The news nearly every day seems to have a story about a child left unattended either in a car, in front of an apartment building, in a store parking lot or even in a neighborhood park. At first blush, we say “How terrible! These awful parents!” Usually, we hear it because a parent has been arrested. “Well deserved,” it is said. “Those awful bad people. Lock ’em up!”
Well, I say how lucky are we that our parents, and even I as a parent, didn’t have to meet today’s requirements. Now, let’s not start shouting about those poor little darlings being so poorly parented. Granted, there are some bad cases, and thanks to 24-hour news coverage, hardly one happens that we don’t hear about. And we do need laws to prosecute those deranged parents who deliberately attempt to harm their children.
But I would like to look at it from a different perspective.
By today’s legal requirements, the parents we grew up with all would have arrest records! When I was a child, my mother had no clue where we were at 9:30 p.m. on a summer night – nor did my friend’s parents know where they were. The parents were shelling peas on the porch or inside ironing clothes in the coolness of the evening while we ran the streets and played. Heading home alone, this 9-year-old girl didn’t attract a call to the police for investigation as to why I was outside by myself. And I got home safe and sound.
MY HUSBAND’S PARENTS certainly would have been arrested, too. He and his three brothers left on bicycles early in the morning riding all over town by houses inhabited by people they didn’t know, and his parents had no one watching them, either. They went to the park all by themselves, sometimes as a group, but often just one alone for hours shooting baskets. No one seemed to need to call the police to protect them. They just showed back up when the hunger pangs hit – only to take off again for parts unknown.
I am so grateful no one felt the need to flag down the Florida Highway Patrol as I cradled a worn-out toddler in my arms on Interstate 95 as we returned from taking grandchildren to Walt Disney World. Had an officer done so, Bob and I would be getting out of jail just about now, I guess.
My heart goes out to these parents here locally who have been arrested for offenses regarding children left alone. In every case, at a different time in history they would have been seen as parents simply doing the best they could under difficult circumstances. The mother facing failure in a college class and a loss of means to make a living was accused of leaving a baby in the car for 20 minutes with windows open because she had no one with whom to leave the baby.
Well, our parents left us in hot cars while they went in grocery stores, and we whined and carried on something awful, but our parents weren’t arrested. We grew up riding in the back windshields of cars (if we could get there first) with all the windows down, or we were standing between the openings in front seats leaning over to see better! Nobody called the police then, but today? Lord, help you if you dare allow such.
And who in the world except weirdos wore bike helmets? Amazing, isn’t it? And there are millions of us here to tell about it. My painter recently was terrified he might get a $500 ticket because he couldn’t find an infant car seat when he went to pick up his grandchild at day care. He cleverly put the toddler in the floor and drove the few blocks home. We grew up never even seeing a car seat! Well, I did get baskets to bring my babies home from the hospital. But, as I recall, it was because the baskets were so cute.
AND THE 12- AND 15-year-old girls left in the car at a shopping center while their mother was inside working? Come on! Twelve- and 15-year-old girls are baby-sitting age, for heaven’s sake. When police are called, they have little option but to find and arrest the parent. After all, it’s the law. Scary to think how many decisions our parents had to make that, by today’s standards, would have locked them up.
And there’s the dad who left his children in the car for a few minutes in an apartment parking lot. An observer calls the police, and he gets rewarded for his interference! Why didn’t he just sit on the curb and watch out for the children until the dad returned, if he was all that concerned?
But, I guess for me, the one that takes the cake is the do-gooder who called police when she saw a young girl playing in a park alone. If she was all that concerned, why didn’t she just stay with the girl until her mother came? Or why didn’t she ask the girl to call the girl’s mother’s work to see how she could help the mother? No! Miss Let-Me-Tell-On-Her calls law enforcement. Now police have few options, and what seems like a mother who made a pretty reasonable decision in a difficult situation is locked up and incurs awful legal expenses; is separated from her child; and put through pure agony.
Thankfully, that story was picked up online, and a stranger from New Hampshire is helping the mother financially. I should have done it myself. Shame on me!
What’s my point? We could just stop and think: “There but for the grace of God go I.”
(The writer – a lifelong resident of
Augusta – was first lady of Augusta to former Mayor Bob Young, and is a licensed real estate broker.)