I was prompted to write this post after reading on Lenore Skenazy's FreeRange Kids site.
Skenazy details a recent story of a mom who left her children alone in a her car for five minutes while she ran into a store. When she came out, there were policeman at her car and she is now being charged with child endangerment. There is, of course, a lot more to the story, but you can read about it over there.
The truth is, sometimes, I do it too. Only in extreme circumstances or in very safe environments. When I pick up my son from school, my 8 month old is usually asleep. She has a horribly running nose that is aggravated by cold, windy air, of which we have a lot.
Since I can pull right up to the school, I look the doors and leave her in it for the five minutes it takes me to claim my boy. The car is in my sight the whole time.
I know she’s safe, but I worry more that a nosy mom will see my baby and complain about it, to me or other moms. I don't want to be labelled as a bad mom, but sometimes it just makes more sense to do it this way.
I would never, however, leave them in front of, say, Target, while I do some shopping. That would be too risky, not so much of a bad person getting them but of the police showing up and charging me with neglect.
The very first time I left my kids in the car was an all-around disaster. As I was picking my son up from school, I got a call saying that my husband had been rushed to the hospital with a potential heart attack. My son hadn't eaten much lunch that day and was begging me to take him to Burger King, which was on the way. Since we didn't know how long we would be at the hospital, I obliged.
This antique Burger King in State College doesn't have a drive-through, believe it or not. And I was in too much of a hurry to drag in two kids, one sleeping in a carseat. So I parked in the space directly in front of the doors, locked the car from the outside, got the food, and was back out in about four minutes.
My son, who usually has to be prompted to pitch in and lend a hand, decided to unlock and open the door for me. From the inside. Which set off the car alarm. My minivan believed it was being stolen.
I thought the car probably wouldn’t start, but it fired right up when I put in the key. But the alarm still continued. We drove about a mile with the alarm blaring before it finally shut off. My son was upset and thought the police would come after us thinking we had stolen it--although really, when was the last time you saw a frazzled mom and two kids jack a Honda Odyssey while eating Burger King.
In any case, the police didn't come after us. In fact, no one really paid any attention to the crazies driving the screaming minivan. Which makes me wonder, why do we even have car alarms? They go off at inappropriate times and nobody checks on them anyway. They certainly won’t do any good even if there were kids inside who needed help, because those kids would likely hit the floor and cry from the loud noises.