Thursday, October 1, 2009

Not worth the risk

I don't consider myself an overprotective parent, I really don't. But maybe all parents feel that way, even the ones I might want to encourage to take the proverbial Chill Pill. I feel that the precautionary measures I take to keep Madelyn safe stem only from common sense. Crazy things happen in this world, like car accidents, kidnappings, and child abuse. Maybe the chances of tragedies the likes of these befalling our family are slim, but I would bet that every last victim of such events felt that the odds were in their favor too. So I don't see any reason to invite greater risk by doing (or not doing) things that only increase our odds of being that unsuspecting family crying on the 10 o'clock news.
Therefore, when I noticed after a 30-minute drive over winding roads in the dark that an acquaintance chose not to buckle the belt latch on Baby's carseat harness in order to avoid disturbing her swaddling blanket, my eyes grew wide with fearful incredulity. Does he realize that the plastic chest clip alone is not designed to save an infant's life in a crash?
And when a toddler I know is allowed to play alone outside on the street, my muscles tense to consider the neighborhood visitor glancing down at the address of his destination scrawled on a scrap on the passenger side just as the little one steps off the sidewalk to retrieve his errant toy fire truck.
Why take these risks?
The other day at a beautiful park on the east side of Portland, I witnessed another situation that left me similarly dumbfounded. Madelyn was sweet enough to pose for my camera while I nonchalantly photographed the curly-headed tot beside her. I realize it isn't clear in the photo, but the girl is not in fact swinging. She is waiting motionless in the seat for her mother to return from getting a drink of water from their bike trailer. Their bike trailer which was located around the opposite side of the bluish building in the background, completely out of sight. I was shocked that she left her little girl--age 4 is my guess--alone this way at the park.
Now. Is my disbelief misguided? Do you think I am overreacting to say that I would never willfully allow my child out of my sight in a crowded place? Even for two minutes?
Child abductions may be rare in the grand scheme of things, but again, why make it so easy? I hear too many scary-but-true stories to feel comfortable with the above scenario. Jaycee Dugard, recently discovered 18 years after being kidnapped, was scooped up into a car at her bus stop while her father watched helplessly from two blocks away. Another report that I don't like yet don't want to forget involves an older child wandering away from her mother to the next aisle of a retail store and being coerced into a dark hallway by a trustworthy-looking store employee. My husband shares news stories like these with me as a reminder to be vigilantly aware of our surroundings and our daughter's whereabouts.
And then there is the possibility that the child might try to clamber out of the swing on her own and end up flipping over onto her head, severing her spine.
The mother at this park may have felt comfortable knowing there was another mom nearby (me). Maybe she thought crowded surroundings offer protection. Maybe this lady was actually the child's babysitter, not mother, and lacked the instinct to protect. All dumb excuses. But of course nothing happened to the child. And if a dozen parents left their child alone on that swing every day for a year, they would very possibly all be safe. I am grateful for that. But still.
The other issue here is that the reason Mother left Daughter alone relates to a parenting struggle. A few minutes before snapping the picture above, I was silently amused at the scene: two moms halfheartedly pushing these swings, over and over and over ad nauseum. Two girls enjoying the wind on their faces in the shade. Two moms suppressing yawns and intermittently flipping open the cell phone clock. The swings are Madelyn's favorite! And they will be mine as well, as soon as her enjoyment of them is not entirely dependent on my unyielding assistance. It just gets a little old after 20 minutes.
Anyway, this other mom gets "thirsty" (bored, is what I figured, and could relate to). She casually asks Girl to come with her to get a drink. Girl refuses, not very casually. Mom tells Girl that she will push her five more times and then they will go get a drink. After what seemed like more than five pushes (but I was trying not to eavesdrop more than was impossible to avoid due to our proximity), Mom stopped the swing but Girl whined and refused to dismount. The next thing I noticed was Mom walking away. And away. And then disappear behind the building. Girl dangled in the breeze having gotten her precious way.
There are times when I might be tempted to do what this woman did. I hate causing a scene, and I know when one is gathering. Rather than resort to yanking my daughter from her stronghold on the swing and dragging her screaming to my water bottle (which might be appealing when I'm frustrated), I would talk to her until we reached an equitable agreement such as, "We need to take a break now and get a drink. And then we will both come back and swing some more!" If you think that sounds too good to be true, then I feel proud of the positive communication I can achieve with my 2.75-year-old, because we have talks like that all the time, and they are most often successful. But there is no way I'd leave her there, no matter how parched I might be.
So I've got to know what you think. Am I a paranoid lunatic? Ludicrously judgmental? Or reasonably cautious? Please tell me.


Bridget said...

Hmmmmm. I can see both sides on this one. I'm guessing that Other Mom assumed (and rightly so) that you would watch over her child in her absence. I'm not saying she was right to do so. But I doubt she retrieved her water bottle thinking that kidnapping was even a remote possibility.

I think I'm a little paranoid, like you, but as Miriam has gotten older I've realized that her freedoms grow, too.

Have you read Protecting the Gift? If not, you should.

Anyway, I think the far more pressing question is, what the sam hill is a 4-year-old doing in a baby swing?

Bridget said...

I meant "rightly so" in the sense that you DID watch over her kid.

Jennifer said...

I'm with you. Unless there is another trusted adult to watch my child (meaning someone I know), I wouldn't let her out of my sight in public. There have been two times where she has disappeared on me momentarily (due to my negligence) and I almost had a heart attach. You're right. It just isn't worth it.

Amber said...

I'm also with you, Kristen. I get a knot in the pit of my stomach when I see someone leave a child unattended. I've seen so much of this lately that I had begun to think my paranoia was leftover from my time in the New York City - that maybe out here in Portland people are just more relaxed. I'm happy to hear that others feel the same way.

Bridget said...

Maybe I should clarify. I myself would only leave in that situation if I knew the other parent remaining behind AND it was someone I trusted.

Kristen said...

Leaving my child under the care of a trusted friend is completely acceptable and I don't consider that as being "out of my sight" as described. In case it wasn't clear in my post, I did not know this other mother at all. We happened to be using adjacent swings and that is the extent of our connection.

There were 4 baby swings on this structure, and then across the park a good 30 yards or so was another structure with 4 "big kid" swings. So I don't know.


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