Several weeks ago, there was a 12-year-old girl who was home sick, alone in the house, when a burglar came through. Actually, she might have been 11, or maybe even 10. I’m not entirely sure given that I heard the story secondhand. What I do specifically remember, however, was that the story wasn’t really about the burglar or even so much about the girl: the main thrust of the story was about the mom. Really: what kind of mother leaves heryouthhome alone during the day? What kind of mother leaves her *sick* kid home alone?
I was reminded of this story this morning as I was dropping the kids off at school. We were later than usual, which meant that I had to drop Lucy off first since her school starts earlier. We were too late for me to be able to pull all the way up to the door since the street was already closed off for the busses. That meant I had to take the right turn that put the doors of the school out of my sight.
Call me overprotective, but I like to see her actually get into the school with my own two eyes. That’s being a ‘good’ mother, right? The problem, though, was that unless I chose to just stop the car in the middle of the street and let her out — as several of the cars in front of me did so apparently that’s a valid choice — I’d have to park the car, bring Will and James out into the cold rain, and walk her to the door. I decided to compromise: since I was able to park the car two cars in from the corner, I left James with Will in the car — completely within my sight, on totally flat ground and with the keys safely in my hands (i.e., not in the car and most certainly not anywhere close to the ignition) — walked Lucy to the corner, and with one eye on the car and one eye on her, watched as she walked to the school and up to the door, and then I turned and went back to the car.
So, well, what’s the verdict now? At 10 Lucy is old enough to walk up and across the crossing-guard-protected street. Hell, at least two of her classmates walk to school on their own, so what’s the problem? My guess is that in the (yes, unlikely) event that something had happened to her on that short little trip, I have no doubt that the story would be about the horrible mother who allowed her daughter to cross the street alone.
Another story, this one with a much sadder outcome: a year or so ago, a young father was killed on cambridge street when, while taking his baby’s carseat out of his car, a drunk driver hit him. That time, at least, the spotlight was on the drunk driver and not on the dad. I do distinctly remember, however, a comment made on one of the local listservs: how irresponsible of the father to not park so that the infant seat was on the sidewalk side of the car. By having to take the seat out of the car into traffic, he had not only put his own life at risk but that of his baby’s as well.
Um, ok, I guess. Except, well, have *you* ever tried to find a parking spot in Boston? Have you ever circled for hours trying to find a legal spot? Have you done it with a tired/hungry/diaper-change-needing screaming baby in the back of the car? And while doing so were you keeping in mind the possibility of a drunk driver coming by at that particular moment? No, probably not.
To be honest, when I left James (in his baby seat and on the traffic side of the street thanks to the one-way nature of that particular road) and Will in the car this morning I wasn’t thinking of all that either. I was, however, thinking that it was rainy and cold and there were way too many frustrated drivers of schoolbusses and SUVs for me to be comfortable, especially since they’d be safely enclosed only several feet away from me. But if something had happened to one of them, well, see above re what the story would be.
I’m not saying I made the right choice. And I’m not saying that there aren’t horrible parents out there putting their children at risk without a second thought. What I *am* saying is that most parents are trying — they’re trying *really* hard — to do right by their kids while also trying to fulfill the other societal roles they have to play.
Which brings me back to the beginning and the mom with the sick kid. I don’t know the family; I don’t know the details. But I can definitely see how a mom who doesn’t have a partner and/or doesn’t have help but who does have a job might just barely be getting through the day. She probably does so with her fingers crossed and her eyes squeezed shut as she prays to whatever god she believes in that there be no burglar or drunk driver or [insert your catastrophe here].
I’m not saying you have to be part of the village, but maybe when we hear that inevitable next ‘bad mother’ (or father) story we can try to see the anguish in her eyes as well. We can think about the choices she has to make every day and how she prays that she’s making the right ones. And maybe we could not roll our eyes when a co-worker has a sick child or parent or partner to attend to. After all, aren’t we all just trying to get by?