is arrested for child endangerment and daughter is given to social services.
I passed it on, too, mostly because I liked the following comment from Tom McDonald, who put together the post:
People are acting like every child is assigned a stalking kidnapping pedophile at birth who follows him around waiting to pounce.
And people are letting their desire to feel comfortable trump parents' right to make reasonable judgment calls.
Once a meeting my nearly-12yo was at, at church, was running late, so his dad and I gave him a cell phone and went to run a quick errand 1/4 mile away, telling him to call us when he was done and wait outside in front of the church -- in broad daylight, I might add, on a suburban street with plenty of foot and vehicular traffic.
My cell phone rang all right -- from one of the other parents, who called me to let me know that he had arranged for someone to babysit my 12-year-old inside the youth group room because he just didn't Feel Right about letting my son call us on the phone from outside the church to say "I'm done with training, come pick me up now."
This annoyed me on several levels, some of which you will no doubt be able to come up with on your own. I found myself really at a loss on the phone to come up with the right language for this situation, which was not, I believe, "Thank you for your concern." In retrospect, I wish I had handed the phone to my husband and let him deal with it.
I just didn't know what to say that would help.
Isn't this what we are all most afraid of, the thing that keeps us from letting our kids develop responsibility and self-reliance? Not the nasty kidnapper, but the nosy neighbor? The person who "just couldn't forgive herself if something happened and she didn't say something?" The person who then gets to go about her day thinking of herself as a swooping rescuer, and doesn't have to live with the long-term consequences?
Jamie, however, says: "Push back." I quote her in toto:
You guys, things have gone too far. I just saw this link on Facebook, followed by a bunch of worried comments. It is time for a Sane Mom Revolution, in which we decline to take any more of this crap.
In case you have forgotten or are new around here, I was the subject of a full-on investigation by CPS. I can attest that it is NO FUN to be asked how many of your children tested positive for drugs at birth. (I have wondered, in the years since I wrote those posts, if I would have been less agitated in a non-pregnant state.) I can also attest that my husband's words were true: we are not living in a Kafka novel. I can attest that you can have a calm conversation with a CPS representative about why you let your kids out of your sight now and again, and you can be persuasive. Declaration: unfounded.
You can have an awkward conversation with a neighbor who thinks your kid shouldn't walk around the block, and it can go smoothly. You can talk to the cops when the cranky neighbor calls them about a lemonade stand, and the cops will probably be reasonable.
We can't live in fear that our kids will be kidnapped, and we can't live in fear of the people living in fear that our kids will be kidnapped either. CPS and the police need to hear from American parents: we are not going to expose our kids to unnecessary risks. In keeping with this commitment we are going to stop driving them all over the damn place because that's the thing most likely to kill them. Let 'em walk -- save a life!
There's a lot at stake here. Independence and good judgment do not suddenly descend upon 18-year-olds who have spent their lives being driven about from place to place -- kept safe from mustachio-twirling strangers, perhaps, but not from their own stupidity.
I'd wager that the number of children whose parents are investigated by CPS because they let their kids play outside is preeeeeeetttty small, even if it seems that we all know someone who know someone that happened to, including witty and popular Catholic mom-bloggers.
Are we letting ourselves be ruled by that fear? It's a poor substitute for being ruled by the fear of kidnappers or pedophiles or dingoes, you know.
The truth is, I have been. There may not be that many CPS investigations, but there are a lot of nosy people who are worried about their sensitive ability to forgive themselves, it seems.
This past Saturday I was taking a walk with my four-year-old. I had the baby in a carrier on my back. We were on our way home, chatting happily, and as we approached the last crosswalk before our block, the four-year-old said to me: "Mama, I want to try walking next to you without holding your hand."
"Okay, we can practice that," I said as we got closer. "Remember to walk right next to me the whole time, just exactly as if you were holding my hand, because the cars can see taller people like me better. And don't go until we both see the little walking man light up."
He hopped with excitement and let go of my hand as we waited on the corner, and when the little walking man lit up, we started across the street. He took carefully timed steps to stay close, and I touched him lightly on the top of his head, pleased at his idea.
Just as we stepped up onto the opposite curb a big SUV slowed down abruptly next to us and a bit in front, and the driver shouted something that I didn't quite hear. Was he asking for directions? I tilted my head inquiringly -- he shouted again -- I walked forward with my sons and said "I'm sorry?"
"You holding that boy's hand?" demanded the man behind the wheel.
Oh, I get it. "It's okay!" I shouted back cheerfully. "We're practicing!"
"All right then!" shouted the driver, and accelerated away.
I stood there for an instant watching him go, wondering what had come into my head to say We're practicing! and also wondering what about those two words, or about us or about me, had given that neighborhood stranger the message that he was looking for, to feel that he had seen enough to stop shouting at me. I felt a tug at my hand: my son was grinning from ear to ear and asking, "Mama, did you see me? Did you see I stayed close to you?"
"I saw it all right," I said, and we went home. Later at dinner he bragged to his dad about what he had done, proud and happy.
It may not make all the specters fly away, but it's a start.