Criminally Confident in Our Kids

Hi Readers — Here’s my syndicated column from last week. Sorry it took me to long to get to the Tennessee bike rider story. Got overwhelmed by other stuff. Here goes! – L

CALLING ALL COPS…OFF

So, a mom in Tennessee, Teresa Tryon, has been told by the police that she was wrong to allow her 10-year-old daughter to bike to and from school. Do it again before the police discuss this with Child Protective Services, she was warned, and she could face charges of child neglect.

Though Tryon believed her child was safe, the police officer didn’t. And that was enough to put the mom on thin legal ice.

The bike ride is less than 10 minutes each way. The mom herself said she passed a total of eight cars on her two journeys on that same route that same day. Moreover, she had her daughter take a bike safety class before any of this.

Does it get any safer than that? Perhaps the girl should just never get on a bike at all. That would probably satisfy the cop. But what about the kid, who wants a childhood? And the mom, who wants an active, independent little girl? And the town, which could be buzzing with kids playing outside or could be just a barren expanse of empty lawns?

The cooped-up kids and lifeless lawns are collateral damage in the war against terror — the terror we are supposed to feel whenever we think of children doing anything on their own. If you don’t share that terror, you risk trouble with the law.

I know because it happened to me, too. After I let my son ride the subway solo at age 9 a few years back, I also let him ride the commuter train out to the burbs when he turned 10. He went back and forth to his friend’s house many times, but then, one time, one of the conductors noticed him and went ballistic. “You should NOT be riding alone!” he said. Izzy offered to let the man talk to me on the phone, but he wouldn’t hear of it. Instead, he radioed ahead to the cops, who were waiting when my son got off the train.

Also waiting, by the way, was the family of the kid my son was going to see.  They always pick him up.

You’d think that would be proof enough that this was a situation both families felt comfortable with, but instead, the train was held for several minutes while the police questioned the friend’s family and then called me. Finally, the cop conceded this was probably OK, so the conductor got back on the train, and that was that.

Until about a month later, when it all happened again.

The same cop called me. And when I said that Izzy was now carrying a printout from the train’s own website that said kids as young as eight can ride alone,  and that furthermore that I personally felt my son was safe — at rush hour, surrounded by hundreds of commuters — the officer said, “But what if someone tries to abduct him?”

I said that in that very unlikely scenario, I thought the other people would help him.

Countered the cop: “What if TWO guys try to abduct him?”

This is what I call “Worst-First” thinking — jumping to the very WORST scenario FIRST and acting as if it were likely to happen. Two guys waiting at a commuter train platform just in case a 10-year-old might happen to be riding by himself that day and they could somehow grab each arm with no one noticing? (And as my son asked later,  “Isn’t the policeman there to KEEP me safe?”)

Of course, there are police officers who understand that kids are not in constant danger and allow them to go about the business of learning to navigate the world. But when a cop comes knocking on your door or calling you from the train platform, you realize that until we abolish “Worst-First” thinking, kids can’t be kids — and the police get to parent.

The “Worst Place on Earth” To Lose Track of a Baby?

Readers — This is a non-story about a mom who got her baby’s stroller onto the D.C. metro but then the doors closed before she could get on.

Ritual infant sacrifice time?

Surprisingly, no. Instead, the strangers gathered round the (sleeping) baby, alerted the authorities and got the stroller off at the next stop, where yet more people protected the tyke. All of which prompted one bystander to say that she felt terrible for the mom because this was,  clearly, “the worst place in the world to lose a baby.”

Worst? Where a crowd of people took care of the child, alerted the mom and made sure everything was fine?

Do you think maybe we can quit thinking of every surprising or untoward situation involving kids as ALMOST a disaster, or a disaster NARROWLY THWARTED, or something that was SOMEHOW terrible, please?

Thanks! — Lenore

Subway Death

Dear Readers — It is with terrible sadness I report the death of a woman at about 3:45 this afternoon on the New York subway…at the station my sons use to come home from school.  At that very time. My younger son, the famous subway rider, got there just as the cops were sending people out. His friend darted down to see the aftermath.  Apparently the woman had dropped her pocketbook, jumped down to get it, and got smashed by a train. The kid told my son: Don’t look.

Aside from sorrow, I know this tragedy will re-invigorate some people who believe that young people should never take the subway unsupervised. All I can say is, there are an average of 5.2 million people who ride the subway daily, bringing the grand total to 1.563 billion rides a year. Today’s story is so shocking because it is (thank God) so rare.

Our whole family is shaken by the story, and the mental image. And we’ll be on the trains again tomorrow. — Lenore

13-Year-Old Boy Survives 11Days on New York Subway

This is a very weird story, but it does prove one thing I’ve been saying for a while: Kids are not snatched willy-nilly from the New York City subways.

On the other hand, they’re not noticed for days and days either.

Hmmm. — Lenore

Kid Slipped Away From You? Share Your Story!

After yesterday’s story about a 5-year-old who slipped away from his mom and rode the subway alone — emerging just fine — here’s a great idea that came from a comment below:

Let’s share our stories of when WE lost our kids for a short time. So much is made of any time a child goes missing – including those statistics you hear about hundreds of kids disappearing each day – that it is good to remember that 99.999% of the time they pop right back up. (And that perfectly fine parents lose track of their kids from time to time.)

Here’s my story: A couple years ago our family of four was on 34th Street – yes, the street with the miracle, but about a block from Macy’s.  We’d been looking for backpacks at K-Mart and, finding nothing great, had emerged onto the sidewalk and were trying to decide where to look next. I took our older son, then 10, to a shop across the street and thought my husband was hanging onto the younger one, who was 8. My husband thought I took both. So when we met back up and there were only three of us, I became (yes, Free-Range me) hysterical.

“WHERE IS IZZY?”

We looked and looked and I shouted his name at the top of my shaky lungs. Believe me, it is no fun having strangers stare at you as if you’ve lost your mind…or kid. Several horrible, harrowing minutes later, he came walking down the street, asking us, “Where were you?”

We asked him the same thing. Upon somehow separating from us all he’d gone back to K-Mart to look for us. He’d searched all three floors, including the bathrooms.

I told him he was the only human to EVER find the bathrooms at K-Mart.

Then we went back to backpack shopping and that was that.

Now let’s hear your story, to remind ourselves that even one of parenting’s biggest fears – being separated in a public place from your child – usually ends up with a big sigh of relief. And, when possible, ice cream.  – Lenore