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August 01, 2008

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Geez, that is really weird. What a crazy nut that lady was being!
I once found a small child 3 or 4 years old walking up the city street outside of my then apartment. She said she was looking for her mother at the store, so I calmly walked beside her until we came across the woman. Clearly, she was negligent in leaving such a small child home alone. She, the mom, looked at me like I was the criminal. I did not involve the police, however.
On another note of negligence, my 17 month old son slipped out the door a few days ago while I was ordering a pizza. The next thing I know I'm running, no, sprinting across the yard and ACROSS THE ROAD to where he was toddling along. I can barely even think about this incident, and intend to bury it neatly in some fold of my brain, forever. I will do better, I swear to it, and I do not need the police involved to drive the lesson home.

A couple of months ago I heard a small noise on my front porch at 7 AM. Opening the door to investigate, I found a three-year-old boy with Down syndrome alone on my porch. He seemed okay; he was looking around with interest at the stuff on my porch, barrelling around like any three-year-old. I'd never seen him before. I said in surprise, "Hello, who are you?" and then, based on a guess that turned out later to be correct, "Hola, como estas?" but he didn't say anything.

I thought maybe he came from the duplex next door, so I sent my husband to investigate. The back door was open and he called inside but nobody answered. We were just wondering what our next step should be when out of the duplex came running a terrified-looking nine-year-old girl. She saw us, saw the little boy, called out to him in Spanish; he went to her with a big grin. "Is this your little brother?" I asked. "Yes, yes," she said, hurrying him inside. "Where's your mama?" I asked. "Sleeping," she said, and disappeared in.

My husband and I decided not to call any authorities, based on this one incident -- a child escaping from the rental property you've just moved into, while you are sleeping, is one of those things that could happen to anybody -- but I made a point to go over next door when the parents were sitting in the back yard with the children, introduce myself and my kids, and mention the incident (just to make sure the girl hadn't kept it a secret from her mom -- if the 3yo can get out of the house, the mom needs to know it). Since then the girl has become a frequent playmate of my sons and has been at my house a lot. Her grandpa is usually at home while her parents are working.

There's a lot of variation in parental supervision, and a lot of it is culturally dependent. I don't think the suburbs would look too kindly on that family, to be honest. But I take the step of calling the police on a family extremely seriously -- it's not the sort of thing you do "just to be safe," because I truly believe it can create a great deal of trouble, maybe more than we know.

I think the choices about how to best "protect" your kids from what we used to call "stranger danger" definitely change from place to place. I live in a safe suburb, with the elementary school less than a mile away, and the middle school about 1+ miles away. Kids from my neighborhood walk to and from both the elementary and middle schools unaccompanied all the time (except during the terribly cold winter weather, of course).

When I was a kid, I lived in a small town (maybe 4 square miles?) and biked and walked everywhere. I never thought about whether I would be abducted there, and neither did my parents. Heck, we used to leave the keys in our cars and the doors open even when we weren't home... it was sort of rural and we knew our neighbors. We never knocked when we went to my grandparents' house on the weekends.

These are, of course, anecdotal evidence. But the point is that yes, your kid could conceivably be abducted from your very yard, but it's probably not going to happen. We'll most likely stay in this neighborhood at least until our kids are nearing high school because the schools are good. I don't expect to have any qualms about letting my kids walk to and from their elementary and middle schools. I will teach them the same things my parents taught me, and I will trust that they will be responsible kids.

Some people are way overprotective of their kids, and it shows. Erik's cousin had a baby about three years ago and she does not let that child do anything that could be construed as "dangerous". Consequently, he is terribly scared of everything, shy of everyone, and demanding and spoiled. He won't have any siblings (by their choice) and I shudder to think of the rude awakening he will have once he gets out in the "real world".

And yes -- that woman was very strange. I would have offered to walk the kid home if he was scared. I would not have called the police.

It occurred to me that Joe was kidnapped, after a fashion, on this particular trip. Didn't you say the woman grabbed him and prevented him from going home?

If the police do it to a suspect, it's called "detaining" or "arresting" him. If a stranger does it to a small child without his parents' knowledge, what would you call it?

First of all, you are a better judge of what he is capable of than that woman or the police officer. Now of course the officer is concerned with keeping Joe safe, but the woman overstepped her bounds. I hope that if Joe is approached in such a forceful manner again in the future, he retains his self-confidence to say, "No, I want to go home," and that he feels empowered to stand up for himself when she won't take no for an answer - even if it means yelling, "NO! YOU ARE NOT MY MOTHER! I WANT TO GO HOME!" loud enough for the other neighbors hear him.

And, on a separate note, I must thank you for sticking to your threat of making him walk home. My mother always made/makes unrealistic threats of consequences that either can never be lived up to ("I'll strangle you") or that she had no intention of carrying out ("you're grounded forever"). To this day, I try not to make threats I won't carry out and I try to make good on the consequences I offer. It just seems more honest.

It occurred to me that Joe was kidnapped, after a fashion, on this particular trip

I agree. I didn't find about that part of it until later -- it was just the grownups talking at the time. I am considering calling the officer who responded and asking him to append a mention of her treatment of Joe to his report. On the one hand, I get it that she's concerned to see a kid get dropped off unceremoniously and watch him go streaking across the street. But I am astounded at her idea of a reasonable response to the situation.

Thanks for the supportive responses, everybody. I posted this and then thought, "I am going to be pilloried for this."

Wow... this is scary -- I mean, not what you did, of course, which is perfectly reasonable, and a good example of a parent who's consistent with discipline. But this neighbor, wow! very scary! Did you get around to calling the officer to report on the woman's behavior? I wish you'd have talked to Joe about this sooner. Wow...

And now, some of my reaction to this story from my point of view as a foreigner. I sometimes think that there's way too much control of people's lives here in the U.S., particularly as it concerns children. I understand that real abuse needs to be punished and avoided if possible, but sometimes it's just too much! I don't even know how to express it... OK, I have to go read the most recent post (I went back to know what the problem was).

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