Every couple of weeks, I get an email time-stamped 2 or 3 a.m. because the sender can't sleep. Here's one that came three weeks ago:
"Dear Lenore: I am a special police officer in Washington, DC. I wake up (at) 4 am to work 6 am-6 pm and get home by 8 pm. No family at all. No support. Never been arrested or anything. Don't drink. Don't smoke. Don't date. Don't party. I literally have no life trying to be the best parent I can. My son is 2 and had fallen asleep after our second grocery store looking for rice milk. It was 7:50 pm and 65 degrees."
Can you guess what happened next? She let him snooze in the car for a few minutes while she got the special milk. She emerged to find "multiple police cars" swarming.
Someone had called 911 about a child alone in a car. As if that were automatically neglect. "I can potentially lose my career over this," she wrote. "How then will I support us?"
What lies ahead? Perhaps just a bad memory but perhaps the life of a single mom out of a job, forced to live someplace cheap and dangerous. How would that make her son safer?
And here's a note from this week. It should sound familiar:
"I'm a father of two boys in a Midwestern suburb. I took my kids to school, one of them threw up on the way. So I took him home and cleaned him up. I'm a dad that works at home. I'd sent two files for FedEx to print so I went to pick them up. My son said, 'I feel better, dad. Can I stay in the car?'"
I'd have said yes, as did he.
"I parked in front of the FedEx, which is completely made of glass. He's in plain sight. It's 63 degrees, the windows are open, the doors are locked."
Again, someone called 911. Long story short:
"Child protective services made a ruling and I will be marked as a 'child abuser' for five years. I'm a 40-year-old man, without a single mark on my record. But because of this, I won't be able to coach my kids' teams any more, or go on field trips with them. ... What do I do?"
Right now, there's not much any parent can do other than stop calling 911 when you see a child in a car near a retail establishment and it's not boiling-hot.
A truly good Samaritan stands by the car for a few minutes to make sure the parents are coming right back or goes into the store to find them.
How dare I say that? Here's how.
1) Kids do not die the instant they are in an unmoving car. Of the 30 to 40 children who die in cars each year, KidsAndCars.org reports, the overwhelming majority were forgotten there or climbed into a car unbeknownst to the parents and couldn't get out. They were not just waiting out a brief errand.
2) Believe it or not, more kids die in front-overs, back-overs and parking lots than in parked cars. Just last week, a child was hit by a car in the SeaWorld parking lot and died.
3) Yes, cars get hot in the summer. So don't get angry at parents who leave the air conditioning on while they run in to get a gallon of milk.
4) If you see a child in a place like the IBM parking lot, that kid is in danger, because clearly the kid was forgotten. Calling for emergency help there makes sense. Calling in front of the 7-Eleven does not.
5) Because forgetting kids is the real danger, the best prevention is to put your phone or wallet in the back seat with your child. That way, even if you're distracted, you will open the door to get your item and see your precious child.
Lenore Skenazy is president of Let Grow, founder of Free-Range Kids and author of "Has the World Gone Skenazy?" To learn more about Lenore Skenazy ([email protected]) and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.