Gotta Love “One Step Ahead” — As Will Future Anthropologists

Hi Readers? Can you guess why I so cherish this recent home page from the folks at One Step Ahead? It’s because the headline sums up EVERYTHING that is wacky about our culture, starting with the fact that no child is allowed to enjoy any activity unless it is scientifically proven to GET THEM AHEAD. (At least one step ahead.)

That’s why what used to be called “playing” is now called an activity that promotes social skills and verbal skills. See? It’s developmentally beneficial! But of course, for all that good stuff to kick in, first you must BUY something. So if your kid wants to play? Do as One Step says to do:  “Shop Now!” – L Refer a friend, get a $10 credit!
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On Trial for Letting Kids Wait in the Car — It’s “Child Endangerment”

Hi Readers. Here’s the latest kids-in-car/mom-arrested story.  I know it seems like I’ve posted a flood of these cases lately and I’ll pause for a bit after this one, but this woman is asking for support and I’d like to provide some.

As you’ll see, it’s strange that somehow her 3-year-old got out of the car — that’s certainly something to look out for — but should she have been investigated by Child Protective Services? Should she have to go to court? Is she an irresponsible parent? No way. – L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: I have found you through researching issues related to child endangerment.  I have been charged with second degree child endangerment, in Arkansas, for leaving a sleeping baby and a three-year-old locked in a warm minivan on a cold day for under five minutes.

This happened in December.  I immediately hired an attorney, who explained that I hadn’t actually violated the statute, and so was not guilty.  Then, in February, I was visited by a child protective services worker.  He toured my home, and asked me questions about the incident.  I figured he was following protocol and that he would close the case.

Today I received a letter stating that I will be placed on a child maltreatment list, and that my employer may be notified, unless I request an administrative hearing, and at that hearing they overrule the family service worker’s opinion. Here is the source of all this mess:

On December 16, a Friday, which is my day off, I was driving with my two youngest children.  Benjamin is my baby, and Aurora is my three-year-old.  We had just met up with May, my six-year-old, for lunch at her elementary school.  I remembered suddenly that this was the last day I could buy a gift for May’s first grade teacher.

We were in a touristy and safe part of town, very close to the math and science school at which I work.  Benjamin had a bronchial cough, and Aurora was eating cookies (messy), and didn’t want to leave the van.

I considered the cold air outside, the baby’s cough, Aurora’s messy face and hands.  I figured that the time it would take to get the children out of the van and back into the van would be nearly twice the time it would take to just run into the shop myself.  They were both locked in their car seats.  I parked as close to the shop as I could get, locked the car from the outside, double checked the lock, literally ran into the store, grabbed two items without checking the price, checked out with no wait, since I was the only customer, and ran out of the store.

There I found two police officers standing with Aurora outside of the van, with the van’s sliding door open.  When they saw me running toward them, one of them shouted to get back, and not to touch my daughter.  He said “Sit your butt down!” so I sat on the pavement.  Aurora, who had been calmly talking to them, was upset by their treatment of me.  Finally, they let her come to me, and I held her.  The officers claimed that they stopped because they saw her standing outside.  This seemed really unlikely to me, but I figure it must be true, because how else would the door have been unlocked?  Inside, the baby still slept.  They cited me but did not call child protective services, and did not arrest me.

At the hearing my lawyer appeared and entered a not guilty plea.  A trial was set for February 4.

At that trial, the judge said immediately, “Didn’t I just see a case like this earlier this morning?”  The “similar” case was one in which a parent left children alone in a Walmart parking lot while he cashed a check inside.  My attorney started explaining that my facts were different, that the time was much less.  Then my attorney mistakenly said I left only one child waiting.  The prosecutor pounced, saying, “No, it was two children, on Central Avenue, and one was only six months old!!”

My attorney asked for a continuance.  The next date is April 5.

Since then, my attorney has changed his strategy from arguing for my innocence to making deals with the prosecutor.  He insists on waiting until the court date to show her my acceptance letter to the University of Texas Law School (I had applied when the incident happened, but I found out I was accepted right after attending that Feb. 4 trial).  He expresses doubt that she will be helpful, and he doesn’t seem to want to argue before the judge.

So I have fired him, and hired one who was recommended to me.  He seems much more willing to fight.  However, I just received a certified letter from child protective services that says they have found me guilty of neglect, based only on this incident, and that I will be placed on a child maltreatment list, unless an administrative hearing determines otherwise.  I have told my attorney.  This afternoon, more people from protective services came to my house while I was working and my husband was babysitting.  He expressed frustration and referred them to our attorney.  We are not going to speak with them.

I’m scared, and confused and angry.  I am afraid that a guilty conviction could compromise my chances of becoming an attorney.  I am afraid of being permanently labeled a bad mother from a judgment call that happened to be out of line with that police officer’s opinion of good parenting, even though my actions didn’t actually violate the Arkansas child endangerment statute, which is quite vague.

I’m just reaching out for support and strength, and maybe some good ideas.  — A Mom Who Feels Thrust Into an Alternate Reality.

“Every Parent’s Nightmare!” Really?

Hi Readers! Just got  this article from a self-described “heathen daddy from Attleboro, Mass.” who summarized the story thusly:

A kindergarten girl gets on wrong bus on her second day of after-school care. Instead of going to the program she gets on the bus for home, gets home, realizes she made a mistake because no one is home, knocks on the neighbor’s door in tears, neighbor takes her in, gives her a snack, calls her mom, grammy comes for the afternoon.

When I grew up that was called “S*** happens, that’s why we live in a neighborhood where we watch each others backs.”  Now it’s called “Parent’s Worst Nightmare” and cause for a one-on-one meeting with the superintendent of schools and a front page article in the paper.

Lenore here again: Yup. Perfect summation of the article and our era.  I agree that it would be miserable if my kid went through this, but a nightmare? A news story? No.  The  article even felt compelled to add that the girl, though upset, was “unharmed.” As if every time anything goes awry in a child’s life and her official caregivers aren’t right by her side we are supposed to assume the very worst, and it’s just remarkable that SOMEHOW, through amazing luck, this one escaped grave danger.  — L

Alone and ALIVE? How can that be?

But is Your Baby Safe ENOUGH?

Hi Folks! This guest post comes to us from the proud papa of a bouncing new baby book!

Safety Products You Need NOW! by Jacob Sager Weinstein

For my book How Not To Kill Your Baby – a parody of overbearing, fear-inducing pregnancy and parenting books – I made up a series of ludicrous child-safety products. My challenge was: could I come up with something more ridiculous than the stuff actually marketed to parents?

I’ll let you decide how successful I was. Below are four marketing pitches. Only three of them describe genuine products you can actually buy. Can you find the one absurd parody hidden amongst the absurd reality?

A:  Nursery Water: Have you ever fed your toddler tap water? You MONSTER! Don’t you know that tap water is full of… full of… something horrible that we can’t think of, but that is definitely going to kill your child! Now, can we interest you in paying extra for carbon-filtered water that’s been steam-distilled, then ozonated and flouridated?  We can? Even if you’re not quite sure what “ozonated” means?  Great! Thank you for your dedication to our new Mercedes. We mean, “to your child’s health.”

B: Thudguard Infant Safety Hat: For millenia, human children have learned how to walk without safety gear. But in the early 21st century, gravity apparently got stronger, because your toddler now needs a padded helmet to do what billions of humans have already done. Sure, a baby who is just learning how to walk probably won’t go as fast a motorcyclist, but if she did go as fast as a motorcyclist, wouldn’t you want her to have the same protection?

C: Saf-T Brand Line of Children’s Classics: Children’s books are too damn exciting and imaginative. That’s why we need Saf-T Brand Children’s Classics, which  have been carefully edited to remove bad role models,  unsafe behavior, and anything else that made them worth reading in the first place. Saf-T Brand Peter Pan eliminates all references to flying, which might inspire children to jump out windows. Instead, Peter Pan and the Darling children jump up and down on a mattress, after having a grown-up remove it from the bed and place it safely on the floor.  The only thing missing is padded pages to prevent paper cuts.

D: My PeePee Bottle: If you’re anything like me, you often find yourself thinking, “I’m not inside so there are no toilets nearby, nor am I outside so my kid can’t just pee under a tree. If only I had a dedicated urine jug that I carried with me at all times!” Enter the $9.99 “My PeePee Bottle.”  It looks pretty much like  a generic water bottle you could get for half the price, but generic water bottles don’t say “My PeePee Bottle” on the front in an adorable, child-like cursive. And generic water bottles don’t come in pink and blue so that you can assign gender roles to your child’s waste products after they’ve left their body.


A: Click here.

B: Click here.

C: Don’t click anything.

D: Click yet again.

Only the Saf-T Brand Line of Children’s Classics is deliberately meant to be nuts. — J.S. W.

Go the F*** to Weep: Teen Expelled For Tweeting “F” Word

Hi Readers — Just read this stunning story about an Indiana teen expelled from his high school, three months before graduation, for using the “F” word in a comment he seems to have tweeted at 2:30 a.m. In other words, a tweet he made NOT at school, and yet possibly FROM a school-issued computer. The tweet said (don’t expel me from my blog!):  “BEEP is one of those BEEP  words you can BEEP put anywhere in a BEEP sentence and it still BEEP makes sense.”

Here’s what does NOT make sense: Why is the school censoring his tweets? While it does sound like the young man has been a thorn in the administration’s side — he likes to wear kilts, and he suffers from migraines, which make him absent a fair bit — that hardly gives the school license to punish him for what he says on his own time.

Add to this the fact that the young man’s tweet wasn’t bullying or threatening, and why is the school involving itself with his social mutterings  at all? And why the heck EXPULSION? I much prefer the suggestions made by CNet blogger  who wrote:

Could the school have not asked him to recite some literature at morning assembly? The works of the 15th century author William Dunbar would have been appropriate, for he is alleged to have been the first to place the f-word upon parchment.

Might the school not have asked him to recite the famous poem of Phillip Larkin titled “This Be The Verse.” It begins with the lines: “They f*** you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do.”

Might he not have been asked to declaim an essay by Adam Mansbach–author of “Go the F*** to Sleep”–in New York magazine that offered of the f-word: “Its grammatical versatility cannot be topped: You can use it as noun, verb, adverb, adjective, or interjection, not to mention in any mood whatsoever, from exultation to rage.”

And speaking of rage, how do YOU feel when imagine what it would have been like if YOUR old high school listened in on your phone conversations, or confiscated everyone’s yearbooks to see what kids had written — the pre-digital equivalent of what this school has done?  – L

N.Y. State Senate Passes Bill Outlawing Kids Under 8 Waiting in Cars

Hi Readers — My very own state — New York — just passed an overprotective, unnecessary, parental-decision-damning bill. Here’s the scoop, according to the Queens Chronicle:

In order to better ensure child safety, the state Senate unanimously passed a bill on Feb. 29 that would make it illegal for parents or guardians to leave children under the age of 8 alone in a motor vehicle. Multiple infractions would constitute a misdemeanor.

The bill applies to any person legally charged with care of a child and states that they cannot be left alone or with anyone under the age of 12, “under conditions which would knowingly or recklessly present a significant risk to the health or safety of the child.”

The problem is that what I consider a “significant risk” may be quite different from what the authorities consider a “significant risk.” So even if I think my 7-year-old can wait in the car, reading a comic book, while I go in to buy stamps, someone else with a badge or gavel might consider that treacherous. After all, what if there’s a carjacking? What if the child is snatched? What if the car overheats in ten minutes and somehow my kid can’t figure out how to open the door? Or (to paraphrase some folks interviewed in the Queens Chronicle article): What if the state needs to make money and penalizing my parenting decisions is an easy way to grab it?
I understand the actual issue driving this particular law: Trying to save children from being forgotten in the car and left to die a horrible death by hyperthermia. But it’s not as if anyone MEANS to forget their child in the car all day. So saying, “Forget your child and you will get a ticket!” is not likely to have a bigger effect than, “Forget your child and he may DIE.”
As I’ve said before on this topic, the best way to keep your kids safe is to put your purse, briefcase, phone and/or wallet in the back seat next to the car seat. That way, even if somehow you WERE about to forget your sleeping infant (which is the way most of the deaths happen), now you will open the back door and see him/her there.  My new motto: Make sense, not laws. — L.

Kids! Cars! Are they ever safe while waiting in one?

School Bans Hugs (in New Jersey) and Best Friends (in Britain)

Hi Folks! Just got two articles on school-wide bans and the coincidence compelled me to share them. Here’s a piece about a middle school in New Jersey banning hugs, because some “unsuitable” ones had been witnessed and, said the superintendent, the schools must teach “appropriate” behavior.( Of course, the school isn’t doing that at all, since it seems to be damning appropriate hugs right along with the “unsuitable” ones.) Here’s another piece on the story.

And then there’ this piece from England about the  small trend of schools banning best friends, so kids don’t get hurt if-or-when they get dumped. The comments are really wonderful there, including this one:

So, is the government also encouraging Polygamy? Because if you live in a group marriage then you won’t feel as hurt when one of your spice dumps you??

I not only love the logic, I love the idea of calling spouses spice! Appropriate hugs to you all  — L.

Children: Please Remember, The Library Is No Place for You

Hi Readers! This poster comes to us from Ann Sattley, author of  the book and blog Technically, That’s Illegal. In case you can’t read the fine print, it says, “Please remember that the library, though a fun and entertaining place to be, is a busy public facility and all public places do present hazards for unsupervised children.”

Aside from the extraneous “do” (which I thought was confined to stewardess-speak) and referring to the library as a public facility, which somehow makes it sound like a giant john, this is a bald admission of the mainstream outlook today:  Children should never be any place in public unsupervised, as they are at risk — and you’ve been warned.

It might be “fun” and “exciting” to be at the library, but kids should wait until an adult has scads of free time to be there with them, or just live without library time. Who needs all that reading anyway? Kids might get the wrong idea from books like From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and start having “adventures.” I shudder to think. – L.

Weirdness of the Day: Man Pleads Guilty to Offering Teens a Ride

Hi Readers — A bunch of you have been sending in this story, about an Illinois man who offered a lift to two 13-year-old girls. He just pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct. According to The Daily Herald, the local newspaper in suburban Chicago where the incident took place:

An Arlington Heights man pleaded guilty Monday to misdemeanor disorderly conduct for alarming two 13-year-old girls in Barrington by offering them a ride home March 2, police said.

But Rodney T. Peterson, 33, continued to proclaim his innocence afterward, saying he agreed to a sentence of two years’ supervision and $400 fine so that legal proceedings would not hold up his family’s planned move from the Chicago area next month.

As far as I’m concerned, it should not be against the law to offer anyone a ride, otherwise we are outlawing human kindness on the assumption that any Good Samaritan is possibly a very bad Samaritan. It is the very definition of Worst First Thinking: “He’s nice to kids? PERVERT!”

On the other hand, I think the girls were very smart not to get into his car. That’s exactly the advice I give my own kids: You can talk to strangers, you cannot go off with strangers.

Did the man take the plea because he’s innocent and wanted to avoid further Kafka-esque twistings? Or was he actually guilty of evil intent and took the plea to get off light?

I really have no idea. To me, the biggest issues are the ones I stated above: Do not outlaw interactions between adults and kids, and DO teach your kids not to get into anyone’s car. – L.

Letting a Child Stay Home Alone, But Haunted by “What If?”s

Hi Readers! Sometimes I hear from Free-Range parents who feel alone and judged when they let their kids rise to some occasion. Here’s just such a mom in Australia. To her and everyone else trying to buck our fear-everyone/everything/all-the-time culture, I say: We are with you and support you! – L.

Dear Free-Range Kids:  I recently started to allow my 7-year-old to walk home from school on her own. I make sure I get home from work by the time she is home. But last week I also allowed her to walk home to an empty house and wait for me to come home — about 30-40 mins later — instead of being bored at After School Care.

When she called me when she got home, she told me that the neighbour across the road had offered to take her with to her granddaughter’s horse riding lesson. I had to call the neighbour to talk her out of it — my daughter would have had to sit on a bench for 1.5 hrs! — and to assure her that my daughter was safe at home and that I would not have allowed her to stay home alone if I didn’t trust her.

So far I have not had ONE person that I have told about this agree with me when I explain why I did this. All of them treat me like I am irresponsible, negligent or even stupid. The latter launch into a list of “what-ifs,” as if I had not at all considered any risks before I made this decision. Child abductors, traffic, unruly teenagers, emergencies at home, “What if the dog runs out”…

To those who will listen I try to explain that I have done a risk/benefit analysis of all of those things and am doing this because I think it is the best thing to do for my child’s development. But I feel so alone in this right now. On a very selfish level, I DO think: “What if my child is the one in a million that gets abducted? Then all those people will say, ‘Told you so!’ and make life even more unbearable.”

Thank goodness for this website. I told someone today that I am NOT alone in this, and that there is a whole movement of “nutcase parents” like me out there and that I hope that they will get heard and gain popularity. – Aussie Mom

Let’s hear it for the nutcase network! – Lenore