“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?

94 Responses

  1. Wow, I would be so proud for my daughter’s resourcefulness and grateful for connections in my community.

    I don’t appreciate how this focuses on the parents’ feelings, when it’s the little girl’s whose matter: her need to feel safe and cared for is paramount, not the parents’ need. It’s strange and disturbing how parent-centric a lot of this paranoia is.

  2. Similar to the plot of the first Junie B. Jones book (…Stupid Smelly Bus), beloved by 1st and 2nd grade girls everywhere. I envy the mom, whose sleeping dreams must be uniformly wonderful if this qualifies as a nightmare.

  3. If this minor snafu truly is this parent’s worst nightmare, then she is blessed with an extraordinary lack of imagination.

  4. Our son got on the wrong bus a couple weeks ago, exact same situation. He didn’t get off the bus though, the bus driver called the bus company, who called the school, who called us instead. Turns out he thought it was a different day. So the bus driver finished his route and dropped our son off at after school care on his way back to the depot.

    Now I feel left out. Where’s MY front page article!? Why don’t I get to share my ridiculous fears with all and sundry? My son was alone on a bus with a male bus driver!

    Oh wait… my town has apparently not completely lost all perspective yet. Phew!

  5. Sounds better than going to after school care to me!

  6. “The child’s grandmother was notified and came to stay with the girl, who was unharmed, until her mother arrived home.” WTF? Was the neighbour a known sex offender or axe murderer or something?

    When I think of all the times I locked myself out of the house when I was a kid and my mum was at work (she was a nurse and worked shifts)! Sometimes I would just sit on the doorstep and wait, sometimes I would walk the few kilometers to the hospital (often with the dog) to go get a key of my mum, sometimes a friendly neighbour took pity on me standing outside in freezing temperatures and called me in for a cup of hot chocolate. And yes, I’m sure I cried, but I cannot remember now and none of it caused lasting damage. And you know what? I eventually learnt to take the darn key when I left the house!

    Mind you, I have been called by school when my daughter was late and missed the roll call and it is freaky, that first moment when you think your child didn’t arrive at her class. For the 3 seconds it takes to realise it was just a mix-up, that is.

  7. I’m so proud of that little girl! I don’t think my own daughter would know to go to the neighbors. Time for some training!

  8. These grave danger stories always remind me of the following Monty Python sketch:

    June 4th, 1973 was much like any other summer’s day in Peterborough and Ralph Mellish, a file clerk at an insurance company, was on his way to work as usual when – nothing happened! Scarcely able to believe his eyes, Ralph Mellish looked down, but one glance confirmed his suspicions: behind a bush, on the side of the road, there was no severed arm, no dismembered trunk of a man in his late fifties, no head in a bag – nothing, not a sausage! For Ralph Mellish this was not to be the start of any trail of events which would not, in no time at all, involve him in neither a tangled knot of suspicion nor any web of lies, which would – had he been not uninvolved – surely have led him to no other place than the Central Criminal Court of the Old Bailey. But it was not to be!

    Ralph Mellish reached his office in Peterborough, at 9.05 a.m.., exactly the same time he usually got in.

    ENID: Morning, Mr. Mellish.

    MELLISH: Morning, Enid.

    Enid, a sharp-eyed, clever young girl, who had been with the firm for only four weeks, couldn’t help noticing the complete absence of tiny, but telltale blood stains on Mr. Mellish’s clothing. Nor did she notice anything strange in Mr Mellish’s behaviour that whole morning, nor the next morning nor at any time before or since the entire period she worked with that firm.

    MELLISH: Have the new paper clips arrived, Enid?

    ENID: Yes, they are over there, Mr Mellish.

    MELLISH: Oh.

    But for the lack of any untoward circumstances for this young secretary to notice and the total non-involvement of Mr. Mellish in anything illegal, the full weight of the law would have ensured that Ralph, Aldous Mellish would have ended up like all who challenge the fundamental laws of our society: in an iron coffin with spikes on the inside!

  9. Imagine the shock if the first one to call these parents was the caretaker to say they couldn’t find their daughter, instead of the friendly neighbour…
    This is just one of so many occasions when parents have to stop and think “20 years from now, I’m gonna laugh at this”.

  10. Same thing happened to my kid in kindergarten. He tried to get in the house for about 45 minutes then went up the street to his grandmother’s house. Yeah, I freaked and got pissed at the school. Bottom line? He was fine and knew how to take care of himself.

  11. I love that even the 6 year old knows this is a ridiculous “hubub”. If she keeps this up she’ll learn to be responsible in spite of them all. I bet she will get on the right bus from now on.

  12. Almost the same exact thing happened to me when I was in 1st (I think?) grade and no one made a big deal about it. Also, I agree with what Lauren said. These stories always put the parents’ feelings front and center, as if that’s what’s really important here. I remember the situation being pretty scary for me as a 6 year old, but the parents are supposed to be the grown-ups here.

    The parent in this story could have genuinely been extremely traumatized by the situation, but that still doesn’t make it newsworthy. Some people just want to think that their problems are way more important than they are. It’s time to gain some perspective.

  13. Every parent’s nightmare: your child went to someone’s house and had milk and cookies.

    I mean, that’s what actually HAPPENED to the child, right?

  14. Also after reading the article it sounds like the school is just as responsible for making a mountain out of a molehill as the mom.

  15. “Responsibility means one thing when you’re dealing with adults,” she said. “But we can’t expect of 6-year-olds the same things we expect of adults.” -quote from the mom

    So, when should we teach our kids about responsibility? This girl obviously made a mistake (minor) and fixed it by going to a neighbor’s house. Honestly, this would be a blip on the radar in our house. But instead of reviewing the daily schedule with 6 yo, mom is on front page of paper blaming everyone else but precious daughter. I wouldn’t be surprised if she is also considering a lawsuit. Way to raise your child devoid of responsibility.

  16. His first day of 1st grade, my son was put on the wrong bus to go home. Once the route was over and the bus driver realized he still had a kid on the bus my son gave him directions to get him home. He was a little bit late, but home safe and sound. I called the school just to tell them they may want to keep a closer eye on things, but it never occurred to me to get angry. Mistakes happen. Besides, I was happy to know that at 6 years old, my son was able to handle himself in unexpected situations – now that he’s deployed to Afghanistan in the Marines, I pray he still has that skill.

  17. I live in a great neighbourhood. This has happened a couple of times…. more on the line of the fact that the child had come home and no parent was there. It wasn’t that the parents are neglectful idiots; they were just running late. Good people, good kids. I was actually HONOURED that these kids had the where-with-all to knock on MY door and explain no one was there to let them in. They came in my home and we watched out the window for their parent/sibling to arrive. In both cases, it was only a few minutes. The parents of these kids were thankful… I was more than happy to be there to help and these kids and they knew it. They trundled on up the street to their homes and no one blinked an eye !!! All was safe and well at the end of the day.

  18. This is why when we moved into our neighborhood two years ago we walked around with our kids every day until we’d met all the neighbors. Now they know they can knock on any of those doors if for any reason I am not home when they get here. Though, knowing my kids (3rd grade and kindergarten) they would just head to the backyard and play until I showed up.
    They also both know our home number and my cell number so they can call me if something goes awry.
    I think this little girl did exactly the right thing, and if there’s to be a news article about it, it should be a celebration of the return to common sense in our species. “Little Girl Arrives Home to Empty House and Doesn’t Panic. Goes to Neighbor and Asks for Help.”
    I can see the Onion article now…

  19. How funny. MY worst nightmare involves running and having to hide from something (varies according to what I’ve been reading) and the kids just WON’T SHUT UP so we’re bound to be caught. And there’s usually more kids than I’m supposed to have, but one or two have snuck out to look at the scary whatever and it’s not going to give them cookies and it’s not going to call me.

    Mine is more interesting! But then, i’m not a parent.

  20. This reminds me of a conversation a friend of mine shared with me last week. Her youngest child just entered Kindergarten and apparently he said a bad word. This caused some sort of panic among administrators (WHY IS THIS ALREADY TO THE ADMINISTRATORS BEFORE THE PARENTS?!) and they SCHEDULED a meeting with my friend, the teacher, the administrators, the music teacher, the gym teacher and every other personnel this child encounters. REALLY?! Over a bad word? And yes, I’m pulling a ‘when I was in school’ line, the teacher would pull the child aside and say it’s not appropriate, if the child was a one time offender. Now I could see the need for a meeting with the parents if the child is repeatedly causing a problem, but to just go to administrators on the first offense, sorry, I do not agree with that.

    Some of these stories lead me to believe some schools jump the gun on these situations as there is always that one parent that gets their panties in a twist if their child is being subjected to something outside of their mold.

  21. Gee, my worst nightmares concerning my kids do not bear any resemblance whatsoever to this non-story.

  22. Good for her! Mama just needs to get over herself. She should be proud of her daughter and grateful for a wonderful neighbor. All good stuff! Maybe a little review of bus procedures for next time. 🙂

  23. My only concern here is that the neighbor should not have given a snack. my worst nightmare is that my child would suffer an allergic reaction and die because some neighbor thought they were being nice offering my daughter something she was allergic too. i would hope my kindergarten understood her allergies well enough to not take any food.

  24. Our school district has policies in place that are a pain to the families that are intended to prevent this. The policy is that your child must be bussed to the same location every day. So there is no busing home certain day and after school care other days. If you need after school care, then they have to be bussed there everyday even if you only need after school care for 1 day. This is really a big issue when you only need the part time care.

  25. Remarkable! This isn’t a nightmare, it’s a testament to good parenting. Should my son ever find himself in a similar situation, it is my hope that my husband and I will have taught him the skills to be just as resourceful and level-headed. High praises for all involved.

  26. This is one of many reasons public schools (I’m assuming this is a public school in this case) are so strapped for resources. Administrators and other staff have to spend so much of their time putting out fires and responding to the news media about silly non-incidents like this.

    I can understand the mom’s panic when the daycare called, but it sounds like it was resolved quickly. The girl made a mistake, which happens, but what is the school supposed to do about it? Interrogate every child as they get on the bus to make sure they’re in the right place? Most teachers have a checklist for where each child goes, and of course they should check that over, but when teachers are watching 25 kids a mistake might be made. It’s not the end of the world. The odds that a child-snatcher is waiting in the bushes for someone to slip up and send a kid on the wrong bus are pretty slim.

    This means that more teachers will have to spend time after school watching all the children like hawks rather than actually getting any of their planning done. This means that school administrators having to bend over backwards to parents’ demands will continue. When will any actual education be accomplished at schools?

  27. My question is, who called the papers?

    Last week the lead story on our local news was that a toddler fell and hit his head on an open bureau drawer. I live in a major US city.

    I was infuriated! I mean, really??? Why are these things even being reported???

  28. Lorrie, that policy intended to prevent mix-ups is very sad. It just shows that the school places no trust in the kids or the parents to manage their own schedules. 😦

  29. I would assume that the neighbour and the child already knew each other. If your child with allergies went to the house of someone they knew, it’s likely that person would also be aware of allergies.

  30. The second thing I taught my kids when they started school (after our phone number) was the code for our garage, just in case. They were armed with tools to take care of themselves. Plus, schools at the end of the day are chaotic places. The teachers can’t take each child by the hand, and put each one on the right bus on the right day. Bravo to this little girl for figuring it out. Hopefully, this mother won’t squash the girl’s independence.

  31. Strange, because my worst nightmare involves a school bus full of children and a fully loaded log truck! I lived the nightmare at the age of 8. Trapped on a burning and overturned school bus with my kindergarten aged sister. I got her out from under the seat where she was pinned and we climbed down the log that had torn a huge hole in the side of the bus, to safety. FIve surgeries later, and I was fine. The three children that were killed that day…THAT is a parent’s worst nightmare!

    Do I prevent my children from riding the bus to school? No. Do I have a slight panic attack if the bus is 15 minutes late? Yes, but I realize that my worst fear is exactly that..fear..and I don’t call the news crew or the school board.

    To quote my very wise grandmother, “If you carry on like this when you burn the toast, what are you going to do if the house burns down?”

  32. When my daughter was in first grade, her friend convinced her that it would be all right to catch the bus home and play even though she forgot to ask us in advance. It was one of the days she was supposed to go to the after school program. She got on the bus, and got off at our regular bus stop. Her friends father, noting that I wasn’t there to meet her (the bus stop was several blocks away across a busy street) took her home with him and called the school and me to see what was going on. Was I upset? Sure, not because he helped her but because my daughter didn’t ask us if she could go to her friends house. But, I was grateful that I had a neighbor to help, I don’t understand why we can’t simply trust each other.

  33. When I was in kindergarten, my little friend Caroline had the very last stop. She fell asleep on the bus and, being short, was missed. The driver found her after he pulled into the deeper. All of the moms had a good chuckle over it. No one thought this was news.

  34. “It’s strange and disturbing how parent-centric a lot of this paranoia is.”

    Lauren, well said. It always does seem to be about how the parents would feel, and the child appears to be little more than a precious doll that must be protected. I imagine the child in this case must have felt pretty good about herself for handling the situation and scoring a bonus snack … until, of course, all the adults around her taught her what a ‘nightmare’ she’d been through.

  35. This has happened twice to my middle son, once I was at the school and he was on the bus on his way home and the other I was at a track and field event and he was also sent home instead of going to the event with his older brother… and ya, ***t happens! Life gets mixed up sometimes, it has always worked out for the best because like the “heathen dad” said there were neighbours willing and able to help out!

  36. Ironically I live in Attleboro….and I do *NOT* remember this story at all. I must be out of touch lol.

    I can understand being a little concerned but the first week of school is utter chaos w/getting the kids on the busses.

    I’m trying to put myself in the parents place…..and first an most importantly I would be exceptionally proud of my child for know what to do. Then I would be pleased and happy with my neighbor for helping my child….that’s awesome right there. Some people would have called the police, school, etc. Nope she took the child in, feed her, called mom ~ what neighbors/friends should do

    Lastly I would contact the school to let them know what happened. Attleboro does have a policy of not allowing kindergarteners off the bus w/out an adult present (i know i know – but it’s the policy in the city). AND they stop at EVERY.SINGLE.KINDERGARTNER’s house. Again – with the chaos of back to school and the driver may not know the parent/kid teams at the bus stop (trust me the parents go to the bus stop 3 houses away even for 4th graders around here).

    I think I’d just tell them – “hey just so it doesn’t happen again….” No reason to alert the media….right? I don’t that.

  37. 1) Good reminder to tell my kids what to do should they ever find themselves unexpectedly alone.

    2) When my sister was 3 starting pre-K, my mom gave her a map and told her to walk to a new babysitter’s house when school left out. She did, but found herself shy to knock on the door, so she walked a couple blocks in the other direction to the playground instead (across a main street). Once my parents found out, older neighborhood kids who knew her went looking, and she was found safe and sound (and having a great time). I am sure this was nerve-wracking to my parents, but in those days, it was more “where did she go off to” than “who took her” or “what may have been done to her.” There was also no “oh, the poor traumatized little baby, how will she ever recover?” She got a stern talking-to and didn’t commit that mistake again.

  38. Another story this reminds me of. My grandmother at age 5 was a recent immigrant and spoke very little English. She got herself lost at some point. A nice store lady saw her crying and asked her some questions, to which my grandma only answered “no” since she could not understand. The lady gave her a chocolate and got someone busy looking for her parents. Eventually my grandma was in great need of a restroom, which the lady picked up on. She kept asking and my grandma kept tearfully saying “no,” but the lady had the good sense to take her there anyway. Eventually her parents found her and all was right with the world. My grandma remembered this as an example of how nice strangers really can be.

  39. I don’t think mine would have gone to the neighbor’s either (unless it were for a snack or to see if their kids could play). She would have used the hidden house key to get into the house and just stayed there on her own. Or, if the weather was nice, I probably would find her around back on the screened porch doing her homework. She’s never been one to panic.

    Let’s see – bonus snack and bonus afternoon with grandma. Me thinks this little girl may pull this stunt again. 😉 I know mine would, especially if it involved chocolate chip cookies. LOL!

  40. When I started 1st grade I had a cast on my leg. During recess one day I had to use the bathroom, and the teacher told me to go into the school. When I came back out, everyone was gone. Recess was obviously over and they all went back to the classroom. Problem was, I had no idea how to get back to my classroom, as it was only the 2nd or 3rd day of school. I walked around to the front of the school, and my Dad just happened to be there, dropping off my baby bro for afternoon kindergarten. He of course picked me up and took me back to my class. END – OF – STORY. If that were to happen today I’m sure we all could have ended up on the front page and the teacher and school in major hot water. I’m so thankful I grew up in a time where things like that could, and did happen, just to show us that it wasn’t the end of the world and everything was fine.

  41. There was a day a few years back where several major streets flooded out. Our incompetent school department didn’t notify the bus company, so everybody had to wing it.

    My younger son rode his bus up to the point where the roadway became impassible and the bus had to turn around. He and his friend hopped off, and decided to walk the last 1.5 miles home. They found all sorts of neat stuff, like rocks tumbling in the spring that took over the street and such. They also had to free climb and transit a wall of granite where the street was flooded a couple of feet deep across the full width. It took them most of an hour to make it to our house – intact, soaked, but fine and babbling about the adventure.

    My older son stayed on the bus and disembarked at a friend’s house with a bunch of kids. They raided the fridge and played games until an adult made it home and drove ten to fifteen miles to get around all the flooding and get the kids the 1.5 mile home.

    While I was absolutely furious that the schools didn’t notify the bus company or the drivers that the roads were impassible as of 10am!!!, nor did they provide alternate routes or e-mail us parents (this wasn’t so much fun for my friends with the autistic daughter, mind you!), I wasn’t at all worried about my kids, who both found resourceful solutions and kept in touch, and my youngest and his friend had an adventure for the ages.

  42. That happened to my daughter as well. We had hired a babysitter and asked her to come between 3:15 and 3:30. Unfortunately that was based on when the bus arrived in our neighborhood the first week of school. After the first week they must have made some changes because that Monday the bus came at 3:00. No babysitter. So what does my beautiful kindergartener do? Cry? Get scared? Nope. She happily walked over to her friends’ house (who had gotten off the bus with her) and hung out with them. Their dad called me and I called the babysitter. We got everything straightened out in less time than it’s taken me to write this. And while the working mother guilt did kick in (what kind of mother am I to not be there to get my daughter off the bus?) I knew that she was safe, entertained, and most of all at barely 5 years old she is capable of assessing a situation and seeking appropriate help. What more could a parent ask for?

  43. Oh, and at least this wasn’t what happened in Wellesley, when a black kindergarten student was put on the METCO bus to inner-city Boston despite having a nametag with his bus number on it. Gee, could it be …

  44. From the movie world comes an explaination of the different stages (4) the culture goes through as it grows. What we are currently in is what is known as the “oppressive city”. This is where the state or government attempts to take on the roll of “parent”, by public servants that have never had children (or should never have children). In other words, these public servants are governed by outlines provided by psycholoigists and psychiatrists who do not have children or should never have children. We have already seen what happens when parents try to take back their power as parents: SWAT teams surrounding your house to arrest you for being a parent and not wanting your 2 year old forced-drugged stupid or be forced to have shock treatment.

  45. Oh, please. This kid is the not the first kid to hop on the wrong bus at the wrong time. And this being the second day of the afterschool program I would give all parties a break. Review the schedule with the girl, remind the teachers of the new afterschool plans so they can remind the kid. Doable and reasonable and non-dramatic.

    I think this girl did the most common-sense thing I can think of for that situation. In fact, I think a great house rule in the case of no parents is to head on over to a [known and trusted, of course] neighbor.

    Frankly, when I saw “Parent’s Worse Nightmare” I was hoping for a better story. These people must live in an exceedingly boring town.

  46. I can’t imagine calling the media for such a minor issue. That’s ridiculous.

    This kind of thing is why my kids have their own housekeys. I expect to be home when they get out of school, and usually meet them there because the school prefers it for kids my son’s age, but sometimes I tell the teacher to just have them walk. If I’m not home, they’d still be able to get inside, no big deal.

  47. Last night I dreamt that I was in a daycare center and there was a bomb. I was the only person who escaped before the bomb went off, but I was holding someone else’s baby, and my baby was still inside. Most of the dream was about me in some kind of recovery area, telling my story while cradling a just-orphaned baby and sobbing about my own child’s death.

    That was a nightmare. Getting a call that my child was missing, and then another call a few minutes later that she’d simply mistakenly gone home and was in the care of a neighbor — that would be a relief.

  48. I remember telling my kids what to do if they came home to an empty house when we first moved here. Not that it happens often since I’m a SAHM but occasionally I’m out running errands when they get home. Usually the door is just left unlocked for them and they were told how to behave at home alone.

    I also asked them what they thought they should do if the door were locked. Their answers were:
    1. check the back door just in case it’s unlocked
    2. wait for a bit to see if anyone comes home (unless it’s super cold which doesn’t happen often)
    3. go to one of their friend’s houses on the block and hang out until someone comes home
    4. ask a neighbor to use their phone to call and let us know they’re locked out

    They decided that all on their own.

    So far I think the longest the kids have ever been locked out of the house was 5 or so minutes. They had barely gotten home when we pulled in the drive and they were kind of sad because they were hoping to go play before doing their homework, lol.

    Their friend (now in 5th grade) gets locked out of her house all the time. She usually comes over here even though we live a block away (she’s friends with my 3rd grader but I think she likes my son in the 4th grade, lol). She uses my phone to call her mom and then waits until someone comes to unlock the door. Sometimes it’s a bit of a weight but it’s never a big deal.

    The last time she was hanging out here but we needed to go run some errands (not expecting this kid to need a place to stay after school). So my son and daughter walked her home to see if it was unlocked yet. It wasn’t so I told them all to go back to our house and behave. No big deal. She was gone when we got back from shopping.

  49. I couldn’t find a place to send an email, but I thought the community would be pleased with this bit of wisdom from JDG, the man behind the Sweet Juniper blog.

    “It was really amazingly hot for a March day and my daughter started complaining about the heat so I let her take off her mudboots and walk through the marsh in bare feet despite the risk of splinters, tetanus, hookworms, roundworms, tapeworms, pinworms, whipworms, bladder worms, porkworms, broadfish worms, flatworms, worm fits, flukes, impetigo, scrumpox, staph infections, scabies, thrush, scarlet fever, nits, lice, fleas, pruritis, rubeola, bronze john, bloody sweats, bloody flux, chilblain, typhoid, blackwater fever, croup, grocer’s itch, dock fever, dropsy, quinsy, scarlet rash, scurvy, spongy gums, shingles, St. Anthony’s Fire, trench mouth, etc. Sometimes you just have to live dangerously. ”

    Link to the entire column: http://www.somethingfuneveryday.com/2012/03/go-take-hike-crosswinds-marsh-preserve.html

  50. My 7yo actually snuck out of the Afters program a couple of months ago and walked to our house with a couple of friends, showed them around and then walked back. Two days in a row! And no one noticed they were gone. The day after someone dobbed them in. I have since kept telling the Afters staff that I do not blame them for the incident. I knew the school yard isn’t fenced when I decided to send her there and it would be near impossible to stop a child from sneaking out if they have their mind set to it. I explained to them that I think the staff need to be able to trust the kids to be sensible and follow the rules. So I explained to my daughter why this was such a big deal and threatened with severe disciplinary measures if it were to ever happen again. I did not panic. I did not blame the staff. I made sure my child understood it was her responsibility to make sensible choices. And I felt no urge to report it to the media or the authorities.

    It is kind of sad now to see how panicky the staff get when my daughter and her friend go anywhere near the Afters program boundaries though. I actually find their panicky reactions more dangerous than anything else. One of the staff told me the other day that 6 kids went missing for 20 minutes last week. They were about to call the police when someone discovered them hiding in the toilets. Uhm… If I cannot find my daughter when I go pick her up, the toilets are the first place where I go looking? As I always tell my daughter: when you panic, you cannot think straight and it helps no one. But her not being given the benefit of the doubt by staff because she betrayed their trust is a very good lesson for her!

  51. Nearly the exact same thing happened to my kid in kindergarten. Some days we went to after school care, some days we came home on the bus. He got confused and went home on the bus. When I arrived at the after school program to get him, the director nearly had a heart attack, she was totally panicking. I was like, “Calm down! He probably messed up and went home on the bus, he knows what to do.”

    When this after school arrangement was made I anticipated that this might happen and we had gone over what he should do if he were to come home to an empty house. (Knock on doors of some families I know also have kids coming home on the bus about that time). I admit I my heart was in my throat, it was the end of the school year, we had the conversation way back in September, and we made it all year without making this mistake, I was afraid he would panic and not remember the plan.

    I went home, a note was on my door “the boy is at the Kelly’s house”. Turns out, he came home to a locked house, located the spare key, went inside dropped off his backpack, got a granola bar, realized his mistake, locked the house back up and told the first person he saw that he knew that he had come home to an empty house. I called the afterschool program to let them know he was fine, the woman was in tears… then her boss and the Principal called me at work the next day, and I said: “I think these things happen, which is why he and I talked about what to do in case it did, I do not feel the need to leave work to meet with you about this, the feedback is I’d like a phone call if he doesn’t show up for after school and he is scheduled to be there, but when he’s not there everyday, it’s easy to get confused.” Worst nightmare? Seriously? In my case there wasn’t even a tear shed, he had a great impromptu play date and had no idea the terror he caused the people at his school. I was proud of him. The only thing that was changed was I made him memorize my phone number so he could call me and let me know what was going on.

    I think there is a very unhealthy and unrealistic expectation for perfection from parents, schools and kids at the heart of all this over reaction. I’d rather my kid be flexible, independent, confident and a quick problem solver than be able to remember without fail that he goes to AS on Wednesdays, Gymnastics on Thursdays and takes the bus home on Tuesdays.

  52. My two worst nightmares? Try a horribly detailed one in which we somehow lost every bit of our economic security–extended family, jobs, ability to replace car before it became nerve-wracking to drive, house, all of it–and ended up living with strangers in one room carved out of their house, not even a proper room, just a sleeping nook half-walled off by unpainted plywood, with no ventilation. And they agreed to watch our sleeping daughter while we had to step out for a few minutes, and when we got back the bed was completely red with blood and she was gone. Fear, fear, fear, capped off by the ultimate horror, and thank God I was able to wake up before we found her. Then there was the one in which I was somehow in Hawaii, it was night, I was on a beach without anyone near, I was holding my baby, we were being chased by wild pigs that wanted to kill and eat us not necessarily in that order, the only escape was the ocean, and I couldn’t swim.

    Sounds like this parent’s worst nightmare was just not knowing where the child was. What, is the whole world populated by sociopathic killers and man-eating wild pigs?

  53. My daughter started pre-school just after she turned three (she has an IEP). Her first day of school was also the first day the district “re-instituted” bus service for all students. Somehow in the process of setting up the bus schedules, our request that she be taken back to daycare rather than home was lost. I arrived at daycare to pick her up and she still wasn’t there. Rather than freaking out, I sat around and waited and sure enough a bus driver brought her to me shortly thereafter. They had put her on the bus ‘home’ rather than the bus to daycare. I certainly didn’t raise any stink about it; she was safe the whole time. The next day I did write her name on a card I put in her backpack (she had been too shy to give her name, making it hard to determine where she was supposed to go) and we taught her “her” bus numbers, but we certainly never called the superintendent or the press!

  54. Last night there was a show on PBS about the dumbing down and sensationalizing of the local news. The little bit I watched was how the local TV news reporters had to really amp everything up to get ratings. I didn’t watch the whole show (only a few minutes) because well, it was too dumb. I couldn’t handle that they were even talking about the inane stories. It has been two years since I have watched local news, mostly because I can’t see the TV from the kitchen while I make dinner. I don’t miss it at all.

  55. Not knowing where my daughter is for “several minutes” would be scary but certainly not my worst nightmare. Especially when said daughter was found within a few minutes safe, sound and eating cookies with a neighbor.

  56. “I think there is a very unhealthy and unrealistic expectation for perfection from parents, schools and kids at the heart of all this over reaction.”

    This is so true! Especially the expectations on school and parents, I think. And it is probably why lots of them are so panicky and have these knee-jerk reactions to put ludicrous ‘safety measures’ in place. To avoid being judged by all the know-it-alls who expect perfection from them.

    I don’t expect my 7yo to remember automatically where to go each day after school. I just remind her in the morning.

  57. My daughter’s friend and her cousins, who at the time lived two houses down from us, came over when they realized no one was home and the door was locked. I was very glad they thought to come to us, and because they knew my daughter so well (she was over there all the time until they moved several streets away) we were the first house D’s mother, who doesn’t speak much English, checked for the kids twenty minutes later! I reassured her it was FINE and I was happy to be a safe and sane place for them anytime they needed help like this. I fed them cookies and milk and the younger boy had a ball with my son’s huge Lego collection while they waited.

  58. This is hilarious! Personally, for some insane reason my worst nightmare has always been one of my kids doing something dumb overseas and being either stuck in a Bangkok Hilton-like prison for accidentally trafficking drugs, or being trafficked for prostitution (all those ‘death to drug traffickers’ signs in South East Asian airports, and having an attractive, academically bright but socially ignorant 11 year old who wants to strut her long legs around in shorts that barely clear her bum! ).

    Riding the wrong bus home and chatting to the neighbours – wow, just never thought of that one! Damn, will have to up the anti-anxiety pills yet again 🙂

  59. As I read about the Treyvon Martin tragedy, I’ve been thinking about stories like this from Free Range. Paranoia and distrust are behind that incident and the SYG law behind it as well. However for black parents, it’s not paranoia when they teally are out to get you.

  60. A similar event happened at my school. It was the first full day of kindergarten after weeks of staggered entry and the teacher was at a workshop off-site. A new supply teacher was called in and had followed the teacher’s notes about which student was to go on which bus. Problem was, Suzie’s family moved over the summer so the busing records had her old address. The classroom teacher said she likely would have caught the error, knowing that Suzie lived on the same street as Mary, yet were assigned different buses. Suzie got on her old bus, went to her old house where no one answered the door. She got upset and cried. A neighbour saw her (but didn’t know who she was) and called the school, thinking that we may know who the child was and where she belonged. The principal drove over to pick up Suzie and brought her back to the school. Her parents were called at work and came to pick up Suzie, while her daycare was notified of the events. The parents freaked and called the superintendent, calling for new busing protocols.

    We also had a `missing’ kindergarten student not arrive at school after riding the bus one morning. He had fallen asleep on the bus and the bus driver didn’t see him when the kids had filed off (they think he was under the seat). When she went to drop the bus off at the parking garage, she did her regular security checks and found the sleeping boy.

  61. OMG. AGAIN. Seriously? This was a weekly thing for us. We almost ALWAYS came home too early and without a working key, and trooped down to the neighbor. Kid was smart, did the right thing, and took care of herself! Mom should be PROUD her kid was that prepared! Jeesh.

  62. Exact same thing happened to my niece in grade one. Usually had an older friend meet her on the bus to walk home together but that day the other child wasn’t there. Got off at the regular stop, let herself in with the spare key, rang her mum, who called the neighbour. She was a bit upset at first, but how much praise she got for her clear thinking.
    She knew her mums number, she knew where the key was, she was safe. We should all teach our kids what to do in situations, talk about what if’s , not to scare them, but to arm them with strategies.

  63. @linvo -I think many people will take insult to your comment “This is so true! Especially the expectations on school and parents, I think. And it is probably why lots of them are so panicky and have these knee-jerk reactions to put ludicrous ‘safety measures’ in place. To avoid being judged by all the know-it-alls who expect perfection from them.”

    Your school’s educators are not a group of “know-it-alls” and they are not judging you. Shall we call the kettle black?

  64. @Jenn. I did not call the school’s educators know-it-alls? It is those that expect the school staff to never make a mistake and even to anticipate and be held completely responsible for their childrens’ choices and behaviours that I was reacting to! It is no wonder that school principals are scratching their heads trying to think of what more they can do to stop parents complaining when even the slightest mishap happens to their kids.

  65. I have not read all of the comments, but I have read enough to see everyone else echoing what I was thinking.

    We have ALL misplaced or had our child misplaced at some point I have done it at at least 3 shopping malls, 1 major department store and at LEAST a half a dozen times involving some change to after school activities and a bus between my 2 kids.

    I had a running joke when we moved to the town I am in now, “It must be jog-a-thon day, I have lost bear again” every year I would forget there was an after school event and every year it was in a different place and every year I was supposed to pick him up there and every year I ended up at his after school care location. I always made it in time to see him cross the finish line even if I missed the start.

    I even had one incident where I had business at the courthouse and had to have my cell phone off while I was in the office, kids wanted to try a park across the street so I figured better out there than whining with me. Meeting took longer than i thought it would and when I turned my phone on outside I had 10 messages from a local cop. Seems the kids had a disagreement and went to find me. police station was on the ground floor so they went there. Cop loaded them in a squad car and drove them home to see if I was there. I got a hold of him as he was pulling in. final decision was , I was already heading (the 3 miles) home so he would leave the kids there till I got there. never even met the cop but they were sitting on the back steps with ice cream bars when I showed up.

    no harm, no foul, no front page story, no DCFS no nothin, just a chuckle from the cop and a comment about sibling rivalry and boys being boys. kids were 8 and 12 at the time.

  66. Our school system has a policy where esp. in kindergarten, the bus driver won’t let the child off the bus unless an adult is there to get them directly from the bus. In 1st grade, the driver has to at least see the adult outside waiting outside the home. I wouldn’t be concerned if my daughter was let off alone, as I am pretty sure she would go to a neighbor’s house.

  67. I remember being in 3rd grade (so this was late 80’s) and falling asleep on the bus ride home. I woke up when the bus driver had driven back to the bus yard and did a final check. I was upset, but he calmed me down, radioed to the office that I was still on the bus so they could contact my mom, and then he simply drove me home. We didn’t have reporters at the door, and mom didn’t have to meet with anyone from the school. It was exactly what the author said – “S*** happens.”

  68. Wow… I thought to myself – I’m going to leave a comment about how this happened to my son when he was in kindergarten, being put on the bus for home instead of taken to the in-school after-school care program, friend’s parent saw him get off the bus, realized that wasn’t normal, brought him home, found no one there, then took him back to her place and called me. Pretty simple. He even got stung by a bee on his way back. I took it up with the teacher to make sure he got taken to the right place after school, and that was it. I guess I forgot to call the newspaper and make a big deal about it.

    But then I read the comments above and realized that this kind of thing has happened to a LOT of kids out there. Kids of people who read this blog. And I realize, wow. Things happen. And yet, we’re all still free-range parents who are okay with things happening, because we’re cool that way.

  69. Wow. I’m really not sure how I made it out of childhood alive. In first grade, I walked myself to school and crossed busy intersections (twice!) alone. During all of my school career, I was responsible for getting home (bus or walking), keeping my key, getting into the house–all by myself. How did I ever manage?

    My worst nightmare is that an earthquake hits and that my son’s “old-pile-o-bricks” school crumbles on his head. We live on a fault line that’s due for an earthquake, so it’s a reasonable fear. Yet, I will still send him to school…

    We can choose to raise our children to feel competent, capable, and confident in solving their problems by proactive planning and then trusting them (and the rest of the world) to figure it out. Or we can think of them as incapable and needing 24/7 protection from the rest of the world. I know which sort of adult I’d like my son to become, because I’d eventually like him to move out and have a life when that time comes!

    By the way, whatever happened to the Block House program? Or did distrust end that as well?

  70. My 5yos attend KG at a daycare center where I’m usually one of the last parents to come and pick them up. My kids like to run outside and play around while I do a few brief things in the building. I allow this, but teachers get freaked out about it, at least until they get used to the fact that I’m cool with it. Yesterday there was a newer teacher there and she told my kid, “don’t go outside, someone might steal you.” My kid (all ~35 lbs of her) said, “I know karate” and went about her business.

    After a while, my calm attitude about my kids seems to rub off on the teachers, and they stop telling my kids to stay inside. So I think we parents might have a chance to influence young caregivers if we make it clear that we welcome opportunities for our kids to have some independence. That there is no benefit to focusing on the miniscule chance that something could go very wrong.

  71. @skl1, I admire your confidence. 🙂 I have only just “come out” as a free-range parent really and am quite worried about others’ opinions sometimes. I am trying to toughen up and stand my ground though. And hopefully will notice a positive effect on others too.

  72. As a member of the media, I feel duty-bound to point out that we’re not all insane. If someone called me or any of my co-workers with this ‘story,’ we’d politely tell them that we were sorry for their harrowing experience, but that it wasn’t really newsworthy, then regale the rest of the newsroom with a ‘guess what someone wanted me to write about’ story. If there seemed to be a real problem, if there was a tremendous rash of these incidents, that’s a story. This is a minor screw-up.

  73. Worst nighmare my foot! It’s jusat a part of life. Whst kind of ridiculous newspaper runs a story like this as news? Maybe they should also consider headlines of dogs that get hit by cars or child forgets lunch at home! News must just be real slow in this place.

    As a really young child, age 4, I walked home from preschool on my own and with my best freind. Sometimes our moms took turns meeting us and sometimes they told us to just head to one or the others home after school ( 2 hour morning program). This was a very typical arrangemetn for all the kids because we all lived within four blocks of the place. One day everybody got their wires crossed. Apparently neither of our moms were home and had asked my freinds dad to meet us. They forgot to tell us though. We waited with the some other kids and the teacher for a bit and then decide it must be a day to walk home but we had forgotten. I have no idea if we told the teacher we were going or just did. We went to my house and discovered nobody home and door locked. About that time my friend remembered her mom said she wouldn’t be home after school. It didn’t occur to us her dad might be. We sat down on a neighbors porch and talked about what to do next. Eventually the neighbor came out and found out what was going on. Being that my mom wasn’t home they called my freinds house and got her dad who had completely forgotten he was suppos to get us. He told the neighbor to just have us head to his house. oh I think the neighbor gave us apples or something as well. problem solved.

    Nobody paniced. Nobody got mad at the preschool. Nothing changed about our arrangement. I think my friends dad may have gotten chewed out a bit by his wife for forgetting about us lol. Things happen, nobody was harmed and we have one more great adventure story to tell out of it. Honestly nobody had worst first thoughts about us being taken (or melted down after the fact) and my mother had a very real reason to go there. Bad divorce, seperate states, dad took older sister while walking to school and took her to another state. She lived in fear that he would come back for me at any point and still didn’t focus on that fear everytime I turned up missing/misplaced (and I did with an amazing frequency).

  74. My mother’s boss walked home by himself after the Napier earthquake in 1931 – the teachers were too panicked by the thing to keep control of the kids, and anyway this was well before the days of ‘pick-up’. He got home to find the house had collapsed on other members of his family.

    Now, THAT was a nightmare………This one, really not so much.

  75. PS. Forgot to note that he was, of course, a young child at the time…

  76. This is “every parent’s nightmare” … and one of the times when an adult’s, or at least an older child’s supervision was needed.

    The child was too young to be wandering around alone in that environment. He was not in a familiar environment.

    http://news.yahoo.com/body-4-old-arkansas-boy-found-river-035337887.html

  77. OK … the article says, the girl was left with a neighbor, rather than returned to her school as spelled out in school transportation policy which is the source of the kerfuffle.

    So the driver was supposed to take her back to the school and didn’t.

    Although unless s/he’s waiting to see that ALL children go into the correct house, how is s/he supposed to magically know the child needs to be returned to the school? Was s/he issued a list of children who need to go various places? Did the child have a tag? He’s a bus driver, not a private chauffeur!

  78. Ridiculous. As I parent, I, too, would have been glad for a good neighbor and smart kid! Although I might have asked the school why, on the 2nd day of school, the teacher wasn’t making sure my child was in the right bus line. (I work in a school, and know how little’uns are in those first few days.)

  79. I think that *EVERY* parents worst nightmare is a child with cancer, getting hit by a car…….not being able to feed your child, living on the streets or a car with your child….NOT your kid getting on the wrong bus.

    I understand that the boy that drown is absolutely tragic…..and I’m sorry for their loss…..but parents shouldn’t be sitting at home fretting about “what if my child comes home from school and I’m not there”. My friend lost her 8yo to Cancer…..I bet ANY money she’d rather have dealt with him getting off the bus and her not being home over the long illness & DEATH of her child.

    ALSO…….in Attleboro – the drivers are not allowed to let a KINDERGARTENER (which this child was) off the bus with out a parent or gardian AT THE BUS STOP. They are not ALLOWED to just drop off kindergarteners and let them walk home. SO when my kids were in k I HAD to physically come out of my house and walk down the driveway to get my child. An adult is suppose to be physically present to let a K kid off the bus….no exceptions….and trust me many parents HAVE complained.

    This part is also in reply to Suzyq. It wasn’t the 2nd day of school (I made the same mistake intially) – it was just a couple weeks ago ~ first week of March. It was the childs 2nd day at AFTERSCHOOL care. So she was used to taking the “regular” bus home. The driver may have beeped the horn for the parents (mine did that once when I wasn’t outside) and the neighbor came out being courtesous and took the kid in. For the bus driver that would have been a “guardian” coming to get the child off the bus.

    Quite simply it was a mistake – blown way out of proportion.

  80. And the kid’s still alive and everything? Wow, imagine that…

  81. I’m so jealous of any parent for whom this is the “worst nightmare.”

  82. This post, and the quote from Kristi’s awesome grandmother, totally inspired me to respond by writing my own post:

    http://eatsreadsthinks.com/2012/03/29/is-the-toast-burning-or-is-your-house-burning/

  83. […] in with my morning coffee, and Free Range Kids is the top of the list.  Today her blog featured an article that should have been a story of a little girl’s resourcefulness and a community’s […]

  84. Two words: not news.

    When I decided to immigrate to Canada from the US in 2003, the AP ran a story about “disaffected Americans moving to Canada” and my was-band and I were featured in it. I still don’t think it was news. Who gives a rip if a few people move to Canada from the US, or why? Interestingly, LOTS of people cared. So many that I actually received hate mail! Conservative bloggers from everywhere picked it up and bashed us like a piñata, and for nine full minutes, Rush Limbaugh called us names on his radio show. Intrigued, Canadian radio producers contacted me and wanted me to be part of their call-in shows.

    The Daily Show with Jon Stewart noticed all the brou-ha-ha and thought it was hilarious, so they sent Samantha Bee out to Minneapolis where we were still living to do a parody interview of us and try to “convince” us to stay in the US. The producers of that show were similarly unimpressed with the un-newsworthy-ness of our move, and the hysteria that followed the dopey AP article.

    If we’d been moving to Denmark, or Vietnam, or Costa Rica, it certainly wouldn’t have been news, so what is it about Canada? It’s symbolic, it’s one of those thorn-in-the-side triggers for many Americans, brings back painful memories of draft-dodging hippies, counter-culture socialists, etc.

    Anyway, an article like this is certainly not news, but for the same reasons the AP wanted to fan flames by profiling a few “defectors” who were *gasp* choosing to live in an “inferior” country like Canada, I think the media are fanning all sorts of flames around “negligence” and “danger” when it comes to kids… even if it’s just so far-fetched and ridiculous we’re rolling our eyes. The media know what our triggers are. The idea of a child being “lost” or “endangered” or “narrowly escaping disaster” is one of those hot-buttons they’re always pressing, doesn’t matter whether their version of “narrow escape” melds with common sense or not.

    Are we so very affluent and unencumbered by real disaster that the media flogs these non-stories just to try to stimulate us into making purchases of their rags, shows, and their sponsors’ dreck? I guess so…

  85. If this is a worst nightmare – they aren’t being very imaginative.

  86. Didn’t the parents tell their daughter that if she ever got home and mom and dad weren’t there to go to Mrs. Neighbor’s house and play with Mrs. Neighbor’s kids until mom and dad got home? Cause my parents had reciprocal arrangements like that with a number of neighbor families over the years. I am surprised this family didn’t plan ahead in a similar way. Then it wouldn’t be, “OMG, the girl had to go to the neighbors!” or even, “This smart little girl had the initiative to go to the neighbors.” It would be, “The girl did what her parents told her to do.”

  87. […] 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 … Read more: https://freerangekids.wordpress.com/ […]

  88. My 9 yr. old has gotten on the bus when he was supposed to get picked up from school and stayed at school when he was supposed to ride the bus… more than once. It annoys me when he’s sitting at the kitchen doing his homework while I’m waiting in the carpool line, but it’s not a news story!

  89. […] 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 … Read more: https://freerangekids.wordpress.com/ […]

  90. […] 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 … Read more: https://freerangekids.wordpress.com/ […]

  91. […] 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 … Read more: https://freerangekids.wordpress.com/ […]

  92. […] 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 … Read more: https://freerangekids.wordpress.com/ […]

  93. […] 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 … Read more: https://freerangekids.wordpress.com/ […]

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