Tuesday, June 12, 2007

A Streetcar Named Disaster

It was the craziest time of day-- just before dinner time-- and we had decided to eat outside. There was a good deal of traffic going in and out of the house and a great deal of noise--the dinner time din. The boys were everywhere and nowhere and always underfoot. Alex reported at one point that Nicholas had removed his clothing and was running about outdoors in a diaper. Jeremy found him and dressed him while I finished cooking fajitas and asked children to bring napkins and forks outside.

I carried a hot and heavy pot with mitts through the house toward the deck where we were eating. As I was filling the plates, I became aware of a strange noise. It was something like barking or yelping, but the longer it went on the more I realized that the voice was human. But why, and who was making such a dreadful sound? Through the twin screens of the sunroom, I made out a figure near the front of the house-- a woman with an angry face and she seemed to be yelling at me.

"Excuse me... excuse me... excuse me" I finally understood her wrathful tone to signify. My husband appeared on the front lawn and she addressed him instead, "There are two children in this car out on the street!" she screamed in anger at my poor husband.

She was right.

Nicholas and Zachary had somehow given us the slip and done something they have never done before and that I would never have thought them likely to do. They snuck away unnoticed (It seemed to me impossible that they had gotten away. Wasn't Zachary on the potty? Wasn't Nicholas with Jeremy upstairs? ) and went into the street where Jeremy's car had been parked and climbed into it.

It was the crazy sort of flukish thing that kids do from time to time-- the unexpected that we should all expect. The sort of thing that degausses our nervous systems and reminds us that we aren't really in complete control and that more time spent praying to guardian angels would be time very well spent. It happens. It happens to good parents, to caring parents, to parents who are very attentive. This woman's anger was unjustified.

"Thank you. I will take care of it." I heard my husband reply in a tone that was calm, though not friendly.

"If you don't get these children this instant, I will call the police," she threatened.

At this point, I was in the sunroom and spoke through a single screen, "Excuse me, Ma'm, but why are you yelling at us?" I asked in as calm a tone as I could manage. I sounded good to myself, though I felt as though I might faint.

"Because you have children out here in the street in a dangerous situation," she yelled at me.

"Yes," I replied, "but we were unaware of the situation. You could have just told us. You didn't have to yell."

At that point, she walked away in feigned disgust. Jeremy retrieved the little imps and brought them around back for dinner. We let our blood cool as we ate silently thinking over what had just happened. It was alarming that the babies had snuck off into the street and we were grateful that this woman had called our attention to it. Her tone and her threat, however, indicated that she judged us negligent or incompetent and that simply was not justified. Every parent knows that these misadventures can happen in an instant and this one certainly did.

We took the occasion to emphasize to the little ones that they must never, never go into the street or into the cars without us and we resolved to lock the doors on each of the vehicles at all times, even when they are parked in the street. We also took the occasion to reflect on the feelings of anger that can so easily arise when we feel we are falsely accused and how hard it can be to extend charity to those we believe misjudge us. So, the event wasn't all just a waste of our emotional energies. I hope that woman, whoever she was, can say the same.


Johane said...

I remember this happening to me. One of the younger kids (I forget which one mercifully), had gone off and buckled themselves into the car on a hot day. Ever since then we have a few very strict rules:

1. No going in the car by yourself.
2. No buckling yourself into your car seat unless you can unbuckle yourself!

I'm glad the little ones were safe and that you were able to calmly deal with this loud and overly nervous woman.

ryan in n.c. said...

Wow. Sounds like you two handled this pretty well. Sure seems like the woman could've realized what had happened and not freaked out in such a way. Perhaps she had some unknown reason.

As a relatively new parent, I tend to be a little obsessive about child safety -- but I'm learning that there's only so much you can do without becoming unreasonable. I guess it's one of life's delicate balancing acts.

Suzanne Temple said...

ryan, I think it is good that you are obsessive about child safety. We all should be. In that balancing act, it is best to err on the obsessive side. At the same time, we can't assume that others have done wrong if an accident occurs.

Johane said...

I certainly would never have thought that my 2 yo could open the car door! We had a minivan at the time...

I also obsess about child safety. At the same time I remember something that someone once said:

"When you're a new parent you treat your first child like fine porcelain. You treat your second child as a precious vase. You treat your third child like regular glassware. You treat your fourth and subsiquent children like Tupperware."

Meaning that as we gain experience with babies and children, we learn that they are tougher than we originally thought. Certainly, care and attention needs to be had for all children. I just don't jump as high when I find one of my kids hanging upside down on that old swing... ;)

Beck said...

I'm glad your boys are okay. No matter HOW careful you are, things do happen - yesterday, for example, The Baby tumbled down the stairs when I took my eyes off her for two seconds.

Goslyn said...

I'm so glad your boys were ok. It's a shame the woman couldn't have just brought the problem to your attention.

T with Honey said...

Seems to me that if she was so concerned about their safety she would have yelled "Your kids are in the car" instead of "excuse me" or even better go over to the car, get the boys to a safer place and return them to your house. I realize that last one may seem a little intrusive, but I think I would be happier having someone return my kids to my front door than have the car start to roll away with them in it as someone yelled "excuse me" over and over.

Suzanne Temple said...

exactly t,

I thought to myself what would I have done if it had been me that came across this situation. I thought I would have taken the children out of the car and sent them into the yard, then gone to one of the parents and spoke to them just to let them know. I thought, also, that if this woman would have done that I would have been a bit embarrassed, perhaps, but grateful and thankful and would have thanked her again and again.

Diane said...

Glad to hear that the boys are safe. These things do happen to good parents from time to time. I think that the lady in this case was totally out of line , but in her defense, there are some parents out there that just may need screamed at (Ok screaming never helps,better yet talked to) There are a couple little boys up the street from us probably two to four years old who run up and down our sidewalk ( and through drive ways) all day long. You usually see the Mom on the porch talking on the phone. I am scared every time I back out of my drive way that one may run behind me. Perhaps this lady knows someone like this and just assumed that all young parents are the same. Sometimes one bad example can label us all. How great of you guys to stay calm and explain that you do care but simply didn't know. Maybe this lady will think about things and realize not to jump to the wrong conclusion.

mel said...

We had a very similar experience with our 2 year old...he wandered off during my daughter's birthday party, a classic "I thought you were watching him" situation...and ended up down the block in a neighbor's yard. He was probably gone for a good 5-10 minutes and It was terrifying for us all, and she *did* call the police. I don't blame her for that, she didn't know where he belonged, but she was also very hostile and ugly toward us. Ugliness is never warranted. We are not negligent parents, just human! I don't know of anyone who has had kids for very long who hasn't had something like this happen. Even Mary and Joseph lost Jesus, remember? :)

Suzanne Temple said...

Oh mel, your situation sounds very similar. It has to be due to inexperience with children. I don't think most parents would react this way.

Mom to Four said...

I would love it if you would be so generous as to share your recipe for making fajitas over in the Virtual Kitchen. I make them, but would love to know your way.


Suzanne Temple said...

Celeste, I will. Give me a few days or so. I have been in a cooking rut of sorts and not posting to that blog, but just tonight I thought I'd post a couple of simple things over there.

Jane Ramsey said...

Oh, Suzanne, how horrible...not only the fear of your children being in a dangerous situation, but the unjustified anger from a stranger...you both handled it very well.