Are you looking for a reason to HULK RIGHT THE HELL OUT this morning? Because I think I have it in the form of yet another story about a mom getting in trouble with the authorities for allowing her kid the freedom to exist without being smothered under an oppressive culture of manufactured fear. If the news about the moms who were arrested recently for letting their children play at the park unsupervised didn't make your blood boil, perhaps this report of a mom being visited by Child Protective Services for letting her son play down the street from her house will.
Kari Anne Roy of Texas says her 6-year-old was playing outside on a late morning in August when her neighbor came to the door, expressing concern that he was alone. Then the police showed up. A few days later, she was investigated by CPS.
FOR LETTING HER KID PLAY OUTSIDE. WITHIN EYESIGHT OF HER HOUSE.
I'm sorry to go all caps lock about this, but I am so frustrated by these stories. Assuming Roy's account is accurate (Roy is a children's book author who documented the incident on her blog Haiku Mama), her 6-year-old son was sitting on a park bench all of 150 yards from her home when a neighbor brought him to the front door.
She motioned to a park bench about 150 yards from my house. A bench that is visible from my front porch. A bench where he had been playing with my 8-year-old daughter, and where he decided to stay and play when she brought our dog home from the walk they'd gone on.
The neighbor explained that she wanted to return him to stay safely inside with an adult, then she left. A few minutes later there was another knock at the door, and this time it was a police officer.
The police officer asked if my son had been outside alone. She asked why I thought it was OK for him to be unsupervised. She took my ID. She wrote down the names and ages of the children.
Roy says her son cried that night because "he thought someone would call the police when he couldn't fall asleep at his bedtime," and that a few days later, she got a voicemail from a Child Protective Services investigator.
Within an hour she was at the house, interviewing the kids one at a time, alone with her, while I had to sequester myself upstairs. I wanted to argue. I wanted to protest. I wanted to stamp my foot and say, "No, ma'am, you are NOT allowed to speak to my children without me being present." But I was cowed. And I understood why the process had to be that way. I didn't like it. I DON'T like it. But I understood. I understand. I complied.
My kids reported that she asked questions about drugs and alcohol, about pornography, about how often they bathe, about fighting in the home. And again, I understand the need for these questions. I understand CPS investigators have an incredibly difficult job. But the conflict I feel is immense. My children were playing outside, within sight of the house, and now my 6yo and 8yo and 12yo have seen their mother spoken to -- multiple times -- as if she, herself, was a child being reprimanded. They have all been questioned, by a stranger, about whether they've ever been shown movies of other people's private parts. And no matter what I say, I can tell that they think they've done something wrong.
The caseworker contacted Roy's husband and even her babysitter before determining that the incident would be marked as a non-event and the case would be closed.
But I was also warned: the neighbor can call CPS as many times as she wants. If she truly feels there's neglect, she can't be prosecuted for making false allegations. We could try to sue her for harassment. We could try to press charges for kidnapping if she approaches our son again and tries to get him to move from where he's playing. But in all reality, when children are involved, the person who makes the complaint gets the benefit of the doubt.
Roy goes on to talk about her intense humiliation, anger, and sadness over the incident. She waited to write about it in her blog until she knew the case was closed, but now she's expressing the same despair I always feel when I hear these stories: what is happening to our society when people make choices like this? When the sight of a child playing near his house is enough for a busybody neighbor to call the police? Crime statistics don't support this kind of fear-mongering. Parents don't deserve to worry that allowing their children freedom will result in punishment, and kids don't deserve to be smothered by paranoid what-ifs.
I always see a few comments on these stories that side with the overbearing authorities. It's a scary world we live in these days, people say. Better to be safe than sorry. No, our 24/7 access to headline-grabbing stories and social media makes it seem like a scarier world than the one we grew up in. What's scary is believing that keeping your children inside and under constant surveillance will ensure that they never experience harm. What's scary is believing that sitting in front of a TV is healthier than being active outside. What's scary is taking away their independence and creative play, and teaching them to be the victims of a widespread baseless fear.
I let my 6-year-old son play in our front yard all the time. He and his older brother are even allowed to ride their bikes up and down the street, can you believe it? I'd love to think they'll enjoy the same wild, endlessly open childhood I did, where the nearby park became a fairy-tale woods and my friend's house a few blocks away was a place I could run to and from ... but it's seeming more and more like those days are just gone. And that should scare FAR us more than these vague bad-guy scenarios do.
What's your take on this woman's story? Do you think it was right for her neighbor to notify the police?
Image via kgabhi/Flickr