On Thursday last, my husband went to pick our daughters up from school. The youngest could not be found anywhere. After searching high and low, he finally found a friend of hers who told him she was in the bathroom crying. So, he made his way to the bathroom, announced himself and was let in by a tearful, half-naked little girl. She looked at him with big, tear filled, panicked eyes.
“I peed my pants,” she wailed. Her new birthday pants were under the sink, where she was desperately trying to wash them. Humiliation burned her cheeks.
My husband, seeing that she was embarrassed and didn’t want to make it worse for her, offered his coat to cover her up and then whisked her to the car parked just outside of the school. He left her there while he dashed in to get our other daughter who was in the gym.
When he got back to the car, he found a parking ticket man trying to talk to my daughter through the window. She was bawling and looked terrified.
“Is this you car?” Parking ticket man asks.
“Um, yes- is there a problem sir?” My husband replies.
“Are you kidding?” Parking ticket man says in a tone of disbelief. “You never leave a kid in the car alone. Never!”
“But I was just getting my other kid… She…”
“I could call the police on you right now and have you arrested!”
My husband, not willing to pick a fight with a clearly self-righteous, over zealous, power hungry asshole, and having to deal with a traumatized 8 year old, who, when she found herself being accosted by a strange adult, locked the doors to the car, just said, “yes, yes, you’re right,” and drove off.
I cannot tell you how much this pisses me off. First of all, I checked. Is it illegal to leave your kids in the car for a few minutes? Well, the criminal code is vague on this:
Criminal Code of Canada
PART VIII OFFENCES AGAINST THE PERSON AND REPUTATION
Duties Tending to Preservation of Life
218. Every one who unlawfully abandons or exposes a child who is under the age of ten years, so that its life is or is likely to be endangered or its health is or is likely to be permanently injured,
(a) is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years; or
(b) is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding eighteen months.
R.S., 1985, c. C-46, s. 218; 2005, c. 32, s. 12.
Prior to 2005, the maximum imprisonment was 2 years for either a summary conviction or for an indictable offence.
Call me crazy, but leaving my pantless 8 year old in the car for five minutes doesn’t seem to constitute reckless endangerment. Nor did the police think so when I phoned them up to ask the question. They told me that I had to use my judgment. That, yes, leaving your kid in the Walmart parking lot, in a sweltering car for hours on end is not the best way to go. But I am not talking about that. Nor am I talking about leaving the kids in the car while I go drink at the bar or gamble at the casino. I am talking about being in a school drop off zone, where you’re not even supposed to park for more than 15 minutes. I am talking about a school where everybody going by knew my daughter, identified them to the parking ticket man and still he accused my husband.
What the hell is wrong with this world? For the life of me, I couldn’t understand what was so wrong about leaving my kid in the car for a few minutes. What was the main concern? Well, I did what most people do when they don’t know the answer to a question- I googled it. Most blog posts, or little articles on the subject seemt to deal with younger kids, toddlers. And surprisingly, the concern is not abduction, as I would have suspected, but more to do with the kids pulling the parking brake, or getting their fingers caught, or…. I don’t know, somehow sticking their fingers in the ignition, figuring out how to hotwire the vehicle and going for a joyride?
I, of course, am making the last one up, but it feels just as likely as the rest of the concerns. Like the organisation for people to start wearing helmets in cars, or the need to cushion the whole world in order to make sure our children never fall. What is up with this kind of coddling, people?
We are stifling our children’s potential with an elusive, mythological concept of safety. Let’s face it. The world is not a safe place. Living is not a safe past time. We might as well confront the fact that our children will be in unsafe situations. It seems to me it is a better idea to give them a chance to cope with them instead of sheltering them.
My daughter is perfectly capable of staying in a car for a few minutes by herself. I have complete confidence that she will not do anything stupid. In fact, this incident happened the day after we let our daughters walk to the library by themseleves for the first time. It is not close- about a ten minute walk away from our house and they do have to cross some big streets. But they are not morons and we have taught them well. They were also ready for this kind of freedom. Why, in the name of some elusive fear, would I want to deny them that sense of freedom and independence?