Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Moral Dilemma

Having waited an eternity to get to the front of the line to order, and then to receive, my triple grande nonfat extra-hot latte, I fairly sprinted out of Starbucks towards my car. We had been too late leaving the house to pick up my coffee on the way to drop Pynchon off, so I dropped him at his building on campus and then Munchkin off at hers, before driving my behind-schedule self to the strip-mall Starbucks closest to daycare to load up on hot caffeine before dashing in to the office myself.

As the sun hit me in the face and I looked up to see exactly where it was I had parked, something in a minivan parked right in front of me caught my eye. It was two toddlers, strapped in to their car seats, completely unattended.

I pulled up short.

The girl was about 2, and the little boy I assume to have been her brother was about 1. They were smiling and swatting at one another. Nevertheless, completely unattended. I looked left, right, behind me: no one.

What to do?

They seemed happy. The weather was a cool 5 or 6 degrees, so they were in imminent danger neither from heat stroke nor hypothermia. But then, completely unattended! My mommy senses were tingling. I didn't know what to do. Confusion and indecision is no reason to just shrug my shoulders and march on--but it didn't seem smart or kind to intrude myself upon their notice, which would likely just scare them.

So I stood there, blinking ineffectually, and keeping my eye on them from where I stood, about 10 feet away from the van.

What to think?

On the one hand, it is just NOT COOL to leave little tiny kids unattended in a van in a parking lot at a strip mall. Even if they're strapped into their seats and happy. NOT COOL.

On the other hand, I only get to grab my coffee in speed and solitude because my kid is in daycare; many is the time I have deferred running an urgent errand because the inevitable tra-la-la of removing her from the car seat and cajoling her into and out of the dry cleaner's / pharmacy / tailor / liquor store and then back into the car and the seat belt is just too daunting.

On the one hand, this isn't the small town where everyone knows everyone and you can leave your kid unattended with security.

On the other hand, because this isn't the small town where everyone knows everyone you maybe don't have anyone you can ask to watch your kids for a couple of minutes while you nip out to the corner store. And in strip-mall-land on the northwest end of the city, there is precious little in the way of amenities it is possible to walk to even if you wanted to.

After about 6 or 7 minutes, the woman I assume to be their mother dashed out of Starbucks, hopped into the car, and drove off, no one harmed and no one the wiser as to my surveillance and confusion.

I've decided, I think, that I'm glad I didn't give her The Glare or make a scene. It was certainly not the smartest or safest way she could have got her coffee, but I had her back. I kept my eye on her kids, a small kindness to someone who likely quite needed it. I know that I would need something a lot stronger than coffee to stay home full time with two toddlers.

What do you think?


Janet said...

Confession: I have left my young children strapped into their carseats when they were sleeping or I just didn't have the energy to pull them out for yet another errand. However, I ONLY ever did this at places like the bank when I could park right outside the big window and see my van the entire time.

I'm not sure which Starbucks you were at but if she could see her van from inside then I think what she did is okay. If she couldn't see them, well, that's not something I'm comfortable doing. I think it's cool that you hung out and kept an eye on them, though.

Jenifer said...

Put my kids in potential harms way for a coffee?

Uh no. It is called a drive-thru and even if Starbucks doesn't have one and most don't, there is this other coffee company here in Canada that does.

Like you I have skipped an errand because the unharnessing/reharnessing was not worth it.

I am not saying that there is never going to be a situation where I would do this, because never say never in the land of parenthood. But, for a coffee (or in my case most likely a Grande Tazo Chai, no water, extra hot) I do say never.

Bea said...

I'm with Janet - I left my kids in a car (at ages 3 and 4, which, arguably, is actually more dangerous than 1 and 2) while picking up McDonald's. The car was right in front of the window and I could see the children in it the whole time. I was a lot more worried about being reported to CAS by onlookers than about the basically nonexistent chance that the children would be snatched up by kidnappers right under my nose in that situation.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

I'm with Bea on being in greater fear of the US-equivalent of CAS than from kidnappers.

I do think it's great that even though you were late, you stayed to watch those kids.

Omaha Mama said...

That end part choked me up a were in the exact place at the right time and helped out a stranger who didn't even know it. I'm sure six or seven minutes felt LONG, so good for you for sticking there. Good for you.

I'm guessing if their mama needed a coffee that bad...those children are lucky that she got some! I would never have the guts to leave my kids in the car...but won't pretend to know her justification for taking that chance.

Beck said...

One of my friends left her sleeping infant in the air-conditioned car while she helped her mom unload groceries into the driveway. A neighbour saw the baby sleeping in the car - with his mother, remember, only FEET away - and my friend ended up having the police knock on her door in the middle of the night, and strip her screaming baby naked while looking for bruises.

It's not something I'd do, no.

But I had 3 kids 5 and under and I can't quite imagine running errands and strapping them in AND out of the car at every short stop. And yet I also can't imagine leaving them in the car - too many bad things are VERY possible.

Bon said...

i do it in my own driveway. otherwise no. i admit Bea's right: the chance of them being snatched is waaay low. but in this i seem to have internalized the prohibition fully and completely - i'm a colonized mind. i'd no more leave them in the lot - even visible - while i went INSIDE a building than i'd spank them in public. both, to me, code things i'm uncomfortable with portraying or being judged as.

Cloud said...

This is why I have completely changed my mind about drive-throughs since becoming a mother.

If that mom lived in my neighborhood, she could have chosen a Starbucks with a drive-through window and averted the whole problem!

I think you did the right thing.

Mimi said...

Cloud: my city has recently banned any more new drive through coffee joints, for environmental reasons. But our suburbs are arranged so that it's very very hard to go anywhere without a car, and believe me, I too have begun to see the appeal of the drive-thru since having a kid ...

Mamalooper said...

I just think it was great that you stayed and watched til the mom returned. AND that you didn't give her a stinkeye. And that you gave her the benefit of the doubt while waiting. You were able to suss out that all was well.

On the drive thru - when the girl was a baby I didn't know of any nearby. Many times had the debate about leaving her in the bucket in the car in order to dash in for a take out coffee...

Debbie said...

I honestly don't know what I would have done in your shoes. I like that you stayed. Sometimes we just need to be understanding of those things we are not aware of.

I've never left my kids in the car like that, choosing instead to just skip the errand.

And honestly, someone snatching my kids has never been the worry for me. It's all the horror stories I hear about little heads caught in windows and the like. Especially now that the oldest can undo his seatbelt.

alejna said...

I think Beck's story about her friend will give me nightmares. (Not what her friend did, mind you, but the follow-up.)

I'm glad you stayed and waited, too. And I'm glad there was the closure of the woman returning to the car. (Another story that has haunted me for the past 3+ years is of a woman who left her child in a car by mistake.)

As for me, I don't leave the kids unattended in the car when we are out and about. Due in large part to paranoias based on stories such as those mentioned above. But at home, in our driveway, I have been known to occasionally dash back into the house (after I have buckled everyone in) to grab that one last item I forgot. Or to bring in the groceries while the kids are still sleeping in their seats. Even so, I'm pretty vigilant about making sure that there is plenty of ventilation and that the temperatures are moderate in case I trip and fall or pass out before returning to the car. (Did I mention that I am paranoid?)