Too Soon to be Left Alone?

Update: please check out fatty’s site today – for information on how to help my nephew, Dallas, as he goes hand-to-hand with kidney failure, again.  Thank you!!

Too Soon to be Left Alone?

I make really stupid decisions sometimes.  The problem with me (or perhaps an amazing attribute), is that I’m great at justification, rationalization and twisting an idea just so, to fit what I need.  Typically, the fallout of being built this way just lands on me.  Ok ok and Anson too, as this super power also extends to arguments and the ability to twist things in a very nuanced way.  Back to my stupidity, though –  I had two situations come up recently that I think I might have blown.  They both involve leaving Roan unattended, not for a very long time, but still – unattended.

The first was a morning when I had a doctor’s appointment.  I needed just five extra minutes to get there on time.  Five minutes that ran smack into the time I’m dropping Roan off at school.  I asked him if he felt comfortable staying in the school yard without me.  He lit up like a fire and said, “YES!”  Roan is really excited about expanding any boundaries in his six-year-old life.  I’m pretty sure he’d move into his own place if we offered it.  So long as I was there to read books each night.  And cook.  And play video games.  So we walked to school together, and were around five minutes earlier than normal, and there was exactly nobody there.  The school yard was empty, there were no teachers.  I hesitated for a minute, and Roan said, “I’m fine, go!” I watched him mill around the yard for around 45 seconds, then ran like hell to get to my appointment.  Guilt plagued me.  What if…and what if….and what if….It wasn’t a great morning.  My friend Adam who is a champion Chops-Buster sent me this email, which I read in the doc’s office:

Do you know who this abandoned child is? – was thinking of doing a post about him on my blog. ….. but then I thought ….. there’s this really cool blog about parenting, etc …. guns and gummy bears?? … something like that … written by this excellent mom who’s really funny (to some) ….

And by the way, Roan is an excellent actor.

Have a great day –

From the pudgy little loser. X

Then he was kind enough to add this picture, just to put my heart at ease:


The email actually did me a world of good as I knew my friend the Pudgy Little Loser was looking after Roan. (Full disclosure:  he’s not pudgy, little or a loser.  Actually, he’s a real life Rock Star)  When I picked Roan up from school that day, we went over how the abandonment went, and he actually admitted that he didn’t like it very much.  Which made my heart bleed a few drops of blood into my spleen but that’s cool.  So I pretty much deduced that I had blown it, that I wouldn’t be leaving him in the school yard again.  Until he’s eighteen.

The next situation came up last week, while Roan was sick.  It was on one of the days where he was doing alright – but really low energy, and glued to the couch, in and out of sleep.  Okeee…how do I write about this without it becoming way tooooo much info….?  Let’s just say, I suddenly needed some toiletries, and there were no toiletries of the specific kind I needed anywhere in my home.  My choices were to drag Roan off the couch, get him dressed, and pull him into the cold hard winter day to walk to the corner store.  Or I could put on a movie, throw on my running shoes, sprint there and be back within six minutes.  I chose the latter.  Roan was all for it, and again, even a little stoked that I trusted him to be there for a bit on his own.  But my heart raced the entire time, thinking what if….what if….what if….

I was gone probably five minutes (I’m a good runner when I’m motivated!) and the boy was fine, exactly in the same place I’d left him.  I didn’t feel too badly about this choice, rationalizing that in Suburbia, people leave their kids on one floor of a home, while they run to the basement or garage or some such.  Was it that different?

I’d love to hear what you have to say about these two situations.  Be honest, I can take it.  Plus, my lapsed Mormon-girl-self I left in my teenage years is hungry for some guilt, so bring it. Of course, if you think I was right on spot on, let me know that too.  It may help me sleep better at night.

28 thoughts on “Too Soon to be Left Alone?

  1. You left him for 5 minutes on the couch. 5 minutes. On the couch. As opposed to dressing him and dragging him outside. And you’re worrying about it days later?

  2. From a parent of three, I think the 5 min. on the couch was OK. But I will say, from my seat in suburbia, that the garage etc. is very different than entering the wider world of streets and stores. Risks and variables of people being what they are.

    The 5 min. before school with someone (parent, teacher) there, obviously OK. But with no one there, not so OK. Guilt over this one is appropriate. Even here in suburbia, just 2 min. alone is plenty of time for the unknown to happen. “What if,” indeed.

    By the way, these are good questions. We all make judgment calls along the way. Questioning them is an admirable quality.

  3. I think I agree with JEB. The 5 minute couch trip was fine, the school yard not so much. It’s such a good question, though. I’ve wondered the same thing at the park when I need to use the restroom. Can I leave my girl on the playground while I run in? Or do I need to drag her into the nasty restroom? I’ve done both, like you. I’ve left her and I’ve not left her. It’s all learning, as parents, we HAVE to keep our minds open to learning and making mistakes. Sounds like you’ve got great instincts. Just keep the justifications and rationalizations at a low hum.

  4. have argued with the missus over whether the 6 year old can make a trip to the corner bodega solo. i think it builds confidence and indepedence. no streets to cross, either. i just don’t see the upside of smothering the kids and fearmongering by parents.

  5. i love your clever voice. and i love your honesty (keepin’ it real, in street-terms.) not being a parental myself, perhaps it isn’t fair for me to say– but, it is abundantly clear from here that you’re a loving, caring, thoughtfully aware mom. the built-in guilt is a good thing, a good internal gauge.

    i think you’re doing *just right*… for what that’s worth!

  6. No worries-you’re good. I think I would’ve done the same in both instances, and felt guilty also. That boundary testing stuff is tricky on both ends. I’m testing the waters with my 13 year old babysitting the 4 year old. It makes me nervous, but is always fine. We use our cell phones like walkie talkies when and if he gets scared. I feel better about my choices when I hear stories about latch-key kids staying alone for hours every day, waiting for their parents to get off that second shift. It’s all relative I guess.

  7. Berry – oh yeh you should see me when I really screw up. I wear the guilt for years. If only I could get paid for the guilt. Of course, then I’d have guilt about not really earning it….

    JEB – well said. After reading your comment, I have to agree with you that leaving the house is different than leaving to go to the garage. I suppose that was just my rationalization kicking in. Gotta watch that.

    Daph – Yeh I’ve been there too! I suppose there’s probably not a right answer, just some good answer(s). Thanks!

    E.L. – Wha?? No upside in fearmongering? Damn. I’m going to have to stop the nightly horror stories of what happens to little boys who don’t say please and thank you. The bodega…that’s a good question. Why don’t you and the Missus let her go and watch from the stoop/yard? Hang on….are you sending her on a beer run?

    Sheri – Not being a parental? What’s that living breathing creature in your home that you care for? Hmmmmm….Thanks for saying I’m doing alright – it’s worth a lot!

    LeLaLu – Ok, seriously I’m glad to hear that someone out there, and especially you – would have done the same things. The babysitting is such a leap of faith! But I remember, I used to babysit like 4 kids when I was 14. And I’m dumb. I’m betting your 13 year old is awesome. And free. (?)

  8. Not the schoolyard. I wouldn’t have done that one. The couch? Oh I’ve been there, and it was longer than 5 minutes. At the age of six I left my boy alone and locked up in the apt. for almost a half hour while I raced off in my car to our favorite pizza place to pick up a pie. He’d been sick, he was feeling better and wanting our fave. Again, like you- do I dress him, drag him into the cold all for a pizza? Or glue his butt to the couch with a game controller in his hand and tell him under no circumstance is he to move? Well, guess where he was when I got back? Yup. He’d listened good.

    Overall, I think you rock as a parent and I don’t even know you. I just read your blog. While Roan was fine in the schoolyard, and on another occasion it might have not been an issue, sometimes you just need to be smacked upside the head by your bad choice. It’s called life.

  9. What, if anything, are supers for?

    I always tapped our dear Maria’s door when these things came up and let her know there were niños solos upstairs for a couple minutes.

    She kept her ears up for them. They knew they could get her if need arose. NYC is great for this.

    I agree with E.I. actually about sending kiddos out and ’round the corner to the bodega. The shopkeepers and pizza guys got your back and nothing makes a boy prouder and more confident than getting something for Mom. Unless it’s “toiletries.” That’s what husbands are for.

  10. I got lectured by a stranger when I left my 5 year old to wait for our food order while I went to pick up another food order 3 stalls down at the food court. I never would have left him, but he was very comfortable, could see me the entire time and I KNOW he would not have let me go if he was scared to be by himself. Mr. Perfect Dad decided to add “but I’m sure you’re a great mother…”

  11. I am not a parent so what do I know? but I was six once and kind of a worrier. My parents left me alone for short periods of time and I walked to and from school alone. It made me a little nervous but I learned that I could handle it. I think so long as you have had the “don’t talk to strangers – pay attention to weird adults around you” talk Roan is in no more real danger than we were as kids alone. Also I suppose you need to have the “don’t put your head in the oven” talk and “don’t open the door to strangers” talk. Wow parenting involves a lot of explaining…good luck.


  12. Kate – ah, the sweet balmy feeling of being smacked upside my head with my bad choices – all too familiar! Thanks for the story, and I totally agree that a game controller can serve as an interim guardian. But only in cases of (pizza) emergency!

    Lori – I considered asking my neighbor Rose to come over, but then I thought, is that actually better? I think you know what I mean.

    MP – oh geeez there’s nothing that says “I’m sure you’re a great mother…” more than unasked for $.02 from strangers. That dad may need to have a few words with e.l. (see above comment re:smothering and fearmongering)

    Wendy – not to mention the “don’t put my cell phone in the toilet” and the “it’s not actually funny to call 911” talks….thanks!

  13. It’s funny, I’m already stressing out at the idea that Isabella might have to take public transportation alone to get to middle school. The schoolyard causes me anxiety. That said, I know the neighborhood as well as you and can see why you would’ve felt okay with leaving him there—guilt and all. I’ve taught Isabella two important things every six year old should know. Our cell phone number and to scream like hell if anyone she doesn’t know tries to touch, harm or basically talk to her if an adult she doesn’t know is not present. I also plan on teaching her to do that with boys when she becomes a teenager!

    As for leaving the kiddies at home unattended, I’ve been in the situation with Virginia napping and needing to run out and move the car for alternate side. I make sure the doors are locked, do my business and am back in about 90 seconds. I sweat bullets the whole time. Gosh, my heartbeat races just writing it here. I think it’s the idea of feeling we’re abandoning them, even though we really aren’t.

  14. I once locked Maddog in the car (it was on accident! Really) in the parking lot of D.I. during a snowstorm. It was horrible — before the days of cellular telephones. I had to ask the “staff” at the D.I. help me. First there was the Fellini-esque scene where everyone who worked there (and you know what I’m saying) all poured out of the store in a panic and then somehow started to slowly circle the car in single file, peering in at my baby asleep in her car seat. Then someone called the police and the fire brigade, they told them I had locked a baby in the trunk… luckily my car was registered at the time so I managed to avoid a ticket for THAT!

    Might I suggest you get a child monitor? You put the one part in your apt. then take the other, mobile part, with you across the street. Then the situation becomes exactly like the mom in the big suburban house who goes out to the garage, Risks and variables of people in suburban houses being what they are and all.

    As for the schoolyard, I poo-pooed that one. Not because I thought Roan was in any danger (for god’s sake, didn’t we all walk to school by ourselves when we were that age? He’s already there on the school grounds). I’m saying you’re going to be late for your doctor’s appointment anyway, right? Aren’t you like me? Always late to everything? hmm. Maybe no. Still, the doctor’s gonna be late to see you, so why not stay another few minutes with the little Prince?

  15. I think you did good, Mama. I know of what you speak regarding the pounding heart and the whatifwhatifwhatifwhatif that you do the entire time, too. I think as long as Roan knows what to do in a fire (get out and wait *here*) or other emergency – wait for me here (in house) no matter what; you’re golden.

    {yes, I’m assuming you aren’t going for a long time;)}

  16. Jodi-
    You’re a good mom.. don’t beat yourself up. I think, with most parenting questions, it’s a matter of knowing your kid. Is he a trouble-maker, is he overly trusting of people?, have you drilled in his head a million times about looking both ways before crossing the street? I think you, and only you (and maybe dad) can answer the question of whether or not you can trust him. You cannot, necessarily trust other people, but as long as he knows and really knows how to handle potentially dangerous situations, let him, within reason, be independent. You both will benefit from it in the long run. There’s a great site about letting your kids essentially walk to school on their own, and how parents today are overly cautious about well.. everything.
    Also, there are kid friendly cell phones you can buy that only dial a couple of numbers.. and 911.. that’s another option for your own sanity.

  17. Jennifer – I can’t imagine our kids riding public transportation solo…Oh man you just gave me a new thing to obsess over on sleepless nights. I think you’re right, though – the feeling that we’re abandoning is strong, even when they’re really not in danger.

    Rotion – HA! Well, I’d have paid money to see the scene at D.I. Maybe you should do a montage of the experience for your new site? And your thought process with the doc, and the timing? Ummm…yeh. Duh. Like the doc cares if I’m 5 late? The doc wouldn’t know. Because the doc wasn’t even there yet when I got there. You’re smart. I’ll learn from you.

    Danielle – well thanks for saying I did good! I was afraid when writing this that I’d have Child Protective Services show up – or get some mean comments. I agree it’s all timing – short spurts are probably ok at this age – but not often.

    Jessie – again, THANK YOU. You’ve actually summed up my answer to every parenting question: know your child. And I love the site – thanks for the link!

  18. No problem leaving him on the couch…no biggie, lock the door and back in 5 minutes. The schoolyard alone? Uh, I don’t think I could have done that. Isn’t that where they say that pedophiles always look for little kids that haven’t been picked up by their parents? I think you are a fantastic Mom so please don’t take offense. The odds are that he would be okay but could you live with the odds if you are that one unlucky one? Nah, not worth it. I always think of how Adam Welsh got snatched at Sears one row over from his Mom. Yuck, I sound like Nancy Negative.

  19. New York has the same crime rate as Provo, UT. Just letting you know. So I guess what I’m saying is the couch, the schoolyard, those are fine. Just don’t ever leave him alone at church!

  20. Courtney – when you become a parent, come over and we’ll hang together while putting our children in peril. Good times…

    Robin from OK – Well I say never say never except I just said it twice. I suppose I’m less concerned with the pedophiles and more concerned with Roan falling and breaking his arm with no adult to turn to. That’s where my fear lives. It’s probably a little naieve, but I trust Roan more to get out of a dangerous situation than to make a good judgment about jumping off of any exposed surface. Bottom line – you’re right. The better thing would have been to ask a mom to meet me there early. Any numbers of moms would volunteer. I blew it.

    Crispy – First, love the name. It may stick next time I see you. And honestly? You think I even let him cross the front of the church alone? Hells Bells.

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  22. I agree with comments about how parents are overly cautious about everything. I was a kid who walked himself, at age 7, and younger brother to elementary school alone every morning. I know it tore my mom up, but she had to go back to work and apparently she rationalized that it would be OK, and she was right.

    But I’m now a parent in today’s world, and while the dangers likely have not actually changed, the perceptions have. My wife and I struggle with these issues a lot. She had WAY less oversight than me as a kid.

    And just to add to the “reality” of the world, here in our suburban subdivision, we had the police involved in confirming the identity of a registered sex offender who was watching our kids get off the school bus with a camera and telephoto lens for a few days. If it wasn’t for some observant parents at the bus stop, who knows what that situation may have developed into. I hate when paranoia gets validated!

  23. Addition: I didn’t just walk my brother to school without supervision. We also spent the 20 minutes at home without supervision before walking to school. There’s no way I could bring myself to be OK with that as a parent, which is not passing judgment on my parents’ decisions.

  24. I think we’ve all done similar things, suburban or urban mom. Dashed into the post office to dump a package leaving the kids strapped in their carseats and car doors locked. Gone to the garage for a few minutes entertaining the kids with the TV. Running down to the bodega for some “supplies.” I think they’re all essentially the same and Moms know their child best. Listen to your intuition and you won’t go wrong.

    Love your site! Been a lurker for a while…wept with you, laughed with you, and admired your strength…from afar.

  25. Nothing was more liberating then the first time I was able to run an errand without strapping kids into carseats and taking them in and out of the car. In this day and age of cell phones I don’t think it is a big deal to leave a six year old home alone. Plus it makes them feel very responsible.

    On the other hand, in this day and age of creepy people doing awful things to kids, I don’t leave my teenagers alone on an empty playground.

    But, I think we are just doing our best and would never intentionally do anything to hurt our kids. It’s easy to judge someone and say you’d do it different until you find yourself in a similar situation. I’ve learned not to say, “I would never … or my child would never …” It comes back to bite you in the butt!

  26. You’re fine. Really. I think parents today are ridiculously conservative to the point of actually harming our children by keeping them so damn sheltered and protected (all while sitting on their asses playing video games and becoming obese) for the sake of – gasp – not letting them play our be outdoors alone.

    I would have shared this post with my readers, but I can’t find a direct link to it… is that possible with your blog? Missing something?

    Send me an e-mail if so. Love your stuff.

  27. I’m just curious why you didn’t have your bodega deliver? I call them for “toiletries” all the time, and usually have them throw in two beers and a pack of m&ms.

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