How Far is Too Far?

By , January 22, 2010 5:00 am

DAILY SNACK

Last Sunday a friend was making the rounds

Picking up food and cash donations for Haiti.

I had agreed to donate both.

Suddenly I realized that I was home alone

With a puke prone boy and a baby girl,

A bare cupboard and an empty wallet.

I’d forgotten about Ed’s morning commitment and my own commitment to donate.

Until it was too late.

Miraculously, I did manage to extract a bag of rice, dried beans, lentils, tuna, tomatoes, and mixed fruit from my cupboards.

But the wallet wasn’t coughing anything up.

So I left Colum at home and took Irene to the bank.

Of course, we do live above a store

With a bank machine only four doors away.

We were gone for less than five minutes.

Many people have garages that are further away from their children’s bedrooms.

Don’t tell me they don’t run down to grab something from the garage.

Still.

Colum was standing at the top of the stairs when we got back.

He did not want to be left alone.

This post was inspired by Her Bad Mother’s admission to having left her sick four year old alone for a few minutes. (Which was, in turn, prompted by Anna Kournikova’s mother being charged with child neglect for leaving her five year old unattended.) I wouldn’t make a habit of running downstairs to take care of some errand or other, but I also stand by my decision in a pinch. What do you think?

Comments

“How Far is Too Far?”

  1. Mandy says:

    I’m guilty of it too. Before the baby was born I would run across the street all the time to go to the convenience store. One time I did have to go up about a block to a plaza in order to use the bank machine. (nope it definately couldn’t wait) Now having the baby, as long as oldest DD is home, I would have no problem since she is 12 and pretty mature (yes still a child but mature nonetheless). However I would not be comfortable leaving the 8 yr old with the youngest.

    I think if the child is awake at the time, and they know where you are going…don’t feel bad. But definately do not leave the house when the child is sleeping (it is forever traumatizing if they wake up and you are gone) Ask me how I know? At 32 yrs old I distinctly remember waking up from a sleep to find that the house was absolutely empty!I was 3. I knew my mother was at Bingo or something but daddy was no where to be found. As it turns out, he must have just left the house because he came back (i would guess within 4 minutes) but what seemed like an hour later, to find me bawling my eyes out. All of the doors to leave the house needed a key to unlock them from the inside and I was trapped! Dad had run up to the convenience store (a half a block away) because he had no cigarettes. He still felt bad about it up until he passed.

    • rebecca says:

      That’s a really great point, Mandy. We might be tempted to duck out for just a few minutes when everyone’s all tucked in. But that would be traumatizing. (Not to mention, as always, dangerous.)

  2. Crunchy says:

    I live in a town house complex and have been outside while baby slept many times.
    My biggest bad was driving to pick up C from preschool and leaving A (7) at home….ONCE.

    • rebecca says:

      Seven is such an in between age, isn’t it? Some seven year olds no way should you ever leave them alone. Others are very, very capable of taking care of themselves for a short period of time. Others still seem like they’d be mature enough, but really aren’t. There’s no one-size-fit all rule for these sort of things, I don’t think.

  3. Amy says:

    The first time my parents left us alone in the house was when my sister (the oldest) was nine or ten. The four of us huddled in the living room, fearful that “Mrs. Nosy” (the woman who lived across the street) would peer in the windows and possibly abduct us. After our parents seemed to have been gone for hours, we contemplated calling the police. When our parents finally returned we were both trauamtized and relieved.

    In reality, they had been gone less than half an hour and had left only to go vote at the local school a block away. For years afterward they would laugh at the memory, but I doubt any of us have forgotten the memory of our fear. Of course, we were sheltered kids growing up in what was then considered a bad Toronto neighbourhood.

    • rebecca says:

      Again, this reminds us that what’s a quick outing for an adult can seem like a terrifyingly long time for a child. I remember walking home from the school bus stop (2 short blocks away) when I must have been in Grade 1 or 2 and my mom not being home. I stood in the driveway and cried. The next door neighbour (a sour old woman who yelled on us for treading on her lawn and would not let us retrieve balls that landed on her property) offered to take me in, but I refused. My mom showed up after what was probably only a few minutes, but it did seem like an eternity.

  4. Lorien says:

    Granted that I lived in a very safe neighbourhood, and was pretty precocious, I was left on my own from as early as seven. I honestly feel there isn’t enough responsibility given to kids these days — if you have high expectations, they will often come through amazingly. I find ‘Free Range Children’ very compelling!

    • rebecca says:

      I mostly agree, but seven is a far cry from five or three. I think what’s interesting here is that the bad memories are of kids not knowing they would be left alone and not being prepared for it. My kids are only three and one, but I think I might send a seven year old to the corner store for a loaf of bread if it wasn’t too far. Then again, it depends on the child.

  5. Kisha Floren says:

    I am the oldest of five, and I was left alone, in charge of all of my siblings, from the time I was eight on. Granted, it was not the quick trips you speak of, those I am okay with. But I could never to do my child what my parents did to me…I still have a fear of abandonment from those nights. I would say, when in doubt, if you are not sure if it is the right choice, err on the side of your children and either skip the trip or bring them with.

    • rebecca says:

      That’s great advise — always listen to your gut if you have any doubt. I’m also a big fan of bringing kids lots of places that other parents usually don’t … but that’s a whole other post :)

  6. I’m so glad that you posted this, and that we’re talking about it so openly. It seems that most parents *have* done something like this – and we shouldn’t beat ourselves up for it. As you say – some properties are bigger than the length of a block, and parents can be further away (or more isolated) from their kids in a big house than can some walking next door or across the street.

    Free range, FTW!

    • rebecca says:

      For sure. Once we start talking about this and start acknowledging that it’s not a black and white issue we stop treating all parents like potential criminals. There but for the grace of no paparazzi following me around go I.

  7. Dawn says:

    I am struggling with this right now. My kids are 7, 11, and 13. I have been a SAHM until last year when my husband walked out. With no support things are very, very tough. I am blessed to have found a job 1/2 mile from home, and decided after much soul searching that it would be ok (well I have no choice really, as childcare is too expensive to even consider) to leave the younger two home alone for an hour after school. I come home daily to check during that hour but I still hate it. They have actually done very well, and I remember being a latchkey kid myself at their ages, but still. Ouch. Not something prefer, even being less than two minutes away.

    • rebecca says:

      When I was 12 I took care of my toddler sister and baby brother on a regular basis. (Also, my 10-year-old brother, but he didn’t consider himself under my care.) It was mostly, as you describe, an hour here or there when my mom had to be somewhere else and my dad was working out of town only home on weekends. I was more than capable and felt no anxiety whatsoever about that. I think you’re in the clear.

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