I know there are people who think the world is not a safe place. I am not one of those people. Nor do I want my children to grow up with this belief. So I give them a long leash.
Just the other day I was gushing about how awesome my neighborhood was. It was only a couple weeks ago that the boy fell and a stranger stopped to ask if he was ok and let him use her phone to call me to pick him up.
Today, I got a rude awakening. My neighborhood, might not be as free-range friendly as I thought. I got a call from a number unknown and answered because the boy was at the park and it could have been him. It was the police, asking if my son was missing. No, I told him, my son was not “missing,” I given him permission to go to the park. The officer asked me to come to their location to pick up my child.
I hopped on my bike and was there in about 5 minutes. I was sort of hoping that I’d be able to ask the Boy what happened, thank the officers for their concern and then be on my merry way. I really should have known better. One officer came out to talk to me.
“So can you explain the situation that led to your 8-year-old wandering the streets alone,” he said.
“He wasn’t wandering the streets, sir. I gave him permission to go to the park.”
“But he’s 8.”
“Yes and we’ve discussed the rules, he knows how to cross the street, he has my phone number,” I said, adding, “there are lots of kids his age that come to this park to play. Its safe and I trust my son.”
“Ma’am,” said the officer with exasperation, “It is not safe for you to let your 8-year-old wander the streets without adult supervision.”
“Again, sir, he was not ‘wandering the streets,’ he was at the park, where I told him he could be, and he stopped in here to get some water.”
“He was scared and hungry.”
“Sir, I don’t believe he was scared. He comes here all the time. This is our neighborhood. Did he tell you he was scared? Or lost?”
“Ok, so why are you here?”
“Someone called us about a kid here alone.”
“But he’s not injured…can I speak to my son please?”
So I go ask the Boy some questions. He just wanted some cold water. He thought the stranger who had called the police was the parent of one of his friends, so when the guy asked if he was hungry, he said sure. As far as he knew the cops had just arrived to have lunch. He still didn’t know that the police were there because of him.
I went back outside.
“So you guys came here to have lunch?”
“No, someone called us.”
“But why? Because a kid came in and asked for water?”
“Because an 8-year-old was wandering the streets alone, scared, and hungry.”
I repeated that, no, he wasn’t scared and he wasn’t “wandering the street.” He was well within the perameters we had agreed on and I don’t see how a kid walking into a fast food joint requesting a cup of water was a problem.
That’s when the other officer decided he was going to try to scare me. What if something had happened?Someone could have snatched my kid up. He could have hurt himself. I countered that it was highly unlikely that anyone would kidnap my son — or anyone’s son for that matter. It’s a safe neighborhood and I think he can handle riding his scooter a few blocks to a local park.
“Have I broken a law?” I was tired of the back and forth. We obviously weren’t going to agree and I wasn’t going to back down or act afraid. “I’ve done some research and as far as I know, there is no law against letting an 8-year-old go to the park.”
I explained that I had looked up crime stats in for the neighborhood. I’ve come to the park and checked it out. I also looked up latchkey kid guidelines and the guideline is that kids can be left without adult supervision starting at the age of 8.
At this point, the officer starts yelling at me about how he knows the penal code and that it is at their discretion to decide if I had been negligent. When I pressed the issue of whether or not I had broken a law, they called their Sargent to ask what they should do.
Now the Boy is standing outside, wandering what’s going on, crying a little because he can tell something’s not right. And this douchebag cop tells him that nothing is wrong and that’s when I snapped.
“Don’t lie to my son.”
“I’m trying to calm him down,” he snapped back. “He’s scared and crying. I’m just trying to help.”
“I don’t need you to help by lying. Don’t tell him nothing is wrong. If that were the case, you wouldn’t be here…”
“I’m just trying to comfort your crying kid…”
“I understand that, sir. But I don’t want you to lie to him. He’s scared and confused because he knows something isn’t right. You just told me that you could charge me with child endangerment or negligence, which means that there is the possibility that things could go very wrong, all because I let him go to the park. So don’t stand here and lie and tell him everything is OK.”
I explained to the Boy that the police didn’t think it was safe for him to go to the park alone and since they think its dangerous, there may be consequences.
No sooner had I said these words than the douchebag’s partner walked over and explained that they were not going to charge me with endangerment or negligence and would I mind letting them see where we lived to be sure he had food, clothing and a place to sleep?
I agreed, in the essence of being cooperative. I don’t have anything to hide and I was afraid my refusal would make a bad situation worse. So I let the one officer come in and the Boy showed him the pantry and the refrigerator. Before he left, the officer reiterated that they could have taken me to jail and the Boy could have ended up in child protective services, but there wasn’t really any cause, so I was getting off with a warning.
Before the officer left, I asked how old he thought would be appropriate for a kid to go to the park without an adult. Definitely not 8 was his first response. When pressed, he said maybe 13 or 14.
So kids should be locked up until they’re nearly adults because of the remote possibility that something could happen. But honestly, I’m more afraid of the busy-bodies who call the police because a kid walks into a fast food joint and asks for a cup of water.