The highs and lows of parenting and real estate.

Worst. Mother. Ever

I’m a tad hesitant to even tell this story. It’s not that I’m trying to preserve my dignity or anything. Please, I serve that up on a platter for you twice a week. No, I think it’s more that I’m afraid you’ll see me in public and throw fruit at me. I have an irrational fear of flying produce. But I’m going to push through that fear and share in the hopes that my story will help future generations of parents avoid the humiliation I experienced on Tuesday afternoon. If one person learns the lesson of ‘Crazy People’ it might just be worth a hurled tomato.

Tuesday afternoon I cycled through the normal rotation of bus stop/school pick-ups and by 2:45ish I had all three of my monkeys seat-belted into the GOV and watching Despicable Me on the DVD player. I had to make a quick pit stop at Target, so as I pulled into the parking lot, I did a quick situation assessment. Here were the factors:

1. Daylight in a crowded suburban parking lot
2. Three boys ages 10, 6, 3
3. All currently enraptured with the movie playing in the car
4. Temperature outside was 60ish
5. Taking them in the store would cause entire experience to take approximately 8 times (and 9 grey hairs) longer than it would without them

Then I polled the troops, “Guys, I just need to run in really quick, do you want to come with or would you rather stay in the car and watch the movie.” It was, unsurprisingly, unanimous. My sons would rather eat cooked spinach and red sauce with chopped onions in it (a fate almost worse than death) than go shopping with me if they can get out of it.

So I told my 10 year old (who, although he occasionally slacks in the homework and personal hygiene arena, is a totally responsible and reliable fellow) that I was leaving the car on, locking the door and would knock on the window when I came back to be let back in. He said, “Sure, whatever. MOVIE IS ON, SHHHH.”
I ran into Target, picked out my items, stood in line for an excessive amount of time because the snowbird at the front of the line needed a price check on her white towels, and then when the price came back she didn’t agree with it (I have absolutely no ‘fast line’ radar. I think it must exist in that part of the brain I was born without that also controls verbal filter and desire to exercise) and dashed out the door toward the GOV.

And I immediately stopped short. Because, OF COURSE, 50 feet away from the front door of the store, there was a police car parked behind the GOV. With a cop who took one look at me and gave me that head nod like, ‘hey, Lady, I’ve been waiting for you.’

I considered making a break for it like they always do on Numbers (who doesn’t love that show? Math, FBI, nerd-love, it has it all), but inevitably Colby tackles the guy who runs and that looks kind of painful for everyone involved. Instead I trotted up to him sheepishly.

Me: Uh, is everything OK?

(Youngish, good looking) Cop: Yeah, someone called in kids in the car alone. It’s not a big deal, but you probably shouldn’t do that. People will call us for anything.

Me: So they’re ok, right?

Cop: Oh yeah, they’re fine. I just talked to your oldest son and he told me you were running inside and gave me your business card so I’d know what you looked like (see how smart and responsible that kid is?).

Me: I didn’t realize I was doing anything wrong. I’m sorry for your trouble.

Cop: Yeah, it’s just not a good idea. People seriously call us all the time. One time I got a call about kids locked in a car and I showed up and it was a 16 year old waiting for his parents to come out of the store so he could drive them home. I get called for dogs in the car even with the windows cracked when it’s 70 degrees out. (Please note he didn’t actually provide me with any reason for why it might be unsafe for the children; just examples of how I might get the police called on me. At this point I was thinking about how maybe I should go home, change out of my faux-Ugs and sweatpants, put on a little makeup and lock my kids in the car in the parking lot at Safeway so I could get Mr. Cute Cop back out to see me when I’d put a touch more effort into my appearance.)

Me: OK, well I won’t do it again. Sorry.

Cop: It’s cool.

And I got into my car, pausing to notice the various onlookers shaking their heads and clucking. It was nothing short of my most humiliating moment as a parent (and you have to remember that as the female portion of our parenting team this journey started out with my feet up in stir-ups and several people whose first names I didn’t even know staring intently at my lady-parts, so that’s saying a lot).

Yes, so I spent the next several hours riding a shame-spiral downward. I called several people who have seen me at my worst and I wasn’t afraid would judge me and told them the story. They reassured me that I am not the worst parent ever, because they love me and that’s what they do. I eventually (a bottle of wine and my father telling me it was ‘hilarious’ and ‘people are stupid’ later) moved past the embarrassment. Because here’s the thing: I had thought it through. I wasn’t leaving my kids out there because it was inconvenient to bring them in and just crossing my fingers they’d be ok. I really felt like they were just as safe in that car as they would have been with me in the store. I’m not saying I would do it again, because I won’t (and you shouldn’t). But I am saying that I still don’t see what horror was lurking for my kids while they were watching a movie in the car.

Let’s play the worst-case scenario game with this situation and see:

Scenario 1: A crazed child-stealing pedophile is patrolling the Target parking lot and decides my kids are his next victims.

Likely Result: The car was locked. If a crazy person really wanted my kids, he’d have to break a window. In a crowded parking lot in daylight, this couldn’t possibly go unnoticed.

Scenario 2: A car thief sees a car running with keys in the ignition and wants to steal the car.

Likely Result: Again, he’d have to get into the car to steal it and regardless, hello, what sane car thief wants a car with three kids in the back? Even the guy in Adventures in Babysitting was sorry he got an occupied car.

Scenario 3: The kids drive off with the car.

Likely Result: First of all, Jonas was strapped into his carseat, which he cannot remove by himself. He’s really the only worry in this situation. The other two I trust not to ever think anything like that. I don’t think I’m naïve in this sense. I know my kids. And if they were going to do something like that, why wouldn’t they just do it while we’re home?

Scenario 4: The car starts on fire.

Likely Result: The kids weren’t locked in the car, people are locked out. My oldest would order them out of the car and unstrap my youngest. You have to remember that in the Babysitter’s Club (the bible of all things babysitting or pre-teen girl related), Mallory was a Junior Babysitter at age 10. 10 year olds aren’t morons. They can generally be trusted to make rational human decisions. Mine actually thinks he knows more than me (and most of the North American continent).

Scenario 5: The kids cook in the car because it’s 110 degrees outside and the car acts like an oven.

Likely Result: Oh wait, even though this is Arizona, it’s THE WINTER, and the outside temperature is 60 degrees. Plus I LEFT THE CAR ON, so the temperature controlling that happens when we drive, was still occurring. (Sorry to get shouty on this one, but I’m pretty sure this is why people would call the police. Instead of using their brains to work out whether the kids are in any danger, they just default to ‘OMG KIDS CAN’T BE LEFT IN THE CAR IN ARIZONA, THEY’LL COOK!!’)

Scenario 6: Well-meaning crazy-pantsers who like to look down their noses into everyone else’s business will call the police screaming parental neglect.

Likely Result: Oh yeah, that’s what happened.

So whatever. I’m a parental pariah. Jason’s afraid to go to the Target near our house now in the GOV because he might get lynched. I, for one, would like to thank those well-meaning crazy-pantsers and hope he or she is around and just as eager to help if my children are actually in any danger.

23 Responses to Worst. Mother. Ever

  1. I actually called the cops about this once before, but i think it was the right thing to do. It was summer, it was in the middle of Old Town Scottsdale, at 2am, as the bars were emptying out and drunk people were everywhere. I was with 2 student nurses who were currently enrolled in the child-care portion of their studies. The car was not running.

    At first, i thought a parent locked their kid (child-seat age) in the car to go party and/or at least have a few drinks. It turns out it was the bar-owner taking care of an issue and he had only ran in for a moment, but how was i supposed to know, right? He was not pleased with me.

  2. Adam, I totally think you did the right thing. How could you have known? You gotta take into account circumstances. That’s all I’m asking for: people to use their brains. You did.

  3. This made me laugh out loud. As a mom you have to trust your instincts – they know more than any “well-meaning” snooping people. Good for you for sharing!

  4. -the way you describe things sometimes is exactly how I would want to describe things that are in my own loony mind But I don’t have even half the eloquency that you have with words

    the sheer fact that you ran the gamut of emotions on this including the justification stage (which was all reasonable BTW I swear to buddah every parent has said those same things at one time) and still are walking away saying “I wont do it again” shows you are not a bad parent..a bad parent wouldn’t have even given it a 2nd thought

  5. wow….. I totally would have done the same thing you did Liz… Seriously, i was right there with you in your thought process and was actually wondering where your story was heading cause i DID NOT think anything was out of the ordinary at all – until you talked about the cop parked by your car and I was like – uh oh. So, note to self, check with Liz before I make any decisions later on about what to do with my future kids. Just kidding.

  6. Thanks for the support @Jessica (did you have the baby yet?), @Jessie and @Eva! 😀

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  8. I just have to leave a comment! OMG-how many of us have had this scenario go through our heads when we leave the kids in the car for “just a few minutes”? I have, all the time! Heck, my mom left all four of us in the car weekly when she went grocery shopping…windows down, doors unlocked and no one stole us! I leave the girls in the car when I pick up dry cleaning because I can see them through the window.,,but I still worry about someone reporting me I don’t have an 8 year old to look after the kids who are buckled in, locked in and watching a movie or I would probably be tempted more often. Thank you for sharing this story…I can say that it can only happen to you! And really, the kids were in danger? I don’t think so. Was this person so worried that they remained by the car until the cops came to protect them from a crazed child-stealing pedophile? No. Oh…and you are not a bad parent.

  9. As a non-parent, unless it is a heat associated call, I cannot imagine calling the police for children left in a car. For Christ’s sake, people lose their kids when they are by their sides in Target. Locked in the car is often the safer option when the weather permits.

    And, oh. I laughed. I would have been one of those who would have happily reassured you that you are the most hard-working, loving mother I know. (Don’t tell mine.)


  10. I heard someone on the radio one time talking about the one thing everyone can do to help prevent/reduce crime. STOP CALLING THE POLICE FOR STUPID THINGS and free them up to go after real criminals.

  11. HILARIOUS!! I like your style 😉

  12. @Debbie, that is an excellent point. Nope, not so worried they stood by the car protecting the kids.

    @Kell, if you had been in the country, I totally would have called you. 😀

    @Steph, you know, I never thought of that, but it completely makes sense! Please, people, let’s not waste the police’s time!

    @Kimberly, thanks for reading!

  13. Unless duct tape, and a significant amount of duct tape, was involved then I don’t see any harm being done.

    PS: If you rub baby oil on the gunk left from ripping off the duct tape, it gets rid of all that residue left on the skin.

  14. I wouldn’t do this yet because I still have a small one and my oldest is 6.5. But when he’s 10? Totally doable. I’m sorry you were embarrassed but it is nice to know that some people are concerned… I guess?! 😉

  15. OK, I’m a grandmother of 5 so I come from this from the point of perspective of whoever called the cops on you. First I don’t think you are a terrible mother. I think you are a funny terrible mother. JUST KIDDING! Seriously though this is one crazy, scary world we live in. Most of the time people don’t want to get involved in anything they feel is not their business, even if someone is being raped or beat up right in front of them. We have all read the stories about bystanders doing nothing to help. I think in your situation, kids in the car, no parent, even when its only 60ish degrees raise flags to some people and you never know maybe they did’nt see all three of them, I don’t know. Anyway I guess what I’m saying,I can see why someone would have called the police. Really no involvement for them, but they felt like they were doing the right thing with an easy phone call to report the situation. Just looking at it from a different point of view.

  16. We called the police one time because a car (with out of state plates, of course) had a little dog in it. The windows were not cracked. It was over 90 degrees out. As we waited, that poor thing laid down on the floor and looked not too well. The best police officer in all of Scottsdale showed up and he was PISSED. He blocked the car in w/ his car, assured us that these people wouldn’t get off lightly, and then stomped into the store to find the people, but not before telling us he’d break the window himself to get the dog if he didn’t find them immediately.

    Point being, people do really stupid, abusive things to kids and dogs. YOU are not one of those people. I know your kids too, and I think you were in the right here. But also wise to be appreciative that people out there are looking out for kids in general.

  17. @Jay, so duct tape is out? lame.

    @Elaine, ah well, if I wasn’t embarrassed at least once, it wouldn’t have been a normal Tuesday. 😀

    @TJ, I can understand that perspective. And I’m ok with being terribly funny. (oh, not what you meant? That’s ok, I’ll take it as a compliment anyway! :D)

    @Amanda, yes, I agree. Like I said, I hope the person who called is around if my kids are ever in any legitimate danger. 😀

  18. Oh please…if I had a dollar for every time I have had a conversation with the police regarding my children, I would be a rich woman…#glimpseintoyourfuture

  19. Poor you.

    Over New Years a man in his own driveway ran inside to grab something and when he came out his car and baby were gone!

    In his own driveway! Isn’t that nuts!

    They found the baby by a garbage can in a parking lot. All was okay.

  20. My mum leves me in the car All the time and my sis always has the music earbursting loud like on 50!!!!

    My dad has left me in the car for 5 hours befor when i fell asleep and he diddent want to wake me im FINE!!
    so stop worring how often does it acctually happen someone breaks into your car and steals your kids??
    not very often thats for sure!

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