Thursday, February 12, 2009

2/12/09 Car-frontation

What a rattling day. First I was excited that it looked like we could move in a week earlier than I thought. Then it turned out that an important PG&E installation was missed. Now it looks like we can make up that time, but now my kitchen butcher block top will be late, which isn't a problem by itself, but it halts the installation of a necessary electrical outlet -- yes, a single outlet -- in the island, required by code.

Already tense, I went about the usual routine of pickups after work -- an easy day, since Katrina was at TLC. I was really looking forward to seeing them, and Katrina rewarded me with a spectacular "Mom-my!", ran to me and gave me her version of a huge hug. She turned to the line of toddlers staring and announced, "Thas' my Mommy!" It was the sort of scene that makes other adults smile and marvel at our close connection and my fabulous parenting.

All to be unravelled in the next few minutes.

As usual, I left Julian and Katrina in the car while I fetched Gabriel. But this time, it took extra time to get him since he had to sit on the pot first. Thank goodness he's speedier about business than Julian, but still, he's a kid, and it takes some time.

While waiting, I looked outside at my car, and saw a scene developing. One of the school administrators -- the same one whose sh*t list I'm already on for a possible residency violation -- and another parent (or teacher perhaps) were peering into my car. Great, they see Julian and Katrina alone in the car. I looked at them from my vantage point, they saw me, but they weren't clear of my role in this scenario.

I went back to hurry Gabriel, then anxiously back to the door -- now the principal had joined them, and the parent was on a cell phone. I considered going out, but I needed to keep after Gabriel. Finally he was ready, and I rushed him across the parking lot.

"Oh, are these yours?" the administrator asked suspiciously.

As I expected, the lecture about the dangers of leaving them in the car ensued, and I cut it off with saying they were far safer in the car than if I were to walk all three of them across this busy parking lot twice, twice a day.

The other parent was particularly horrified at my laxness: "What if someone takes your car?" Oh please! I told her I had my keys, and it was far, far, FAR more likely that they'd get hit in the parking lot by another car. That happens. Car thefts and kidnappings from school parking lots in Cupertino....not so much.

The school administrator pointed out I hadn't even locked my car. I looked squarely at her and said, "Really? Do you really think they're safer locked in? What if something happened to me? Then no one could get to them!" She shrugged, unprepared for such a direct question. "I think they're better off if people can open the doors."

"Wowwww..." said the other parent.

The administrator persisted: "What if they get out and run across the parking lot?" I answered that one is strapped in, and the other just doesn't do that. He's five for Pete's sake.

"Woww....." said the other parent, almost in pity at my inability to see the obvious threat of kidnapping and car theft versus a toddler breaking away and getting hit by a car. She said critically, "They're safest with you."

"In this parking lot?!" I snapped. She said she didn't have time and left. The administrator continued, "What if we called the police?" I told her, "I've explained this very thing to the Sheriff, and he agreed!"

By now I was getting mad. "You really think it's safer for me to walk all three children --" I had to pull rank here; sometimes three children gives you moral authority "-- across this parking lot, with all these minivans backing out?!" I gestured toward the white minivan parked next to me. It was hers.

"Now THAT is dangerous, and it is the far far more likely scenario than someone taking my car." They paused, taken aback by my escalating belligerence. "I take my children's safety very seriously, and walking three little children across a busy parking lot isn't it!"

The principal backed down and made one of his usual fumbling comments about just wanting to let me know, and I thanked his hurrying back for his concern. The administrator followed quickly, unwilling to stick out the evolving tirade. I can't say I blame her. I regretted getting mad, but I was in no mood to be judged.

But it was the other parent that really irked me. "Wowwwww..." Like I was dangling them off a balcony. Of course later, I wished I'd asker her: "When you back your car out, are you completely certain there is no child behind your car? Because here's one thing you can be certain of: it's not one of mine." But even if I'd thought to suggest that she herself might be the very danger against which I was protecting them, it wouldn't have done any good. She was already completely convinced of my irresponsibility. I think I saw her writing my license number down.

None of them noticed that my first-grader is one of the very few who still has to hold my hand across the parking lot. Even at TLC, all three of my children still have to hold my hand across the small private 3-car lot right in front of the building. At TLC, about 5% of the time, I have to make two trips to get everyone in the car, as I need two hands for the football hold for a tantruming Katrina. I take parking-lot safety very seriously; as a motorcylist I knew the odds of my getting hit in a parking lot were far far higher than on a highway.

As Dave points out, my primary motivation for leaving them in the car is convenience, not safety, but I absolutely reject a safety argument for bringing them with me as specious, not thought-out, knee-jerk, politically correct, and just plain wrong given this set of circumstances. By far their -- and my -- biggest threat in that parking lot is other cars, not kidnapping. Every safety decision is balanced against convenience, though most people bristle at that idea. Safety above all else! the dogma goes. No one adheres to that, or they'd never get into cars. Why don't you wear a helmet in a car? Because it's inconvenient.

Well, I found a fine way to ingratiate myself with the school administration, now, didn't I? We were already on thin ice. Something tells me my request for an AM time for my kindergartner won't be met with any extra consideration.

I don't expect a lot of support from you readers for my position, but for what it's worth, I'm by no means the only one to leave small children in a car for a few minutes on a regular basis. In many cases, it's safer. And it's certainly more convenient. "Woww....."


1 comment:

Louise said...

Actually, I support your position completely. Maybe that's because I'm also a biker. But I also think that yuppy suburbanites are waaaaaaaaaay over-paranoid about kidnapping and car theft.

You know your own kids better than anyone else. Maybe Mrs. Wow has kids that are known to climb into the front seat and start playing with the parking brake, whereas you know one is strapped in and the other just doesn't climb around and touch forbidden stuff or jump out and run around.

It is true that cars are very dangerous, one of the most dangerous things we encounter every day. But that danger lies in being hit by a car much more than by having it abducted.

And, yeah, you're probably on the school administration's s-list now :-)