Toddler gets picked up by stranger…

…and ends up a journalistic superstar! (Albeit several years later.)

Susan Toepfer, former editor of  Quick & Simple, OK, and the juicy bits of  People turns out to have been…a Free-Range Kid! So Free-Range that she and her friends got picked up by a stranger when she toddled off (literally) with some friends.  Read all about it at the new blog, True/Slant!

While you’re there, True/Slant’s parenting blogger, Karen Dukess, has a lovely review of Free-Range Kids, which she calls, “The Parenting Book That Beats Valium.”  (I think I’m going to have a T-shirt made!)  Her piece ends with a cool little story about why her own third grade son is hesitant to walk to school, even with his fifth grade  brother. 

True/Slant is a new amalgam of top-notch writers blogging about topics far and wide, but it does have one flaw: It is hard to sign up to leave a comment. You have to join first. Persever a bit, however, and it’s worth it. They would love to hear from you!

25 Responses

  1. It had to be between fourth grade, and my school was in a town 8 miles from my home. I told the school that I had a doctor appointment, so I shouldn’t get on the bus because my mom was going to pick me up.

    Well, it turns out that the doctor’s appointment was the next week, and I had the dates wrong, so my mom wasn’t coming, which became apparent after a half hour or so of waiting.

    Without any way of contacting her, and no friends in town to walk to, I decide that I should get on walking.

    I don’t get 1/2 mile out of town, and a car pulls up. It turns out to be the other school’s secretary, who says “Is that Jon out there walking?” I get in with her and she delivers me to my home before my parents got home from work. I don’t think they know to this day that it occurred, and that was 20 years ago.

  2. What a fabulous article! I do find it interesting that she was a very free-range kid, but admits to not being a particularly free-range parent. I think it shows how pervasive and persuasive society is. Sadly, if that happened now, she and her little friends would have been carted away to foster care while their mothers went to prison for neglect and child endangerment, and the kindly stranger who reported them would be on morning TV as a hero, extraordinary for rescuing poor, abused and unloved babies.

  3. Three and four year olds wandering down the highway IS bad people! Neglect and child endangerment would certainly be something to be looked into!! There is a huge difference between letting a child of at least ten walk to the library or ride his bike to the library alone, and toddlers walking down the highway.

  4. They didn’t LET the kids walk down the highway. It was a mistake, and probably one they felt terrible about. But anyone who doesn’t tether their children to themselves knows that that sort of thing CAN happen. I refuse to feel guilty for not having 24 hour direct supervision of my children. My most frightening incident was when I jumped out of the shower at my two year old’s scream to find my 9mo half way down the driveway being licked by a strange dog. My 2yo learned that morning to open the deadbolted door by himself. What can you do?

  5. My dad tells a story of a woman who forgot her baby in a shopping cart a a grocery store. This was probably 30 years ago, so they just took the baby behind the service desk and waited. Said they had no trouble telling who she was when she came running in in a panic. People forget things. Knowing that your lapse of memory could be life and death for your child is stressful enough without the concern that even if it all turns out okay, CPS is going to be at your door.

  6. CLT, right on!

  7. http://www.momlogic.com/2009/05/co-ed_crazy.php

    The girl is 22 years old, and her mom is acting like she’s a dependent child. 22? Adult.

  8. Of course toddlers walking down the highway is bad, Kate. Just like the toddlers who have wandered out into the woods and been lost for a day or so until rescuers found them is bad. However, that doesn’t make it child endangerment or neglect. Anyone who has a toddler can attest to how fast a child can move from one place to another. A 10 minute shower, getting absorbed in chatting with your friends over tea for 5 minutes, even 30 seconds to take your turn at a board game gives a child enough time to slip out the door (and her daddy felt sick over that 30 seconds for the entire hour it took us to find her, hiding safely in her room under a chair, but it was not his fault). Does that mean that parents should stop showering or hire a babysitter while we bathe? Perhaps we should stop having friends. That will set a great example. I don’t want my little boy growing up thinking he’s the center of the universe and needs my help for everything.

    Of course, today that kindly stranger would not have picked the children up, fearing a lawsuit for having them in the car without the proper child restraints. The person would have called the police and waited for THEM to come pick up the children. Because the highway is much safer than a car without booster seats.

  9. Uly: the girl is 22 years old you’re right. The mom is under no obligation to continue paying for college. The girl’s an adult, she can take care of herself.

  10. when i was three years old i recruited my two best friends to go to the park two blocks away. we toddled around the neighborhood and asked permission from everyone’s parents before we headed down the street. when we got to a busy intersection that we had to cross, me and the little boy who followed myself and my best friend everywhere held hands, looked both ways, and then ran across the street. my best friend on the other hand was to scared. we stood across the street from her encouraging her, until finally a nice little old lady came out of her house, and helped her across.

    finally we were in the park, and the playground was within our sights, when our frantic parents came riding up on their bicycles and swooped us up. i guess they didn’t believe us when we asked if we could go to the park.

  11. Sadly, if that happened now, she and her little friends would have been carted away to foster care while their mothers went to prison for neglect and child endangerment, and the kindly stranger who reported them would be on morning TV as a hero, extraordinary for rescuing poor, abused and unloved babies.
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  12. we toddled around the neighborhood and asked permission from everyone’s parents before we headed down the street. when we got to a busy intersection that we had to cross, me and the little boy who followed myself and my best friend everywhere held hands, looked both ways, and then ran across the street. my best friend on the other hand was to scared. we stood across the street from her encouraging her, until finally a nice little old lady came out of her house, and helped her across.

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  13. I just stumbled across and article about Free Range Kids and I am proud to say I have Free Range Kids. I believe that my kids will not be the kids with intense anxiety in college because they don’t know how to do anything on their own. A must read is “Anxious Students” published in Saint Michael’s College magazine in Colchester VT. It is sad how we are sending our children off into the world. They are terrified of the world and I see it every day as a teacher. When I moved to my new neighborhood 2 years ago the neighbors were shocked that I was allowing my son to skateboard down the 20 degree incline on the road (pads and helmet on) with a kite to see what would happen. Children need to live life and experience life. They don’t need to schedule life. Society needs to start living life and not scheduling life.

  14. “and the kindly stranger who reported them would be on morning TV as a hero, extraordinary for rescuing poor, abused and unloved babies.”

    But half the people watching TV would be wondering what kind of a sicko would pick up kids in her own car instead of calling the police to deal with it, since we all KNOW only sickos want to give any attention to kids who aren’t their own.

  15. Since this post is about toddlers, the story about the college girl really deserves it’s own post. But I hope it gets one because that will be truly interesting.

  16. I have to reply to Sameer’s comment, because what happened to that 22 year old essentially happened to me when I was 19. From the age of 8 on, my dad swore that he would be paying for my college, that I would never have to worry about it. Every week coming up to my accepting my college admission I was told that he had it covered, no problem.

    Then one day “nope, don’t have the money. Find it yourself.” I managed to get loans out with him for the first year, but by that summer the man simply decided I couldn’t go to college, wouldn’t even fill out the FAFSA, and told me to choose between college and family. Cut to me spending a few months living on my friend’s couch, getting ridiculously high interest loans (cuz no 19 year old has much credit), working full time while going to school full time, and severely limiting my career opportunities (I wanted to be a history professor) because I no longer looked as good on paper as I would have had I had the support promised to me for over 10 years.

    A parent doesn’t have any legal obligation to maintain their promises to their adult children, but they do have a moral one. Just as a spouse can dump their spouse in a day’s notice, stop paying bills, etc. etc. Just because an adult can theoretically take care of themselves doesn’t mean that it’s right to just remove support like that.

  17. Ashley, I agree about the moral obligation to keep your promises, but you don’t know everything that was said in that family (and neither do I.) My kids know that we’ll help them pay for college as much as we can, but they also know that that’s contingent on them not completely disregarding our wishes about how they conduct themselves during those years. If the girl’s parents really promised “we’ll pay for your college no matter what you do,” then they’re in the wrong. But if there were some kind of expectations about her living according to their guidelines during that time, the picture changes. It sounds like your father unfairly cut the rug out from under you for no reason that he was willing to try to justify, but that may not be the case here.

  18. SheWhoPicksUpToys, from what it sounds like the girl was assigned to a gender neutral room and didn’t care. Mom flipped, daughter didn’t want to inconvenience the probably 6+ other people it takes to move a room, mom pulled funding on little notice.

    I was mostly responding to the idea that a parent has the right to call the shots and pull funding whenever they feel like it because they’re the ones with the money. No, they have a moral obligation to support their children (whether that’s moral or financial support depends on a lot of things) and to keep their promises.

  19. At any rate, the girl said herself that she wasn’t sleeping in the gender neutral room – she was crashing on a friend’s couch until the end of term. So it’s not like she was slutting it up.

  20. They only have a moral obligation to support their ADULT children under terms that are agreed upon. If the agreed upon terms were that the daughter would conduct herself according to her parents’ wishes, then the parents are under no moral obligation to continue funding her.

    No parent has a moral obligation to pay for their children’s college education at all, though in most circumstances, it’s the right thing to do if they’re able. But if there is an understanding about terms on which that will happen, there’s nothing wrong in ending the support if the terms are violated. You don’t have to agree with their standards to agree that they, not their kids, are in control of the purse strings. You don’t even have to think that it was a good decision even given their standards — but they still have a right to set those standards and maintain them. Criticize them for being unfair, but not for breaking an obligation to fund her unconditionally that may never have existed.

    Uly, even though she wasn’t “slutting it up,” if her parents don’t wish to fund her sharing living quarters with men, then that’s what they don’t wish. You don’t have to agree with their view that platonic opposite sex living arrangements are undesirable — you’re not her parents. But they are.

  21. SheWhoPicksUpToys: You’ll note that I did say that support could be moral and not just financial, depending on the situation. I don’t think parents should feel obligated to financially support their adult children; however if they made a promise for years and years, it is morally wrong to renege on that on what seems to be a whim. If, in this situation, the parents couldn’t afford to pay for Stanford then fine and dandy they can’t afford it, but they shouldn’t go out of their way to make it as difficult as possible for her to attend (which my parents did for me, though a different school).

    Saying that parents have no obligation to provide any support towards their adult children if said adult children don’t toe the line pretty much condones conditional love. Shockingly most kids don’t follow the exact line their parent want them to, and saying that it’s perfectly okay to just destroy that relationship because of it is appalling.

  22. Except she *didn’t* have shared living quarters with men. She settled the problem on her own by sharing with a friend instead. Her parents wanted her to solve the problem their way – by transferring out in her last semester, and they justify this by referring to her as a child and saying that the school is obligated to keep the same level of contact with them as they would if they were running a kindergarten.

  23. […] Toddler gets picked up by stranger… …and ends up a journalistic superstar! (Albeit several years later.) Susan Toepfer, former editor of  Quick & […] […]

  24. “Saying that parents have no obligation to provide any support towards their adult children if said adult children don’t toe the line pretty much condones conditional love.”

    Um, no. You yourself said that support is not only financial. The love is not conditional, but they are not willing to support her in doing things that they believe will HURT her. Whether you or I agree with that view of the case is irrelevant.

  25. I read Susan Toepfer’s piece and I have to say that I found her ending to the column inane. I wonder why people persist in asking “what age should I child be allowed to…” questions. In 100% of the cases this depends on the child and his or her capabilities.

    I know 3 year olds who can make themselves breakfast and 29 year olds who can’t. I know 9 year olds who can take the subway alone and 45 year olds who can’t. I know 5 year olds who can ask for directions and 68 year olds who can’t. For goodness sakes people!

    When infants are growing parents are given age ranges at which to expect developmental milestones. My best friend’s son had six teeth by the time he was six months old and my daughter didn’t get her first tooth until 13 months. Both were considered totally normal. My niece didn’t begin to walk until she was 18 months old and my son was walking at 8.5 months. Again, both are considered normal. And you know what else? My mother went through menopause in her mid 50s and my friend’s mother went through it in her early 40s. And, yes, both are normal. There are age ranges for ALL developmental stages from birth until death. Attempting to set arbitrary ages at which ALL children should be granted or denied specific freedoms like riding a train alone, staying home alone, walking to school etc. is ridiculous.

    Part of being a parent is knowing your children by observing them not by assumption. If you know what your child is capable of then giving them freedoms incrementally is not going to be dangerous for them. It’s the responsible way to help them to grow-up. If you do or don’t think your child is capable of something that should be your deciding factor not what someone else is doing with his or her child who happens to be the same chronological age.

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