Ok, this will probably be a bit of a rant, but bear with me. And, I know, it will probably be funny to me in retrospect, someday--in the far distant future. Right now, it is NOT funny at all and truly very, very scary to me!
Yesterday was a busy, albeit typical Wednesday. The morning dawned rainy but the weather quickly cleared, by afternoon it was mild--sunny, mid-70's, perfect late Septembe weather. How does this relate? Again, bear with me.
We had some groceries to pick up before heading to my friend's house to watch kiddos for the afternoon. Lydia had woken a bit later than usual, so wasn't ready for a nap before we left. So, since the timing wasn't going to work for her to nap in her own bed, I hoped to be able to push her though the grocery trip and put her down once we arrived at our destination. No such luck, she fell asleep in the car between the grocery store and our friend's and woke VERY shortly after the car stopped, netting maybe 15min. on the generous side. Still, I figured no biggie, I'd just put her down a bit later and she'd take a longer than usual 2nd nap, again didn't happen, not in someone else's bed--she slept for ~20-30 minutes and then refused to sleep again the rest of the afternoon, waking at about 10 minutes to 2. SO, by the time we got ready to leave at 4:45 she was a mess. She usually sleeps between 2-3 hours during the day and shortly before 5 she's had less than an hour.
As you can imagine, she quickly fell asleep in the car and slept our entire trip home. When we arrived at 5:15 she was sleeping soundly. She didn't even stir as I got Joshua out of the car, so I did what any self-respecting parent would do, but what it turns out is HIGHLY IRRESPONSIBLE (gasp) even NEGLECTFUL. I made sure she was safe, I opened a window, and I let her sleep in her carseat, taking Joshua into the house, where all of my windows were open.
Now, in case you haven't actually been to my house, you'll need a few notes for the rest of the story to make sense. We don't have a garage--the people who lived in the house before us converted it into a playroom/family room. So, our driveway literally goes all the way up to our house, but no garage. The car is parked no more than 18" from the front flowerbed and less than 6" from the front door. It is in clear view from my front window, front door and family room window. Also, across the street from our house is a large building of senior citizen apartments...
Anyway, on with the story. I've left Lydia sleeping, buckled safely in the carseat, since she desperately needed to get at least one nap that lasted longer than 20 minutes, and since she's VERY close to me, and if she wakes up and makes any noise I can hear her. It's not my preferred location for her to sleep, but my kids don't transfer from one place to another while sleeping. They could be in the deepest sleep possible and if you so much as unbuckle a buckle (or usually even open the door) they wake up instantly. No, transferring them to the house is not a viable option. So car sleeping is not something I let them do often, and it's not preferrable to me, but it's really close, we live in a very small town, and did I mention that our driveway is super close to our house and that I can hear any noise from the car in my livingroom? All that being said, we consider ourselved to be fairly responsible parents, so even though we would have been able to hear her if she woke up, either James or myself continued to go out every 5 minutes or less to make sure she was still sleeping and still safe. On one of my trips out at around 5:40 I found her just starting to blink her eyes and look around, so I took her out of the car, brought in the groceries and my purse, and started nursing her while James and Joshua finished up dinner.
This is where things get ugly. Joshua finished his dinner around ten to 6 and went to the front window to look out as he often does. He loves to watch for garbage trucks, construction equipment, mowers from the lawn service, and of course the at-least weekly visits of emergency vehicles across the street. (I did mention that we live across from quite a number of seniors, right?) So, when he mentions that he sees a police car, we don't really think anything about it. We tell him that's cool and he runs and opens the front door to watch. Not subtle, but hey, he's 2.
We do think it's odd that the car stops directly in front of our house--when they help across the street they usually park on the other side, and if setting up a speed trap they like to park behind the bushes across the street. But, stranger things have happened, so we continue on with out lives and Joshua continues watching from the open front door. James went out side to shut the door on the car (which I'd apparently left open in my hurry to get back in to nurse Lydia after getting the groceries out) and the officer got out of the car and approached him.
He informed James that ONE OF THE NEIGHBORS HAD CALLED, letting them know that we'd arrived home about 20 minutes prior and had left one of our children in the car, and they should really check it out. Of course, privacy restrictions being what they are, he couldn't identify the neighbor, but know that the neighbors on one side of us weren't home (and has an obstructed view of our driveway, meaning they would literally have had to set up a lawn chair on the property border and started timing) and the neighbors on the other side cannot see our driveway from their house at all. The "neighbors" across the street on the other hand... So, one of the (presumably) little old ladies across the street felt the need to report us as neglectful to the police for leaving a child safely strapped in her carseat, on a mild day, with proper ventilation, and frequent parental checks for less than half and hour! When we explained that she had been sleeping and we didn't want to wake her he said he understood and after collecting James' name and some info promptly left to go on about his day, but left my world shaken in his wake.
I've already felt like I lived in a little rat-lab test cage when talking with the (mostly) nice, sweet women across the street. I've had comments like, "oh, I watch you coming and going every day from my balcony--I live up on the third floor" or "is the room with the blue curtains your son's room" or "where did you go last weekend" or even once (at 10AM, same day--I'd been home the whole time) a knock on my door to "let you know you got a package about 9am and wanted to make sure you knew." They've asked me what we were going to do with our old car three days after getting a new one, when I was due (while pregnant with both kids),whether my child is potty-trained yet, when the kids' birthdays are, and what I do, what my husband does, etc. I've tried to be sweet, believing all the questions to be well intentioned. I know they love to see the kids and I know how lonely older people can get (my grandma is in her late 80's and has lived alone for the past several years) and I really try to be gracious. But, I've felt like I'm on display. And now I feel like my privacy has been invaded, that I my autonomy as a adult questioned, and my right to make the decisions I feel are best for my kids challenged. I've been left wondering if I really am a good mom, or if I do put my children in danger and now feel like I have to be perfect and live up to someone else's standard. I'm on edge when the phone rings or there's a knock on the door, but I literally don't think I could give an ounce more of myself to my children, and I would NEVER do anything to put them in danger. I would not even hesitate if I ever had to choose between their well-being and my own, and this has left me feeling robbed of my innocence as a parent, questioned as to my parenting skills, and judged by some nosy busy-body (who I realize, probably thought she was doing the right thing) as guilty without ever even being consulted. Would it really have been so hard to walk across the street and talk to me, at least meet me and my kids and see us in action in person before making such a drastic decision? Furthermore, what will keep this person (or one of the many others) from doing it again--I'm terrified now that it's happened once over something that I (still!) don't see as a big problem that it could repeat itself. I don't feel safe to parent in my own home and that's a feeling I hope none of you reading ever has to feel. I feel like I live in my very own BigBrother house now where everything I do or don't do is on display and will be judged by everyone who's watching. I feel like cutting off all contact with the people across the street, but that would only harm those to whom my children truly do bring joy and smiles and probably make the rumor mill grow even more!
I could go on and on (and as you can see, already have) but it wouldn't serve a purpose. I really am left with nothing else new to say... So, there's my story...and when granny stops you in the store today to offer off-base and unsolicited parenting advice, just smile and nod, and think of me and be glad she didn't CALL the COPS!