Monday, 28 September 2009

Mom Rant: "I’m tired of taking care of your kid!"

On Sunday, July 12th, 3-year old Demetrius Jones disappeared. He was in the care of his grandparents when he wandered off, riding his electric toy car, and ended up in the nearby river.

Any parent’s nightmare.

Thankfully, he was found two hours later by a group of fellow campers on the lookout for him, kneeling on all fours atop his overturned car, which was lodged near the river bank in nine feet of water. He was sunburned, but alive.

This incident underscores something that’s bothered me for a very long time: caregivers who don’t pay attention because they think everyone else will.

It came to a head, last week, while visiting family in Los Angeles. My little ones and I were at the neighborhood clubhouse, one afternoon, passing the fifteen-minute adult swim time by sitting in the gated wading pool area. There were a number of small children roughly four and under playing alongside two or three adults. Two of the mothers sat at a table in the shade, completely absorbed in conversation. A three-ring binder lay open in front of them; they appeared to be having some kind of informal, flip-flop-attired meeting. When the time was up, most of the kids walked back to the pool. I noticed as we exited that someone had put a box in the door of the gate. I squinted at it for a second. The two moms at the table were still sitting head-to-head. I let it go.

Seven-year old Boo isn’t a very strong swimmer, so she still needs a grown-up nearby for those frequent panicky moments when she gets tired halfway across. And The Bug won’t even put her face in the water. So my Dad and I each took a kid and paddled around the big pool. Boo and I were hanging onto the edge at about the five-foot mid-point, when I looked up and noticed a tow-headed two-year old with flimsy, inflatable water wings walking confidently toward the deep end. He sat down near the side and started scootching himself to the edge, as if to climb down the swim ladder. There was no other adult within forty feet, on this side.

I swam up to the little guy, knowing my strange presence would be enough to give him pause. “Hey, buddy,” I smiled. “Where’s your mommy?” As most two-year olds would, he sat and stared at me, mute. I looked to my right, where some of the moms from the kiddie pool were splashing with their own gaggle of toddlers. “Excuse me,” I asked the nearest, “but is this your little boy?”

“What? Oh. No, his mom’s in there. Hey Linda! Linda!” she called to one of the women still sitting in the semi-gated area. When one of them looked up, the woman in the pool pointed in my direction. “Is this your son?” I asked. The boy’s mother walked over to the gate and stuck her head out. She was about thirty feet away.

“He’s okay,” she assured me.

“In the deep end?” I asked, incredulous.

“He’s got floaties. He’s fine,” she replied.

Okay. Let’s just suppose this little guy is a great swimmer. But the fact that he’s got water wings on at all makes me think he’s marginal, at best. And let’s just suppose that the woman assumed the bored, squinting, teenage life guard on duty would keep an eye on him. But can we talk for a second about the fact that 1) this woman had no idea where her son was in the first place and had to be shouted at to even look up from her tet-a-tet and 2) the gate to the wading pool was left open and her boy could therefore get out and go ANYWHERE? (Please note that the main gate was also being held open by a Nerf football, probably put there by someone who didn’t want to bother with digging out a key, and note also that immediately outside the main gate is a parking lot. Bad combination for small people security.) Not to mention 3) the boy’s mother was obviously expecting the rest of the pool’s occupants to save her urchin, should he get into a danger he shouldn’t have been in to begin with.

“You know that children can still drown with these things on, right?” I point out loudly, waving my hand toward the airy little vinyl pillows encasing his chubby arms. Honestly, I’m surprised they even sell these things, any more. A false sense of security is the last thing a parent needs. She opened her mouth to reply, paused pointedly. “Okay.” She clamped her lips shut and called to her boy, who dutifully came back to the (sort of) gated fold.

My father thought I was out of line. His reaction shocked me, actually, given that he’s seen horrible things happen to children as a result of neglectful parents in his long career as a police officer. I should think that making a statement might make this woman think twice (I hope so, anyway) and might even save that child’s life, in the future. Even the tiniest chance of that happening makes being a jerk worth the social disgrace.

Now, granted, a neighborhood pool is nothing like an open campground with a river nearby. But the point is still the same. Caregivers of any kind need to watch their charges—especially the littlest ones.

I know that there are moments when wee people will wander, despite our best efforts. It’s happened to me and to others I know. The key is that we make the best possible effort to prevent it. But for an adult to willingly ignore a toddler and allow him to swim, unsupervised, in the deep end of a swimming pool? Worse yet, to not even know that he’s doing it? That pisses me off to no end.

Why? Because I’m the hyper-vigilant mom who watches and worries. I can’t relax at all when kids are near any potential dangers because you just never know when something might happen. As a kid, I once saved a baby from drowning when he walked off the pool steps in the shallow end, right under his chatting parents’ noses. I was the only one who saw him do it and I was halfway across the yard. It wasn't until I jumped in the pool, half-clothed and shouting, that anyone noticed what had happened.

I was big sister to a little brother who I swear had a death wish from the time he pulled himself up on two feet. Now that I’m a grown-up, I would love to chill out like the other adults around the camp fire. But I CAN’T. Because stuff like that happens all the time.

I don’t mind watching out for other peoples’ kids. What irks me is when they EXPECT me to do it, without asking, and therefore feel okay with doing whatever suits their selfish little hearts while their kids wander around, unsupervised.

I don’t intend to keep my own kids in a rubber room for the rest of their lives. They’ll have to experience things, fall down and scrape knees, maybe even break bones. But when it happens, it won’t be because I didn’t try to do my job, the only job any parent truly can be held to: helping my kids survive into healthy adulthood. It truly makes me want to vomit, to tear my hair out, to weep uncontrollably when a child is killed or maimed because of the egocentricity of those responsible for their care.

So to all of those selfish, irresponsible parents and caregivers out there: Please, do your job.

Because the watchful parents, the lifeguards, the police officers, the fire fighters, the paramedics, the social workers—you name it—we’re all tired of doing it for you.

Photo credit: Adam Reaburn

1 comment:

  1. I couldnt agree more. I've been a nanny with a number of families over the past 4 years, and despite being a total rebel all the time growing up, I am surprisingly anal. I let kids sneak ice cream and all that jazz, but when it comes to their safety, sometimes I'm more of a freak about it than their parents.

    I was at the library the other day and this elderly German woman who works there was walking around with a little 3 year old boy named Robby attached to her finger, and they were looking for his mommy. I joined the search, and after they called for "Robby's caregiver or mother to the front please", his uncle came up. He was 25 at best, and had NO idea he was gone. For a HALF HOUR!! 30 minutes! And when the German woman and another librarian and I were taking turns ripping him a new one, he didn't even look up. He was texting on his phone. I was repulsed.

    One thing I've noticed after being a nanny, is that I can do a better job than most parents I know, and I'm only 21. It's not my place to judge other peoples parenting skills, but a lot of parents just...don't know what the hell they're doing.

    I give you props for saying something. It kills me when people allow stuff to happen and they just bite their tongues because they want to be "appropriate" and not raise eyebrows or draw attention to themselves. Way to go, hopefully you gave that other "mom" some food for thought!


    And as you've heard many a time, you're an easy read. You write well with a unique voice that very much suits your personality!


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