I want to live in a village. Not a literal one; I’m very fond of my home in New West and have no intention of moving anywhere else. What I mean is, I want to live in a place where we all have each other’s backs – and where everyone believes in the philosophy that it truly does take a village to raise a child.
Most days I actually believe – naively, perhaps - that the village still exists. Then I run across articles like this one and I really start to wonder. This piece came through my Facebook feed a few days ago. You may have seen the article yourself – a Salon.com piece about mothers who found themselves on the wrong side of the criminal justice system after leaving their children unattended in cars for quick errands. It’s a fascinating and well-written piece, and you really should check out the whole thing here.
For those who haven’t read it, a quick summation: In each of the stories traced in this article, a mother made the decision to leave a child unattended in a car while she dashed out to run a quick errand. In each case, the mother made that decision deliberately and thoughtfully and did everything she could to ensure her child was safe, happy and taken care of for the few minutes she would be gone.
In each case, she found herself on the receiving end of the criminal justice system when bystanders (a) shot the incident on their camera phones and (b) called the cops.
This story made my heart ache for the wrongness of it all. The wrongness of a world where bystanders think the appropriate response to an incident that concerns them is to shoot it on video and call the cops – not to simply step up and talk like a human being to the mom in question.
In my idealistic vision of community-as-village, that wouldn’t happen. If we saw something that concerned us, we’d respond from a place of compassion and concern – not from some bizarre moral high ground where bystanders armed with smartphones and a strong sense of apparent self-righteousness feel free to declare themselves judge, jury and executioner on someone else’s life.
Let’s be clear up front: I make a complete distinction between these cases and any case where you saw a child in clear and imminent danger - a child being physically abused, or a toddler wandering alone down the street with no responsible caregiver within a three-block radius. In that case, call the cops and know that you’ve done the right thing.
But in these cases I’m talking about – these I-just-need-a-quick-jug-of-milk-and-I-really-don’t-want-to-wake-my-cranky-kid cases – pause and think. If your genuine concern is the welfare of the child, then perhaps you’d like to reconsider before you subject a mother and kids to the criminal justice system. I’m no psychologist, but I’m going to hazard a guess that being exposed to police questioning, court cases and the consequences thereof are considerably more traumatic to a child than waiting alone in a car for two minutes.
(For the record, I have never left my daughter unattended in the car. But it’s not from any great sense of moral superiority, merely from the practical fact that my daughter will not sleep once the car engine turns off, and she would never consent to staying behind if she thought something more exciting – yes, buying milk is exciting in her world – was happening without her.)
So maybe you’re a parent who would never dream of leaving your child unattended in a car for two minutes. Maybe you have never once turned your back and lost sight of your child. Maybe you have never, ever let him or her out of your sight. More power to you for your superhuman parenting. But please, lay off the judgment on those who may parent differently. And if it concerns you enough to speak up, then do – but do it parent to parent, human being to human being. Wait by the car for the parent to return. Raise your concerns politely. Smile and explain you were just worried about the sleeping child and wanted to make sure s/he was okay.
Then go one better and say, “You seem to have your hands full today. Is there anything I can help you with?”
In my experience, empathy goes a lot farther than sanctimoniousness in building the kind of community I’d like to live in.
And you know what? I like to think I do live in that kind of community.
As a mom in New West, I have to say that I’ve never experienced anything less than support in the coming up on three years my daughter has been alive.
Wherever I go, I find we tend to get smiles. People say hello. They hold doors when I’m navigating toddler and stroller and shopping bags. They chat at the checkout at the grocery store, and they patiently wait while I attempt to shuffle a small being away from the doughnut display at Tim Hortons. (But I want the sprinkle one, Mommy! The sprinkle one!)
(While I’m on the subject, I have to give a special shout-out to the staff at the Royal Square Safeway – seriously, I have never met a place with so many cashiers who are willing to (a) engage my small being in conversation (b) wait with pleasant smiles while she insists upon helping Mommy press the green button and (c) have long conversations with her about her fashion choices that day. Catch her in the right mood, and she’ll happily show you her striped tights and sparkly shoes and purple dress and flowered skirt and fuchsia ponytail holders and ...)
I can honestly say I’ve never found myself on the receiving end of a judgmental stranger’s disdain. From those early breastfeeding-anywhere-I-can-find-a-corner days up to now, New West has always been a supportive community. I’ve survived my share of screaming baby on the bus moments and tired toddler meltdowns without once feeling like my fellow citizens were regarding me with anything other than empathy (and more than occasional amusement).
I like to hope that experience is common to all my fellow moms (and dads too) in New West. That we are the kind of community that rallies around in support of each other rather than passing judgment.
For the record, I make this pledge to my fellow parents: I’ve got your back.
If you have a sleeping kid in the car and you want to run in to the corner store to get milk, I’ll watch over her for you.
If you’re juggling too many shopping bags and a cranky toddler and you really, really want a latte but you can’t figure out how you’re going to get through the door at Starbucks, I’m there: I’ll hold the door or your bags or your kid, or, heck, I’ll get your latte.
You’re at the park playing with your two kids and one wants to keep swinging but the other one needs to go potty? No worries. I will push the one who wants to keep swinging.
And anything I happen to be carrying with me in my bag-of-toddler-stuff-that-goes-everywhere-we-go? It’s yours. Need Kleenex? Wipes? A towel to dry the rain off the swings or the slide? An extra granola bar to tide over your hungry kid till lunchtime? An extra pair of socks for small wet feet? Check. I don’t promise to be organized enough to remember everything I was supposed to bring, but hey, if I happen to have it, it’s yours.
It’s cool. We’re all in this together.
Let’s face it, parenting is a tumultuous enough journey at the best of times without us worrying about whether some nameless faceless stranger is out there passing judgment on us.
I’ll help raise your kid if you’ll help raise mine.
Isn’t that how a village works best?