The woman lowered her voice. She sounded embarrassed, even ashamed. Earlier this week, she said, she let her kids, ages 5 and 2, wait in the car while she ran into UPS to drop off a package. This took all of a minute or two, but when she told her husband about it that night, he said, "That was so dangerous! Promise me you'll never do that again!"
Why was it "so dangerous"? Answer: It wasn't. It was only dangerous if some very strange, unpredictable thing happened, like a predator passing by just that very instant who was eagle-eyed, lightning quick and desperate for two very young kids at once.
Does that husband have any idea how rare — nay, almost unheard of — that scenario is? Just do some quick math: There are 60 million children age 15 and under in America. FBI statistics show that about 115 are kidnapped by strangers per year — possibly fewer, since that number comes from 1999, and crime has been dropping for a decade.
As unlikely as that predator scenario is, it plays on infinite loop in a lot of folks' heads. What I'd like to see is a NEW scenario playing there beside it. This one:
Earlier this week (May 3) in New Zealand, a mom of three also left her children in the car as she ran a quick errand. Completely out of the blue, a tornado struck. The mom looked out the shop window and saw her car GONE. According to a report in the New Zealand Herald, the tornado had picked it up, flung it as high as the top of the shopping center, and then dropped it about 50 yards from its original parking space.
Amazingly — wonderfully — all the kids inside were fine, thanks to being strapped into their car seats.
Now imagine what might have happened if, instead of ducking into the store solo, the mom had painstakingly unbuckled each of the kids from their car seats to take them in with her, as parents are constantly exhorted to do.
There's at least a decent chance that she and they would have been outside, right next to the car — or inside and unstrapped — when the tornado struck. They could have been slammed into the car, or tossed around inside it, or even lifted up just like the car was, flung through the sky and dumped on their heads.
It's a wild scenario — extremely unlikely, but possible. Which is why I'd like parents and busybodies to give it equal time with the pouncing predator before they yell at parents who let their kids wait, briefly, in cars.
The concern over kids in cars is growing exponentially in our country. There are articles and websites telling parents that it is NEVER safe to leave a child in a car, even for an instant, lest the child be snatched or suffer hyperthermia. These warnings always state the number of children who die in parked cars each year — about 40 — but they never state the number of children killed by being taken OUT of cars.
So I looked it up. There are about 229 children killed each year in driveways and parking lots. So why it is safer to drag them out of the car than to keep them in is anybody's guess.
We like worrying about children and we like warning parents that if they do anything that smacks of convenience or common sense, they are bad. It makes us feel smug and helpful. It makes parents feel fearful and incompetent.
Personally, the next time someone suggests I can't make my own safety calculations for my kids, I will tell him to go fly a kite.
Lenore Skenazy is the author of "Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry)," and, "Who's the Blonde That Married What's-His-Name? The Ultimate Tip-of-the-Tongue Test of Everything You Know You Know — But Can't Remember Right Now." To find out more about Lenore Skenazy ([email protected]) and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.