Thursday, July 30, 2015
A George Will column on government enforcement of an overprotective new norm of parenting led me to a nightmarish account titled, "The Day I Left My Son in the Car", and recounting the years-long ordeal faced by a mother who made the following perfectly rational decision (And yes, I disagree with her mea culpa to the effect that she made a mistake, however small.):
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.For that decision, and because a creep in the parking lot (who never confronted her) videotaped the whole thing and informed the police, the mother faced criminal charges and had to go to court. I recommend reading the whole surreal account, especially if you are a parent, as a cautionary tale. Two things stand out to me, though, that weren't stressed. First is a dose of sanity about the risk of leaving a child in a car by Lenore Skenazy:
... She stopped at this point to emphasize, as she does in much of her analysis, how shockingly rare the abduction or injury of children in non-moving, non-overheated vehicles really is. For example, she insists that statistically speaking, it would likely take 750,000 years for a child left alone in a public space to be snatched by a stranger. "So there is some risk to leaving your kid in a car," she argues. "It might not be statistically meaningful but it's not nonexistent. The problem is," she goes on, "there's some risk to every choice you make. So, say you take the kid inside with you. There's some risk you'll both be hit by a crazy driver in the parking lot. There's some risk someone in the store will go on a shooting spree and shoot your kid. There's some risk he'll slip on the ice on the sidewalk outside the store and fracture his skull. There's some risk no matter what you do. So why is one choice illegal and one is OK? Could it be because the one choice inconveniences you, makes your life a little harder, makes parenting a little harder, gives you a little less time or energy than you would have otherwise had?"All I can add to the list of risks from here and elsewhere is a big one that few seem to explicitly note: That of intrusive government. The mother here ultimately paid with a hundred hours of "community" service in order to avoid a trial and the possible loss of her son. It is not the proper role of the government to empower worry-wart busybodies to make risk assessments on behalf of others.
Second, an attitude towards the mother expressed by many of her friends comforted her, but it disturbs me:
Who am I to judge was, to my surprise and relief, the most common response when I told people what had happened, though there were one or two exceptions. When I asked one very close, very dear friend if she thought I'd done something so terribly bad, she answered somberly,"Well, I think you made a bad decision." That was one extreme. At the other end of the spectrum, a friend who writes and blogs about parenting issues asserted that the whole thing was ridiculous. "Who in the world hasn't left their kid in the car for a minute while they run a quick errand. I've done it!" She grew quiet for a moment, and I thought maybe she was reconsidering this pronouncement. But when she spoke again it was to say, "You know who you need to talk to about this? You need to talk to Lenore Skenazy."Who am I to judge? There can be good and bad reasons for saying this. Admitting that one hasn't enough information is a good reason, but an unwillingness to make a decision and stick to it is perhaps the worst. Many people wrongly see this as a virtue, but it is not. Those who won't make a stand pave the way for every little dictator out there with a camera and nothing better to do to make their decisions for them. The fact that we have come so far down the road to totalitarianism suggests to met that too many people either do not know or do not care what is at stake.