Author Lenore Skenazy Explains 'Free-Range Kids'

PHOTO The cover for the book "Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry," by Lenore Skenazy is shown.

From "Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts With Worry."

Commandment Six:

Ignore the Blamers

They Don't Know Your Kid Like You Do

"Can you believe she did that?"

Melissa, my upstairs neighbor, is staring wide-eyed, the way you do when you want someone else to open their eyes equally wide and shake their head in disbelief, so the two of you can sit there bonding over your utter shock.

I am having trouble doing this.

"Well...it...it doesn't seem so bad," I venture, squinting apologetically.

"Lenore! I could have taken her baby and she would never have seen him again! She was crazy!"

Ah, the crazy wars again. Who's crazy: People who trust other people, or people who don't?

In this case, I have to say Melissa was officially crazy. Because the person she did not trust was ... herself. Here's the story.

She -- Melissa -- was waiting in the checkout line at Cosco, the giant warehouse store, with her groceries and her daughters, aged 2 and 5. The woman in front of her suddenly remembered she had to get something at the back of the store and asked Melissa if she'd mind watching her baby, who was in the shopping cart. Melissa said fine and off the woman, a stranger, sprinted.

She came back two minutes later and Melissa had kidnapped and killed her baby.

No, no! Come on. Obviously, that's not what happened. She came back two minutes later, thanked Melissa and that was that. One mom helping another.

But even if that's how the other lady saw it, that's not what Melissa saw. She saw a wildly irresponsible woman entrusting her precious little boy to a total stranger who could have easily turned out to be a psycho killer buying bulk paper towels and Goldfish crackers -- John Wayne Gacy in a dress.

All of which is a pretty harsh assessment of that mom's actions. First of all, the baby-mom did not choose just anyone. She chose another mom. One who probably would have had a pretty hard time yanking the boy out of his cart, abandoning her groceries (and place in line!), dragging him out of the store, dragging her own kids out of the store, remembering where she'd parked, unlocking the car, shoving everyone inside, strapping them into their car seats and then gunning across the border, all while ignoring her little girls shrieking, "Mommy! Why are you stealing that lady's baby?" And, "We want our Goldfish!"

Oh, and second of all, no one else would have noticed this little drama and perhaps said, "Uh ... stop"? ***

This eagerness to distrust each other, and even find glaring fault with each other, means that it's hard for moms and dads to ever relax. If the only good parent is a parent who never leaves their kids' side -- not even to run to the back of the store for a can of tuna fish -- then it's very easy to spot the bad ones. They're the ones who let their kids walk to school, or stay home alone for an hour. They're the ones inside while their kids play in the yard. They're the ones making their teenagers get themselves to their activities, or even jobs. Things that previous generations did without a moment's hesitation -- or tragic outcome -- have become grist for the gossip mill.

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