1.29.2007

Stand-Off at Starbucks

In my current state, I knew I could not survive the 50 mile drive home from my mother's house yesterday without something sweet. And unfortunately, any viable options were not to be found in their usual spot at the bottom of my Longchamps tote, thanks to the evil cat. She has a $3 a day Zone Bar habit, the wretched beast, and in the absence of one in my bag at 3 am when the urge seems to strike her, she'll settle for anything high-caloric in there. Every morning I wake to a half-gnawed, cat saliva-coated piece of something formerly edible strewn about the house. Every morning I wake to Nate just telling me to remember to zip up my damn bag at night, already.

I knew there was a Starbucks along routhe 9A and so I figured I could make do with a Rice Krispy bar and a mocha decaf something-or-other. (I'm not an efficient Starbucks orderer. They always correct me for asking for the drink before the decaf part, then roll their eyes when I tell them I want it "in whatever size the medium is called." Stuff it, baristas. You know it's a medium, I know it's a medium, so just give me the damn thing in the medium cup and spare me the attitude.)

I glanced back at Thalia who was just starting to doze off in the soothing light of dusk and I found myself faced with a dilemma: Do I leave her in the car right in front of the (safe, suburban) Starbucks for a moment or do I rouse her, unstrap her, and drag her inside for the two minutes it will take to secure some sugary substinence?

These are not customary issues that NYC moms grapple with; we're more likely to debate whether we leave the baby in the apartment for five minutes while we race down to the basement to dump another load in the washer. The car conundrum was new to me.

About a mile away from the coffee shop, the decision actually started to stress me out in a way that should be limited to the SATs and felony trials. Reasonable, Laid-Back Me knew that if I left Thalia in the car for all of 120 seconds she'd be totally fine. I could park right in front of the entrance so I could see the car at all times. I could even wait to go in until I was sure there was no one else on line. It was sooooo not a big deal.

But then Anxious, Mommy Me weighed in rather strongly with the opinion that Reasonable, Laid-Back Me was absolutely insane.

"Why risk it?" she said, before bitch-slapping her adversary into submission.

Why risk what, exactly? That Thalia might somehow, miraculously learn how to undo her 5-point car seat harness, leap into the front seat and hotwire the car? Suddenly break into a life-threatening rash that I could have prevented had I noticed it within the first 12 seconds of its initial appearance? Bum a cigarette from a passer-by? Surely there was some risk involved here, even if I was hard-pressed to name it just yet.

And then, there was a third voice that caught me by surprise.

This one asked not, "what if something goes wrong?" but, "what if you get caught?"

As if a cop might happen by and arrest me for child neglect. As if the paparazzi hangs out in the bushes around quiet Hudson Valley area strip malls just waiting for evidence of Britney-esque parenting to splash across the pages of Dumbasses Weekly.

Even so, even the most remote possibility of facing the negative judgment of peers, parents, bystanders--the press--was compelling. Very compelling. As I sat in the idling car, weighing my options just feet away from that blessed coffee counter, I envisioned message board chatter, blog talk, the New York Post for goodness sake: PREGNANT YUPPIE ABANDONS INFANT FOR STARBUCKS FIX. They'd have more sympathy were I a crack mom running inside the welfare office to grab my check.

Oh yes, were I to leave Thalia in the car for a moment, surely my life as I know it would end.

And so I took her inside.

And I was annoyed at myself the entire time.

What kind of world are we living in where we parent by looking over our shoulders, more afraid of the judgments of others than any actual harm that may come to our children? The cocktail playgroup non-controversy, the sanctimommies, the uber-boobers versus formula feeders--it's all too much to bear at times.

I want to say I don't care what people think, but I'd be lying. Even as I roll my eyes at the germaphobes, ignore the city-haters, dismiss the Dr. Sears disciples who show up here from time to time to condemn my choice to help my daughter get a decent night's sleep, their comments haunt the back of my mind every so often. I want people to think I'm a decent mother. I want people to smile at my well-behaved toddler in a restaurant and decide that its the result of good parenting. Despite my tagline, I want people to think I know what I'm doing. At least to my face.

It's been said that we mothers are often our own worst critics. Are we? Or are we just trying to beat everyone else to the punch?


79 Comments:

Anonymous TSM-terrifically superiorily mediocre said...

FABULOUS entry!

Oh man I was just watching the bit about cocktails and play dates and your blog today goes right along with it. I even found myself thinking "You probably better not...never know what people might think" even though I, personally, would have been COMPLETELY fine with you running in. After all, it's all about what *I* think about you, anyway, right?

Remind me one day to tell you of our spanking incident. It gives perspective.

Those babies are lucky!

1/28/07, 11:18 PM  
Blogger Jill said...

That's why the Dunn Bros. drive-through is so awesome.

I think you made the right choice for all of the above-listed reasons, including the self-serving ones. If Nate called you and said "do you think it's OK if I leave the baby in the car while I run in for coffee?" you would probably say "No." Sometimes peace of mind is irrational.

1/28/07, 11:42 PM  
Anonymous mayberry said...

This is EXACTLY why the drive-through is god's gift to mothers.

1/28/07, 11:49 PM  
Blogger Lady M said...

I was thinking the same thing as Mayberry - there ought to be more drive-thrus.

A local woman left her sleeping baby in the car in front of the dry cleaners (or something like that) and came back to her car two minutes later, to find a cop and a passerby looking in the window. I can't remember now where I read the story, but I remember thinking that it's gotten to be everyone's business what your child is eating, wearing, playing . . .

1/29/07, 12:29 AM  
Blogger SUEB0B said...

Non-moms are not immune. I had a hysterical woman yell at me one 63 degree day while I was sitting in my car with my dog. She was my dog panting and trembling (which she ALWAYS does in the car) and screamed that I was giving my dog heatstroke...even though the huge sunroof was open and dog was in the shade.

It's THOSE kinds of people, the screaming meemeies, who make us think twice.

1/29/07, 12:31 AM  
Blogger CeCe said...

I don't drink coffee, BUT some of our starbucks have drive throughs here..

MY big hang up, is filling up the car with gas. I have all the "pay at the pump" locations memorized, 'cause I HATE filling up and trying to figure out if I should take my kid out of the car, or risk running in to pay for the gas and leave the kid in the car.. I do do it sometimes... BAD MOMMY!

1/29/07, 12:32 AM  
Anonymous the weirdgirl said...

I went through the same internal debate stopping at an ATM... even imagining a car-jacking with my baby still in the car. Then I bitch-slapped myself as I realized the ATM is outside, five feet away from the car. But yeah, I probably would have dragged him into a Starbucks. (Besides that almost counts as an "outing".) Thank god for drive-throughs.

You know I remember being 5 1/2 and left in the car with my newborn brother. My mom told me, "If anyone tries to take your brother I want you to yell." All I can remember thinking was, "What if someone tries to take me?" However, I'm sure our children will be traumatized by never being left alone. Parenting has changed, but the therapy lasts forever.

1/29/07, 12:46 AM  
Blogger Lara said...

that was a really excellent post, L. I'm not even a mom yet, and i admit that i've already thought about and worried about these sorts of moments. thank you for writing about it so eloquently.

1/29/07, 12:52 AM  
Blogger lildb said...

honestly? I think people are assholes. who want to beat everyone else up rather than acknowledge their own shortcomings.

I used to do it all the time, and it is only with great, and by great I actually mean quasi-excessive, exhertion that I'm able to reign in the criticizer (not so very unlike the presidential "decider" - *shiver*) lately. I'm constantly reminding myself that I would rather drink lighter fluid than be criticized for my mothering/et al habits/attempts at healthy stuff, so why would I want to put someone else through that ringer, even if they can't hear me because I'm only thinking something nasty and not vocalizing it? etc.

once again, awesome topic. super-duper.

1/29/07, 1:31 AM  
Blogger The Frog Princess said...

I can remember my own mom leaving me in the car by myself or with my younger sister so that she could run in the store to pee or to grab a gallon of milk or whatever else she needed. If she tried that today I think someone would probably call the police and try to round up a lynch mob. People are entirely too quick to call the police when they see a baby alone in a car these days.

I'm certain that some parents do leave their children locked in the car for long periods of time and those parents really are neglecting their kids, but I also think that people are too quick to make a snap judgment without knowing the circumstances.

Will there ever be a time when I want to leave the baby in the car by herself? Oh I'm sure there will be, but could I? I seriously doubt it, I think the fear of getting caught and being accused of being a bad mother will probably prevent it every time. It's ridiculous.

1/29/07, 2:29 AM  
Blogger slouching mom said...

Technically, I believe it's illegal to leave the baby in the car for even a few minutes. At least in my area. That said, I have done it on a couple of occasions when one or the other of my boys had taken so long to get to sleep that there was no way in hell I was going to risk waking them up. Or when one or the other of them was sick. Only for under two minutes and only when they were visible to me at all times.

In this as in all things lately (see: Today show ridiculousness), I wish this country would lighten up a little. My mother tells me that when I was an infant (in New York City, even), she used to leave my carriage OUTSIDE the plate-glass window of a restaurant, while she'd sit and eat just inside. And she was only doing what everyone else did.

Was it the sense that you might somehow be more accountable as a parenting blogger that stopped you?

1/29/07, 3:18 AM  
Blogger Susanne said...

Well, I think it's the right decision. You would never have forgiven yourself if anything had happened to her. Like another car crashing into yours. And no, this isn't rational or necessary. And yes, drive-thru would have been better. And I don't think you did it because of judgemental people.

1/29/07, 7:26 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

I often think about leaving my kids in the car, but then I get an overwhelming paranoia that a carjacker will jump in it and drive away with my kids. I know it's a serious threat here in the central Indiana suburbs. (Of course, we were evacuated our first night in this house because of a bomb scare, so I guess it's not all that far-fetched.)

1/29/07, 7:51 AM  
Blogger Mrs. Chicken said...

A friend of a friend did just that to run in and get her other kid from daycare and lo and behold, someone called DCFS and reported her. She came out to cops around the car and now has to edure home visits.

Do I think she was probably safe in the car? Yeah. Do I think YOU were safe while she was in the car? NO.

1/29/07, 8:11 AM  
Anonymous meritt said...

AHHHHH I loved this post.

As much as I WANT to have 2 more children, I have to admit that in the last 6-7 years the world has gone INSANE and stupidity runs amuck. I do not believe in raising my children based on the judgement of other (childless even!) people.

YES your child would be fine in the car. Yes some stupid arse would probably freak and call the cops on you. You know... in Europe you can leave your baby in the pram outside the pub while you go in and have a drink - as long as you could see her from your table!

Remember when that European couple did that when they were visiting in NYC and everyone FREAKED!????

1/29/07, 8:36 AM  
Anonymous chris said...

There is no such thing as using your own judgement anymore.

I have left my kids in the car before. And I shouldn't have to give long explanations of the wheres and whys of the circumstances. The fact that *I* thought they were safe should be enough of an explanation, but it isn't.

1/29/07, 8:37 AM  
Blogger Fairly Odd Mother said...

I think you made the right move. Not that I think that leaving your kid in the car for a moment, when you can see the car at all times, is a crime, but there are so many wacky people out there who will call it a crime if they see it.

That said, I leave my 3 in the car at least once/week to run into the library to return or check out books I have on hold. The librarians know me b/c I run up, hand them my card and then stand at the door to watch the car (it's a tiny library where you can park 10 feet from the door, 20 feet from the counter). If a cop was in the lot, I wouldn't do it though. And, if the car was ever out of my sight, I wouldn't do it either. It makes me feel paranoid and a little nutty to anxiously stand at the door watching my car, as it a car jacker is going to appear in our little town and speed off with three toddlers, but stranger things have happened.

Oh, and I also care what others think. Way too much sometimes. As mommies, I believe there isn't anything too mean that could be said to us that we haven't already said to ourselves.

1/29/07, 9:15 AM  
Blogger Mrs. Chicky said...

You hit the nail on the head. I will go through the trouble of unbuckling my kid from her seat (which, btw, is a pain in the ass sometimes) just to run into the dry cleaners for 2 minutes so I won't be labeled the "bad mom who leaves her kid in the car". Does it matter that the dry cleaners is right down the street? In my own safe neighborhood? No. Does it matter that it's a double pain in the ass to drag child and heavy dry cleaning back out to the car? No. I'd rather endure this than someone giving me that look, you know the one, for daring to leave my kid in the safe, warm car.

1/29/07, 9:32 AM  
Anonymous Nancy said...

The judgmentalism (or potential for such) is something that does get to me, and I hate to admit it. And I hate that it's the case. Common sense tells me that running back into the house to pick up my forgotten cell phone once the toddler is contentedly settled in her car seat is the right approach -- because getting the squirming child out, dragging her back into the house, and then having to disengage her from the toys she's resumed playing with will add several minutes to our departure time (and frustrate us both). But I'm too afraid even my kind, gentle neighbors will cuss me out or call the police on me.

I don't like how everything has become a black and white issue. NEVER leave your kid in the car. NEVER have a drink around your kids. NEVER let them watch TV. What happened to everything in moderation, and/or choose your course of action depending on the context? Are we being desensitized to use our brain, brainwashed into thinking that we all must do X, Y, or Z because people will give us grief if we don't?

It's a damn shame.

1/29/07, 9:52 AM  
Blogger Mona said...

Starbucks drive-thru has been my salvation. And also perfecting the eye-roll at any barista that dares to correct me when I say I want a small, instead of a "tall," because it shouldn't be called tall when it's the smallest cup you can order.

1/29/07, 9:54 AM  
Blogger Two Faces said...

There is no happy middle ground anymore.

My fear would not have been what other thought, it would have been whether others would have called the cops.

I recently heard a story about a family fostering a child in the process of adopting that child. The mom left the child in the car and went into a store, the grandmother stood at the door to the store 5 feet from the car. Someone walked by, saw the child, didn't see the grandmother and called the cops. End result - no adoption.

1/29/07, 10:03 AM  
Blogger Velma said...

Thank God for the tinted windows on my mini-van, or else I'm sure I'd have been hauled off to the pokey at some point. I don't appreciate the current climate of treating every mother as if she were an infant herself, in need of constant monitoring and strict rules so we won't damage our kids. Bleah.

1/29/07, 10:19 AM  
Blogger toyfoto said...

This could all be solved with a drive-through at Starbucks, you know.

We don't leave her alone in cars in public places for all the crazy possibilites you mentioned, including the potential for a social services call, which actually happened to a friend of mine who left her kid with two dogs in the parking lot at work for 10 minutes while she checked in for her assignments.

But I have this fight with my husband about the home territory. I leave Annabel strapped into the car in our driveway and then schlep our stuff down the stairs and into the car. I use to be a one-trip sort of person and now, although I'm still a one-tripper at heart, I can't manage to do it in real life. So the easiest way is to get her into the car and not worry where she is underfoot. My husband thinks this is unsafe. If he's around he sits with her while I get everything situated.

Mind you, I came home once to find her standing in the driver's seat and him schlepping grocery bags upstairs. My calmly telling him I didn't think it was a good idea to leave her alone in the car unteathered sent him into a tailspin of "you do its."

Oy.

1/29/07, 10:30 AM  
Anonymous K said...

For me it's 2.5 year long post partum hormones -- now coupled with newborn ones that tell me there's a small yet freakish chance someone will drive up into our driveway and rearend my car (the one where my daughter is still taking a nap in because I didn't want to bring her in and wake her up).

It's my own self-sanctimommy that's the worst...

But I think there are meds for that... right?

1/29/07, 10:43 AM  
Blogger Vikki said...

I have to admit that as you spun your tale the question of someone seeing Thalia alone in the car was my first thought and I would have done the same damn thing you did for the same reasons. It is striking.I am extremely critical of my own parenting. There is also a culture of holding mother to impossible standards. I don't think we can tease out which came first people blaming mothers or mothers blaming ourselves. Kinda makes you long for that chicken and egg conundrum, huh?

1/29/07, 10:44 AM  
Anonymous Mel said...

Fairly Odd Mother said, "It makes me feel paranoid and a little nutty to anxiously stand at the door watching my car, as if a car jacker is going to appear in our little town and speed off with three toddlers, but stranger things have happened."

I feel the same way. Acting paranoid raises my already off-kilter stress level. I had to go into school to check my girls out the other day, and the 2-year-old was asleep in the car. I was completely paralyzed by the need to make a decision. And it was compounded by all the teachers who might be witness to me being hauled off to the pokey.

I was in a small little shop last year and a man came in and started bellowing, "Who owns the white mini-van with the screaming baby in it? Where is she? Where is the mother who should go to jail?" The poor mother was standing at the counter paying for a special-order (no browsing for her!) and trembled as he continued to lecture her, in a voice loud enough for every other neglectful mother to hear, and tell her that he was a police officer and should call it in, and didn't she know what a terrible thing she had done? I was so shocked (and trembling a bit myself, although I had my baby with me) that I didn't say anything. But, later, when I had calmed down and thought it through I wished I had asked him where his compassion was and what exactly was the harm that had been done. And had he ever had the overwhelming emotional need to get out of the house combined with seven errands to run when his toddler fell asleep at an inconvenient time?

1/29/07, 11:03 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

I agree with everyone above me who said their first thought was what if someone sees me do it. That was my first thought and that has been my first thought in many a similar situation in which I made a bad parenting call just to appease strangers.

1/29/07, 11:18 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

(cont'd)

But I will add that I live in Italy and thankfully it's like the US was a generation or two ago when the mother could do what she wanted. I leave my kid in the car and I see people doing it all the time. I live my kid in a stroller outside a shop while I am inside shopping and I see other people do it all the time.

Would I do that in the States? No way. They'd crucify me.

1/29/07, 11:24 AM  
Blogger Keri said...

Wow. I have had the exact same dilemma as you millions of times. In the end, I made the decision that if I can see my kid in the car from inside the store, it's okay. The fact that I'm Deaf and my needing to be within hearing range of my child is kaput. I've left my son in the car (usually sleeping) with no complaints from other people. In fact, when I tell the person I need services from that I'm in a rush because of my kid being in the car, I get faster service. ;)

1/29/07, 11:39 AM  
Blogger T. said...

I live out in the sticks. When I run to town to get groceries, I shouldn't have to worry about this. There's like a hundred people that live there. The biggest crime is the kids smoking ciggies on the corner and the old lady who keeps jay walking.

So, oneday, when Bug was alive, I took him and Fric and Frac to town while I got gas and then milk. Bug fell asleep in his seat and the other kids were fine so I told them to just sit tight, I'd be back in a minute.

My BROTHER-IN-LAW saw my kids in the back of the car and called the COPS on me. The RCMP arrived the moment I got to my car door.

Thankfully, I'm buddies with the staff sgt. and all was good. But my b-i-l thought that I had made a horrible mistake by leaving my children unattended (all of them buckled in five point harnesses) to run into a small town store to grab a jug of milk.

I should have told him about all the times his WIFE and I go to the restaurant and she leaves HIS babies in the car until they wake up. (She parks infront of the table where we sit so she can see them.)

But I love her and I kept my mouth shut.

Great post Liz. Now you've got my blood a pumpin.

1/29/07, 11:45 AM  
Blogger B said...

When there was one, I NEVER left her in the car. Not for a moment. Now that there are two? That makes a 10 point harness for the in and the out and hauling both kids somewhere for 30 seconds like the dry cleaners when all the windows are floor to ceiling glass and the parking lot consits of four spots.

I can say that I have seen people doing similiar things (two daughters screaming in a mini-van while their dad stood outside it waiting for his wife) and thought what the hell are they doing?

Every scenario is different, and someone will always question it.

1/29/07, 12:19 PM  
Anonymous croutonboy said...

two words: drive-thru

Or is that one word? How does the hyphen work anyway? And were I to properly spell "through" instead of the bastardized McDonald's version would it be more appropriate? And why the hell am I still talking about this? Probably because the point you raise is a big one and requires more thought and commentary than I can fit into a blog comment.

Even though I just packed a crap-load of content about grammar into this one.

1/29/07, 12:36 PM  
Blogger Queen Haline said...

I suffered the same interal conversation so many times when my twins were babies.

One time I had just finished strapping the kids into their carseats in the basement garage of the building and the stroller was already loaded up when I realized I really really really had to "go".

I ran upstairs, did my business as fast as I could, and ran back downstairs, only to discover two of my neighbors peering into the back seat of the car.

They weren't smiling.

And neither was I.

But screw them. They didn't have twins.

1/29/07, 12:40 PM  
Anonymous Patty said...

First off, whenever I go into Starbucks I order a large coffee. Do I know it's "venti" in their stanguage? Yes, but I'll be damned if I kowtow to them.

More important, I'm afraid I'm with you 100% on the need for other mothers' approval. I'm sorry that I need it in order to feel that I'm a good mother, but it doesn't change the fact that I need it. (On the other hand, with tinted windows in the back seat of my car, I do run into 7-11 with a kid left in the car and none are the wiser!)

1/29/07, 1:16 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

I think you hit upon the real source of the problem: "helpful" people who can't mind their own business.

We all have those moments of "but if I take two steps away from my baby, someone might grab her," which we can rationalize away when we realize how little danger we're putting a child in. (Like parking right in front of the Starbucks, where you can see her, while taking the two minutes to get a drink.)

It's other people who are really making our lives hell. Once you have a child, your life is suddenly public domain, and people seem to think they have a right to judge and interfere with your parenting. Now, we not only have the irrational fear of someone taking our babies when they're three feet away, but we have the very real fear of someone passing judgement on our parenting, and possibly involving the police, making a quick stop for coffee turn into a huge mess.

And yet these same people who feel the need to intervene are probably the same people who would stand by and just watch if you were mugged.

There are bad moms out there. But it's time for people to stop assuming that every mother they see is incompetent, and just might know what works best for herself and her own children.

1/29/07, 1:19 PM  
Blogger J said...

Leave your child in the car while you get a coffee? Safe enough, as long as it's not hot out, and you TAKE THE KEYS WITH YOU. Too many kids get stolen, accidently, while a car is being stolen, because the driver jumps out to get something in the store, and leaves the engine running.

I hate the uberparents, too, and if one of them came down hard on you, I'd bitch slap them so you could enjoy your coffee in peace. ;)

1/29/07, 1:50 PM  
Anonymous mothergoosemouse said...

I've only recently started leaving Tacy in the car for a few minutes while I run in to get this or that (okay, sometimes this or that means WINE). Why? Hell if I know, except maybe that you hit the nail on the head - I don't want to attract criticism, justified or not.

1/29/07, 2:02 PM  
Blogger David said...

I think some of you could be in the market for a crisis communications consultant. They're expensive but good...

1/29/07, 2:09 PM  
Blogger Mom101 said...

Susanne - you give me too much credit. Thank you for that! And the car ramming into ours is a good point. Even so...it's so unlikely the thought didn't enter my mind. And so yes, I really did make the decision based on the more likely possibility of finger waggers.

I feel like I can't parent based on remote "what ifs." It's just not my style. Which isn't to say that I would leave the keys in the car either! Hell, I put the Club on when we're in the country and Nate never lets me hear the end of that one.

1/29/07, 2:58 PM  
Blogger Overwhelmed! said...

"in whatever size the medium is called." I can so relate to this, I never know what to call it so I often say something along these lines too. :)

You know, I've been in the same dilemma about do I or don't I leave my sleeping child in his car seat for a few seconds while I run in quickly and get something.

Ultimately, I end up either not going in or taking him in with me. It's not because of the fear of judgment from other parents or the fear of someone filing a complaint (although in this day and age that is a valid fear). What gets me in the end is the fear of someone snatching him in a matter of seconds and then me having to live the rest of my life knowing that I allowed something like that to happen.

Rationally, I know the odds of something like that happening are slim to none, but I can't get over the fear of it being the slim chance that it does happen.

It's sad that we have to worry about these things nowadays. This world is changing. There are too many sickos out there.

1/29/07, 3:24 PM  
Blogger Mocha said...

The drive-thru was an invention of a mother who was judged ONE TOO MANY DAMN TIMES. She was also illiterate and spelled "thru" wrong. But, who am I to judge?

1/29/07, 3:27 PM  
Anonymous joy said...

this is definitely an interesting theme going on through the network right now--how we judge one another and more to the point, ourselves.

i've been in the "should I leave him in the car" position too--and not been able to. have to say i'm with overwhelmed above--just the image of some childsnatcher with a crowbar or something has made me go cold and not do it. (and my kid can now open the door--and would likely do so for some guy with a puppy). which is ludicrous, really. but the judgement part is still there--"what if someone saw and judged me?"

a friend of mine recently put her 8 month old in a bikini at the pool because some a-hole commented about the girl being "topless." so because of this judgement the little thing was wearing a scrap of a bikini top which i think is really really weird and even questionable on a baby (or is it just me?)

1/29/07, 3:34 PM  
Anonymous Jessica said...

I have made rules for myself and my husband. Paying for gas, with the car locked is ok. Picking up the older kid from afterschool while keeping an eye on the car at all times-ok. Anything else-not ok. Of course I acted like they are the unspoken rules of the universe when my husband asked me if he could leave the baby in the car while he went to the ABC store to get a bottle of Crown Royal. Dear God I hope I never die.

1/29/07, 3:49 PM  
Blogger carrie said...

It's like you crawled up inside my brain and plucked this out of it.

Although it wasn't written so well in there, thanks!

Carrie

1/29/07, 4:06 PM  
Blogger Meena said...

The car thing - I'm extremely paranoid about leaving my kids in the car. Not paranoid about what others' think, but I've just heard too many instances of children being kidnapped or the car being stolen (w/children inside) that the very thought of leaving my children in the car FREAKS me out.

I had the choice today - was getting gas, gave them my VISA, was told I had to do it inside. I pleaded w/the car attendant to do it for me b/c I had kids in the car. Thankfully, he did.

With all that said - you really hit the nail on the head about the larger issue of fearing what others think. It's so f'ing hard to reach a place of feeling secure with your parenting choices. We try and try, but it seems that no matter what, it's hard to completely ignore that snarky comment from that judgmental sanctimommy.

And btw, you are a decent mommy.

1/29/07, 5:00 PM  
Blogger Mom101 said...

Meena, I hate to think of you walking around so upset about this kind of thing! Try to get a hold of last week's Newsweek which actually charts the number of child abductions by strangers per year - it's so so absurdly low you realize that while it's good to be cautious, there's no need to be fearful. Seeing the stats actually put me more at ease than I'd have thought.

1/29/07, 5:18 PM  
Blogger Meena said...

Oh, no, did I come across as being paralyzed by this silly fear? I really don't overly obsess about it. But I have just enough irrational fear that I just can't leave 'em in the car. It's OK, like you, it's so rarely a situation that you get involved in. Thanks for the tip on Newsweek - I'm sure it would make me feel better too.

1/29/07, 8:23 PM  
Blogger Awesome Mom said...

It is so nice to know that I am not the only one that feels like that. I often feel wretched when I lock the kids in the car so I can run to the ATM and get a bit of cash while they are in a spot where I can see them the whole time. My fear is not so much about if I get caught but what if someone has an irresistible urge to kidnap my adorable children. Although after today I would almost give them to anyone that came by wanting a kid.

1/29/07, 8:53 PM  
Blogger MrsFortune said...

Yeah ... the other day, I left Jacob in the car while I went and knocked on a door to give someone something. He was still within my sights, he was sleeping, and still i felt that I could be arrested at any moment ...

Hey, it's just a good example for our kids, right? I mean, what other reason would THEY have, when the time comes, NOT to bring pot or other smoke-ables into the house, except fear of getting caught?

See, I can rationalize all kindsa stuff.

1/29/07, 9:14 PM  
Blogger Piece of Work said...

Haven't read through the comments, but I will say here: I have, several times, left my child (or children) buckled up in the car seat while I ran in to the Good will, starbucks, convenience store, what have you. Always the car is right in front of the store and always I am only going in for less than 5 minutes, but I've done it. And I'll probably continue to do it. That said, there have been many other times when I have brought them in--due to peer pressure AND common sense. At our pre-school there is a huge poster of a toddler in a carseat with the tag line: NEVER LEAVE YOUR CHILD IN THE CAR ALONE! EVEN FOR A SECOND!!!

God.

1/29/07, 9:33 PM  
Anonymous madge said...

Oh, I like Uber-boobers. In Park Slope we were called The Shirts-Up Brigade.

Here in Maine, I'm afraid the decision has come to whether or not to leave them in the car with it running or turn it off and lock the doors. The New Yorker in me stil locks the car, but I think I'm in the minority with that one.

1/29/07, 9:55 PM  
Blogger Queso said...

Oh I hear you. And I would worry about the same thing if I were stopping somewhere. Well, that is, unless I was stopping somewhere on my way home from a cra-zazy play date. If you know what I mean. And I know you do.

1/29/07, 10:07 PM  
Anonymous wordgirl said...

I think the answer to your question is: BOTH. We are our own worst critics...but we like to dogpile on other women, too. A man's scorn is limp and ineffective compared to the judgement from a fellow female. And we know it...so why not, as you say, start the criticism party before someone else does?

1/30/07, 12:58 AM  
Anonymous TB said...

So you're human. And let's not discount the fact that our society can and does judge women harshly for parenting decisions that are completely safe and sane.
I think there IS a bit of self-preservation involved in the thought processes of a mother because of that. It's a natural reaction.

1/30/07, 9:50 AM  
Anonymous surcie said...

I've never forgotten an old Oprah show in which Her O'ness and the entire audience concluded that a mother should never, ever, ever leave her child alone in the car even when the car is parked in her own damn driveway! Well, I do it and I'm going to keep doing it until my son is old enough to unlock the front door, run back into the house to grab his own sippy cup, and re-lock the door.

1/30/07, 9:58 AM  
Blogger Design Mom said...

Oh. This is like a daily battle for me. And lots of times I leave the kids in the car, but I know it's a risk -- not to my kids, I don't believe for 2 seconds they're in danger -- but that someone will call the police.

It happened to my sister-in-law last week. She left her kids in the car (age 8, 5 & 2) while she ran in to the grocery store in the same Hudson Valley you mention, and someone called the cops on her. Lovely.

1/30/07, 10:07 AM  
Anonymous AdventureDad said...

I would be careful to leave my child in a hot car in the middle of summer but not otherwise. The Americans are a bit paranoid, no doubt about it. Go to any restaurant in Sweden, especially in the winter, and you will always find a few strollers parked outside. With the children sound asleep in the stroller while mothers or fathers have lunch or a drink. The kids are just fine but the parents are of course nearby if they wake up. I do it myself, go for a walk in the winter cold and when my daughter is asleep I sneak in for lunch or some blogging with my laptop.

We should take good care of our children but the constant worrying does no good. The kids can take a lot more than we think.

AD

1/30/07, 10:18 AM  
Anonymous dorothy said...

I have been told by my Parents As Teachers lady (a state-sponsored home-visit program for people with children under the age of three in Missouri) that a Parents As Teachers employee is required to report any children left unattended. I was shocked, remembering all the times we sat outside in the car by preference as children. The world has gone insane. I work full-time outside the home, so I am fortunate to be able to go inside to stores by myself frequently, but I feel for the SAHMs.

1/30/07, 10:42 AM  
Blogger movin'mom said...

I totally get you on the worried about what this may look like. Now that my son is 15...obviously I will let him stay in the car. But when I am at the grocery store check out and the woman asks me if I have my "grocery member card"
(which of course is on the key chain of my car keys) I always feel the need to say, "Oh,I don't have it, it's in the car with my son ...who's 15." God forbid he think ill of me for leaving a "younger son" in the car with it still running.

Now I always tend to be paranoid I mean cautious...when it comes to leaving the younger ones in the car...and I will almost always make them come in with me, however...now that I live in Mayberry, It is scary that when I go to the mall that there are cars in the parking lot that are actually still running...keys in the ignition...cd's on passenger seat...Are these people crazy? When will they learn... with my luck, I would let my guard down and I would be the victim. As much as I move, I can not allow myself to become THAT trusting.
I always assume that someone is out to take my child. Sound paranoid? I know I do. But...I can't say I haven't done what you did before. After much thought I probably would 411 the starbucks for the # and call my order in so that they could bring it to the door. PARANOID I AM !

1/30/07, 11:09 AM  
Anonymous FishyGirl said...

Here in Insane City it is illegal to leave your kids in the car unattended below the age of 8 or something (I think 8 because at 8 they are allowed to stay in the house alone, but I could be off), so I have to shlep anywhere from one very heavy baby to four kids under the age of 8 in and out with me. I try to do all my errands during my rare babysitting time, but really, it was easier when I was working because then I could go during lunch or on the way home and didn't have kids with me. Now, when I go to pick up Little Man from preschool, I have to have someone in the parking lot watch the sleeping kids in the car so I can run in and get him. If there is no one obviously watching, then I'm sure no fewer than 18 parents would call the cops on me. One of the other moms and I have put each other on the release list (we have to sign off to have anyone other than us pick up the kids - it's not enough to say So-and-So's mom is in the parking lot with the little kids and asked that I pick up So-and-so for her, it has to be in writing) so that one of us can watch the kidlets and the other will pick up the big kids from school. I hate the whole judgement thing - hate, hate, hate it. And I hate more that the fear of others' judgement is a huge consideration in my decisions sometimes.

That said, we've had instances of the car thief taking the car with the kids in it around here (yeah, DC burbs are a fun place to be sometimes), and I know I'd never forgive myself if that happened, so there's that, too.

1/30/07, 11:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just to add to what others have said, it is illegal here to leave kids under 12 unattended in the car. A woman was picking up one child at elementary school and had a barfing, flu suffering child in the car. She left the sicky to go get the other one and was arrested (or charged??). Now, I think it's kind of her not to expose the whole school to her vomitting kid's germs, but hey that's me.

My big worry is the car jacking thing though. Watching that woman sobbing on Oprah about leaving her kid in the car while she ran into 7-11 to get him a drink and not only was he carjacked, but she got a hold of him, unstrapped his belt and watched him get dragged to his death from the car. No thanks! I guess it's worth the inconvenience not to be the woman crying on Oprah.

1/30/07, 12:24 PM  
Blogger Jaelithe said...

I think Christina hit an important point on the head. These people that freak out and scream at mothers or sometimes even try to get mothers arrested for leaving their kids alone in the car-- would they do something if they saw a kid in a car that was being carjacked? Would they do something if they saw a kid in a car that was rolling down the road toward a brick wall?

I don't think so.

I am beginning to think that one of the main reasons people are so judgmental of one anothers' parenting decisions these days is that no one wants to even be faced with the possibility that they might be called upon to take responsibility to help another person in a crisis. No one wants to believe anymore that being part of a community implies actually working to help others in that community.

And that is why it IS no as longer safe to leave kids in the car as it used to be back in the day when all our own parents were doing it. Because these days, criminals know they can steal a car with a child inside, and chances are, not a single bystander will do a single thing to try to stop them.

1/30/07, 12:28 PM  
Blogger Tuesday Girl said...

I have had that debate 3489 times with myself.

Now I just have memorized every drive thru dunkin donuts and starbucks there are in the entire state of NJ and some parts of NY.

1/30/07, 1:36 PM  
Anonymous laurie said...

have women always been their own worst enemies, or is this a new phenomenon? i suspect it isn't new -- we're just finding ourselves in the middle of this latest incarnation.

it all makes me think of the van morrison song with the line "all the girls walk by, dressed up for each other." only the song doesn't go oneto discuss how we girls look each other up and down, then invariably sneer in contempt.

sigh.

1/30/07, 2:53 PM  
Anonymous sweatpantsmom said...

This is great Liz - thanks to giving voice to all the critics in my head. Glad to know they are alive and well in other people's brains, too.

'What if I get caught?' always runs through my head, too. Especially ever since a mom at Kira's former school got royally chewed out by another parent for leaving her sleeping toddler in the car while she walked her older one into school. The car? Locked, and parked in a secure school parking lot. Surrounded by other parents dropping their kids off. NOT MORE THAN TWENTY FEET FROM WHERE MY FRIEND WAS AT THE TIME SHE GOT 'CAUGHT.' Crazy.

My girls are 8 and 10 now and I'm just starting to feel comfortable leaving them in the car while I pay for gas, and not because I don't think they're safe but because I'm afraid of the wrath of some nosy ubermom glancing in my van window.

(Ultimate solution? We have drive-thru Starbucks here!)

1/30/07, 3:16 PM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

There was a good discussion about leaving children in cars over in the Basement the other week, and one of the interesting things about it - as someone shrewdly pointed out - was that pretty much everyone who commented insisted upon remaining anonymous (the writer of the post was, of course, anonymous.) Why can't we have this discussion out in the open? Because we're afraid of the judgment. And why shouldn't we be, seeing as it comes at us from all directions, and seeing as we (horror) sometimes do it ourselves (the subject of much hand-wringing chez HBM today, in the aftermath of the Today Show nonsense.)

Sucks. HARD.

1/30/07, 6:01 PM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1/30/07, 6:01 PM  
Blogger Julie Pippert said...

Wish I had read this yesterday. I could have saved my typing fingers and simply linked to you.

Honestly? I think as moms can be pretty harsh on themselves, but I also think we can be pretty realistic. I also think we are simply trying to beat everyone else to the punch.

There's a lot of judgment out there.

I've been reading a lot of it lately.

And if you want to read my angsty post about parenting under public expectation, click away. :)

1/30/07, 8:14 PM  
Blogger Julie Pippert said...

HBM...just to not be anonymous and talk in the open...

I pulled up to the entrance of our church/school one day...had some papers to run in. The little one was asleep. The older one felt comfortable manning the lock. I decided, it's for one minute and I can see the car.

Whenever I think this way I hear a voice: that's what the wailing mom on the news always says, "I just stepped away for one minute!"

But I did it. I ran in, dropped the paper in the office, and ran back out.

To find a woman yelling, I didn't even know what. I asked her, "Are you okay?"

And she yelled, "OMG somebody abandoned their kids here! OMG! Who would do this!"

I said, "It's my car, my kids, they're fine. I just dropped something in the office."

And she felt the need to lecture me, judge me, etc.

I said, "Hey, I was just right there. It's FINE."

She persisted, no, you can't leave kids, NOT EVEN FOR ONE SECOND.

Wow, that's some stringent criteria.

When I got in the car...my daughter was totally freaked out, "Mom, what was wrong with that lady, she was banging on the car and yelling. She scared me!"

Seriously, snap judgment in under two minutes.

A surprising number of people are seriously freaked out that every parent they see is a secretly neglectful or abusive or somehow the next parent on the news.

Who put such fear out there?

But my story is nothing compared to Lotta's at Mom O Matic.

1/30/07, 8:24 PM  
Blogger DebbieDoesLife said...

What? No drive thru???

Someone the other day told me it was illegal in Texas to leave the keys in the car with the engine running. Didn't matter if there were kids in the car or not. I knew it was illegal to leave anyone below the age of 10 in the car ( I have a very large for his age 9 year old so flaunt the law anyway!!).

Enjoyed your post.

1/30/07, 8:59 PM  
Blogger Stephanie T. said...

There should be a law requiring every Starbuck's to have a drive-through.

I have an irrational fear that my car will be stolen with my kids inside while I've left them unattended for just a sec. I guess I've heard too many of those stories on the news.

1/30/07, 10:37 PM  
Blogger krystynecheerful said...

Here in Las Vegas, NV, it's illegal to leave a child in a car unattended, no matter how short the time. And no matter if you lock the car and leave the air on (in the summer...our summers here are brutally HOT). This law came into effect because of several children (babies to toddlers) dying in hot cars here...plus a few that ended up inadvertent kidnap victims of someone who wanted to just steal the car. I remember a father getting arrested here for leaving his sleeping infant son in the car, with the air on and doors locked (Dad had the keys) so he could grab a quick Starbucks. And I also recall a Mom getting arrested because she left her kid in the car on summer evening to run in and look at some shoes and her car w/her child, got stolen (and thankfully recovered a very short time later once the thief realized there was a kid in back).

It's a pain in the ass sometimes, but I'd just as soon take my son with me always than leave him in the car....it's not so much a matter of caring what others think, as it is there's just too much I'd rather not leave to chance. But that's just me.

1/30/07, 10:38 PM  
Anonymous wendy boucher said...

My rule of thumb for these kinds of decisions? Would I call somebody a dumbass if they did it and something went wrong and I read it in the paper? If yes, then take the child inside. I guess I've taken it a step further: it's not whether others would judge me; it's whether I would judge them in similar circumstances. So complicated.

1/31/07, 8:18 AM  
Blogger Mitzi Green said...

i don't leave bob in the car for 120 seconds because i'm sure that, if i did, it would end up in court. i'm not kidding. such is life in a custody battle. talk about constantly being watched and judged...

1/31/07, 1:27 PM  
Blogger Damselfly said...

It's tough being a parent because of these kinds of debates we have with ourselves. For me -- at least so far in my short parenting life of five months -- I let the "what will people think" part win because I have known people and read too many stories about people who did one small harmless thing that got twisted around by child-protection authorities and had their children taken away from them. Then the kids end up in foster care and get abused and blah blah blah, and yes I'm paranoid and rambling! But that's what goes through my mind.

2/1/07, 12:53 PM  
Blogger Stefanie said...

Been there a million times. Especially at the ATM. Just seems like a pain in the ass to go through all that trouble just to take 20 bucks out of the bank. We need more drive through everything!!!

2/1/07, 1:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

..just a quick comment- the Oprah episode is burned in my brain because one mother left four of her children- the oldest was eight I believe- in the car while she ran up a short flight of stairs to grab something from her apartment. When she came down two minutes later, the car was ON FIRE inside, and the kids were screaming- the keys were inside the car, the children were too hurt and upset to push the door locks to open it- and the children were burned- the baby was melted.
It was a freak accident- but I will as a result never ever leave the kids in a running vehicle, and would really have to be in a bind to leave them in one that was even off.

2/1/07, 4:17 PM  
Blogger MommyWithAttitude said...

I have a minivan with tinted windows and a regular little car. When I have the van, I can always leave the kids in there while I run into a place (a place where I can see them from where I am --- I don't mean I leave them for two hours while I go to the mall or something).

But recently I was in the car (no tinted windows) and it wasn't hot outside or anything, and I locked my 3.5 year old in there in his carseat, the car parked IN FRONT OF THE DOOR of Starbucks, ran in, ordered while looking at the car, got my coffee while looking at the car, and right as I was about to leave, a woman says to me, "Is that your baby in that car? Do you know you can get arrested for leaving him in there before he's thirteen?"

THIRTEEN!!!!!!!!

And I should have been annoyed, but I was totally terrified that someone was writing down my license plate, that someone would take him to some institution or another and put me in jail and my husband would have to be called at work and yada yada yada. She totally put a pit in my stomach and ruined my day.

And for what???? I mean (what I say on my blog, notwithstanding) my kids are obviously well looked after. It's ridiculous that we can't even use our own common sense and intuition to know when that sort of thing is a good idea and when it isn't.

Oh I'm just all worked up now!

2/7/07, 1:59 AM  
Blogger Stefanie said...

First off, damn you have a lot of readers. Secondly, I once left E in the car for two seconds while I was at the ATM 10 feet from her. I told me friend later that I'd worried about leaving her in the car for two seconds and she said "well, yeah, it's illegal. You could've been arrested." Nice friend.

5/25/07, 4:54 PM  

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