Is Leaving Your Child in a Car a Crime?
Interesting article by a woman who ran to the store with her four-year-old to grab a pair of headphones for a long plane flight. When she got there, he threw a tantrum because he wanted to stay in the car. She describes what happened next:
I took a deep breath. I looked at the clock. For the next four or five seconds, I did what it sometimes seems I’ve been doing every minute of every day since having children, a constant, never-ending risk-benefit analysis. I noted that it was a mild, overcast, 50-degree day. I noted how close the parking spot was to the front door, and that there were a few other cars nearby. I visualized how quickly, unencumbered by a tantrumming 4-year-old, I would be, running into the store, grabbing a pair of child headphones. And then I did something I’d never done before. I left him. I told him I’d be right back. I cracked the windows and child-locked the doors and double-clicked my keys so that the car alarm was set. And then I left him in the car for about five minutes.
He didn’t die. He wasn’t kidnapped or assaulted or forgotten or dragged across state lines by a carjacker. When I returned to the car, he was still playing his game, smiling, or more likely smirking at having gotten what he wanted from his spineless mama. I tossed the headphones onto the passenger seat and put the keys in the ignition.
Over the past two years, I’ve replayed this moment in my mind again and again, approaching the car, getting in, looking in the rearview mirror, pulling away. I replay it, trying to uncover something in the recollection I hadn’t noticed at the time. A voice. A face. Sometimes I feel like I can hear something. A woman? A man? “Bye now.” Something. But I can’t be sure.
We flew home. My husband was waiting for us beside the baggage claim with this terrible look on his face. “Call your mom,” he said.
I called her, and she was crying. When she’d arrived home from driving us to the airport, there was a police car in her driveway.
It turns out that a citizen had happened upon her car with the child while she was in the store, and called the police. The mother ultimately was prosecuted for “contributing to the delinquency of a minor.” She reached a deal whereby her prosecution would be deferred, and if she completed 100 hours of community service and parenting classes, the case would be dismissed.
However, the episode has now made her son fearful of being left alone even while she goes out front to grab the paper off the lawn — not because he is scared of being hurt, but because he is scared that the police will come.
My wife used to wander the Kentucky countryside on her bicycle for hours. I would ride my bike down at the schoolyard. My friends and I would stalk neighborhoods at night, play on construction sites during the day, crawl through sewer drains and climb trees and do all sorts of things out on our own that parents would never allow these days.
It’s not an easy issue. There comes a time when a parents’ actions may be irresponsible. But doesn’t it seem that we have become far too overprotective compared to the way it was when we were children?