Just so you know how much I suckPosted: July 10, 2012
There has been an Intense Conversation going on on one of the parent listservs I subscribe to. It’s not even the super-crazy-parent listserv that I’m pretty sure I subscribe to just to get some really out-there ideas (you know, like hanging a sheet in a corner of the dining room and making that corner your child’s bedroom so you can have space for a grand piano in the actual bedroom?), it’s the normal-parent listserv.
Long story shortish, this woman wrote in a tone of great disgust about how she had witnessed a BABY LEFT ALONE IN THE CAR. For TWO MINUTES. While his or her uncaring father procured a CUP OF COFFEE. So distressed was she by this child sleeping in a car unsupervised at a suburban Dunkin Donuts on a 60-degree morning that she waited to see if someone would return (he did), gave him a severe dressing-down (which he apparently responded to by telling her to mind her own business), calling the police (who told her basically that it wasn’t illegal and they wouldn’t look into it), and the coup de grace — posting the offending parent’s license plate number and a full description of him on a listserv with hundreds, maybe thousands of subscribers.
What followed was a judgement firestorm of epic proportions. He was a terrible father because one person was left in a car as a toddler and deactivated the emergency brake, causing the car to roll backwards into the guardrail. He was also a terrible father because although it wasn’t, it might have been a hundred degrees and the baby might have been in danger. Mostly, he was a terrible father because he did something that the people who thought he was a terrible father would not do.
The thing with parenting that all parents should (but apparently, don’t) get is this: parenting is the balance of safety and judgement all day, every day, 365 days a year. I am constantly assessing situations and quickly deciding the best course of action, often when there isn’t really an ideal choice.That’s the thing with parenting that people can be loathe to cop to: you do things you would rather not more often than you’d care to admit.
When I’m shopping and my five-year-old desperately has to go to the bathroom but I can’t get my toddler out of the cart in time to prevent an accident, should I humiliate him by making him wet himself in the middle of a store just so I can be sure to check the bathroom for creepy people, just in case? I say no–that sort of humiliation would be far more scarring than the tiny possibility that a pedophile is lurking in the bathroom. I make a judgement call. Were there an actual pedophile in the bathroom, I would regret that decision for my entire life. But in the split second I have to decide, I decide that humiliation is a more likely result in the imaginary scenarios I envision than molestation.
I have left my kids in the car, too. I left them in the CVS parking lot the other day while I ran in to the ATM. I think nearly all of my leaving-kids-in-the-car situations are ATM-related, which makes me think that there need to be more drive-up ATMs around here. Once, when Bryce was a baby, I left him sleeping in the car and tore into the grocery store to get something we desperately needed in order to keep him from getting soaked by a crazy, insane deluge-of-a-storm that literally soaked me to the skin during my frantic dash in and out.
So, obviously, I’m a bad parent.
I run upstairs to go to the bathroom, leaving the toddler downstairs alone. I come back to find her eating an ice cream sandwich, pouring out boxes of crackers, attempting to open a container of ice cream, gnawing on a frozen waffle. (I swear I feed her regularly.) But clearly, she could have instead chosen to find a way to scale the cabinets and gone after the Wusthof knives. She could have cut off her sweet little toes, stuck a knife into her eyes the color of the sky.
While the toddler is napping, I go outside to water the flowers, to clean up the yard. We don’t really use a monitor any longer, so I can’t hear her. She could climb out of her crib, find a way to break through the screen and throw herself out of the 5 inches of open window, falling to her death.
The kids eat lunch and I leave to answer the door, or leave them at the table on our (fenced-in) deck to grab something one of them has requested. TOTAL CHOKING HAZARD.
There are probably more ways than I can count for something to go terribly, freakishly wrong at any given point in the day when I’m interacting with my children. So far I’ve been fortunate that it hasn’t, and I worry that one day it somehow will. And on that day I’m sure that there will be a listserv subscriber, waiting with her pencil and paper and self-righteousness to scribble down everything she can glean about me and report it to the world at large so everyone can see what a terrible, neglectful parent I truly am.