My Chloe has always been a climber. When she was born, we lived in a two story apartment. I'm the oldest of 7, so I was somewhat familiar with the ways and means of children, and knew that despite my best efforts to keep her from the stairs, chances were that there would come a time when she would find her way to the stairs and possibly hurt herself. Rather than wait for the inevitable, I taught her how to climb both up and down the stairs. By the time she was 8 months old, she could easily scamper both ways, and never got hurt on the stairs.
She also loved to climb on the playground. I loved to watch her thought process. She would start with the easiest way to get onto the equipment--usually the stairs--and climb on up. Once she had that mastered, she would try the next hardest thing--maybe a ladder, then a chain ladder. I guarantee she was the smallest child climbing up the rock climbing wall, but she did it. I initially would stand close to the play structure, hovering in case she fell or misjudged her abilities. I'll admit, my heart nearly stopped one time when I saw her long, skinny leg extend out from a high opening. But then she checked herself, pulled the leg back in, and decided to come down a different way. She learned to trust herself, and I learned to trust her. There were two times when she got hurt on the playground, and both times were when someone else intervened because they thought she couldn't do it herself.
Today when dropping Addie off at preschool, I left Maggie and Rosie in the car, as I often, not always, do. As usual, my car was never out of my sight, and I was less than 30 feet away the whole time. The weather was mild--there was no danger of them overheating. I intended to say goodbye to Addie, hug her before she walked inside and then go back to my car. This routine takes less than a minute. But today, her teacher pulled me aside to tell me several of the other parents had voiced their concerns that I was leaving my children in the car. If I didn't stop doing it, they were threatening to call the police, and potentially Child Protective Services. The teacher was kind, apologetic, and offered to help me bring the other girls with me when I brought Addie in. But that really wasn't the point.
I am more than capable (most days) of bringing my children with me when I drop Addie off. I just don't see why I should have to. I'm not going to quote statistics. Here's a link with plenty for you. Or check out Free Range Kids. There's plenty of information there about how safe the world actually is. Yes, I realize that something could happen to my girls while I am away. But it probably won't. The other side of the coin is that something could happen to them while they are with me. In making the decision to leave my children in the car, I weighed my options. And I picked what for me felt like the best choice.
Sometimes kids will get hurt. Sometimes bad things will happen to them. We cannot keep our children safe from everything. Nor should we. I'm not advocating risky or abusive behavior, but I choose to believe that the world is basically a safe, good place. That people generally are good, and most parents have the best intentions for their children. In posting my frustration about this situation on facebook, several of my friends commented that they know I am a good mom and they wouldn't worry about my kids. Isn't that true for most parents? Aren't most of the mothers you know doing the best they can? And why can't the best choice for them be different from the best choice for you? It's not hard to understand why there is such a problem with bullying in our schools when you consider the tactics some parents use to exert their influence over others. How many of you out there have changed the way you do something as a parent, even though your original choice felt right to you, because you felt pressure from other parents?
I'll admit, I've ended my subscriptions to certain parenting magazines because I didn't want to buy into the idea I was never going to be a good enough mother if I wasn't constantly following my children around, policing their every movement, not daring to even fall asleep lest they somehow endanger themselves while my eyes were closed. More importantly, I just don't think that's an effective way to parent. We're here to protect our children, sure, but we also have a responsibility to teach them and guide them and let them have their own experiences so they can grow into capable, functioning adults. I don't want to have four adult children still living with me, wanting me to cook for them, and clean for them, and fix all their problems for them because they never learned how. I don't want my children to be afraid of every little thing because our culture of fearmongering has taught them that they should be.
I can't help but think of this exchange from Finding Nemo (which I did let my children watch, but not too often, because I don't want to damage their little brains with excessive screen time).
- Dory: There, there. It's all right. It'll be OK.
- Marlin: No. No, it won't.
- Dory: Sure, it will. You'll see.
- Marlin: No. I promised him I'd never let anything happen to him.
- Dory: Huh. That's a funny thing to promise.
- Marlin: What?
- Dory: Well, you can't never let anything happen to him. Then, nothing would ever happen to him. (Marlin stares at her.) Not much fun for little Harpo.
Not much fun for any kid. Obviously I had a lot more to rant about than just whether or not I choose to leave my kids in the car. As far as that situation goes, I'm not sure what to do. I looked up the law, and it states.
It is illegal to leave a child six years of age or younger unattended in a motor vehicle when:
- There are conditions that present a significant risk to the child's health or safety. Example: Leaving a child in a closed car on a very hot day.
- The vehicle's engine is running, the keys are in the ignition, or both. Children can start or move the car causing injuries and/or deaths to themselves or others. An opportunist may (and many have) seize the moment to jump in and drive your car away, child still strapped in.
Well, I wasn't in violation of either of those rules, though part of me does want to see how long it would take "an opportunist" to hop in my car and drive away with it. I went ahead and called the police station to find out just what they would do if they were called on my behalf. The officer I spoke to was very noncommittal. He said they might have to charge me with negligence because Something Could Happen! This despite the fact that the law itself says it is only illegal if there are conditions that pose a significant risk to the child's health or safety.
I want to stand up for my beliefs, and do my part to end the atmosphere of fear our children are growing up in, but I have to admit, I am afraid. When even the police officers are hesitant to enforce the actual law, possibly because of pressure from parental bullies, I get scared. I don't want to, God forbid, lose my children over standing up for my principles. I'm more scared over what will happen to them when other people step in that I am over what could happen to them if I leave them in the car.
What would you do?