11.07.2007

Voting and other Public Services




And now I can say that my boobs have been on the Internet.

So I voted yesterday, which made me very proud and pleased. Except I wasn't on the ball enough to re-register at my new address so I had to fill out a provisional ballot which may or may not even count. Whatever, though. I got to wear the "I'm cool and civic-minded" sticker and that's what really matters.

One of the polling stations was here in the library's meeting room, and around 6pm I discovered a tiny problem--namely, that there were about 3,000 small children running around unsupervised in the library. Lots of parents were coming to vote (yay!) and bringing their kids (also yay!). The dumping them off in the children's section and then leaving to go to a room at the other end of the building? Not so much yay.

There were kids who were crying because they didn't know where their parents were. There was the 4-year old who was roaming up and down the hallways with a trembling lip. There was the 7-yr old who'd been put in charge of an entire herd of kiddies. It was actually kind of heart-breaking.

I started with the criers first, marching them down the hall to their parents, who then got to listen to the Why We Do Not Leave Small Crying Children Alone talk. But it became clear that there were too many kids to do this one-by-one. So I went in the polling station, asked if I could make a brief announcement, stood on a chair, introduced myself, and requested that the parents who may have accidentally left their children in the library unattended and unsafe go retrieve those children right now.

Because seriously, people. Seriously!

The thing that baffles me is that these are good parents. These are probably parents who buy car seats and check to make sure they're properly installed. They worry about the amount of sugar and TV their kids get each day. They make sure the kids have enough clothes on and that their pajamas are flame-retardant. And yet, and yet, there's somehow this blind spot when it comes to leaving them alone and walking away, trusting that nothing will happen, or that if it does someone else will be watching out for them.

Who exactly is this "someone else" supposed to be? Another child? Busy library staff who have absolutely no way of knowing which kids are without a parent? Someone who claims to be a neighbor or "from the same ward" but who could actually be anyone? The registered sex offender from down the street who has come in to vote?

And it's not like these kids can take care of themselves. Let me tell you, I have never had a small child refuse to go with me when I say, "Let's go find your mom." They always take my hand and walk with me, even though I could be escorting them directly into the dark parking lot and possibly the trunk of my car. And it's scary to think of who else they might trust and follow.

So if any of the parents who read this have ever done something like this (whether it's a library or a waiting room or wherever) or have considered doing something like this, please please please rethink it. I'm not saying this just because I am a librarian who has enough to do without becoming an unwitting day-care provider, although that's certainly true. I am saying this because even though my heart may be mostly cold and shriveled and undersized, the bit that does work actually cares quite a lot about your children and wants them to be safe.

17 comments:

MBC said... [reply]

We actually had an unattended child in the library who wandered outside and made it onto a city bus unnoticed. Fortunately, she was discovered and returned safely. My favorite, though, was when I heard a sound that didn't seem quite right in the stacks one day. When I went to investigate, a little boy dressed from head to toe as Spiderman had climbed to the very top of the shelves. I had to get a stool to reach him and help him down.

Miss Hass said... [reply]

Oh wow. I can't even imagine doing something like that...

Jenny said... [reply]

So what you're saying is that I can no longer leave the kids in the story pit of the library after reminding them to be good and not to talk to strangers while I go upstairs and look at cookbooks? I'm offended.

coolmom said... [reply]

When you are the overwhelmed parent of small children, you will do many things out of desperation (just this once!) or frustration (it will only take one second!) when you think no one is looking. Or if other parents are doing it. Because you think it could never happen to YOU or YOUR child. Sad but true. Ask any parent.

miranda said... [reply]

from the time i had to take my son in the booth and set his carseat on the floor until today, when he watches me use the touch screen, my son ALWAYS comes with me to vote. he even got his own sticker. the child is five, and he already knows he wants to vote when he gets older.

Bridget said... [reply]

Didn't those civic-duty-doing parents hear about this?

(In case you don't feel like clicking, a 4-year-old girl was abducted from an LDS Church hallway while her and other moms had a meeting in another room.)

Rynell said... [reply]

I feel better about being the freakazoid, paranoid parent that I am.

Nemesis said... [reply]

Oh my gosh, Bridget. I hadn't heard about it but that's really awful.

AND PROVES MY POINT!

I wish the world were a safer place, but it just isn't. And you'll see those people who take a stand by not locking their doors because they don't want to buy into the doom and gloom, which, fine, whatever. But its often the defenseless kids who will be victimized, not the choice-making parents.

Anonymous said... [reply]

OK, I admit i have left my kids over at story time while I look for a movie. Its in the same room, but I can't see them at all times. Also, there is an outside door between me and them.

So now you have me re-thinking that decision.

I've also seen Moms let their 16 month olds roam in the church hallways while the missionaries were teaching free English lessons (as advertised on the churches front lawn)during an Enrichment meeting in the Relief Society room.

People thought I was paranoid because I hinted to this parent that maybe they should be worried about the total strangers in the building.

My point is, how do you find a happy middle ground? On one hand your are a hovering parent that doesn't give your kids enough room to breath.

On the other hand you are putting your childs life at risk.

How do you find middle ground?

And no, there is no way I'd leave my 3&4 year olds alone in the library while I was in another room voting. Especially while there are strangers coming in and out.

LBAR

FoxyJ said... [reply]

I don't mind being a hovering parent in public spaces. That's totally appropriate. Whenever I can I stay within sight distance of my kids. To me, "hovering" is standing right next to my kids on the playground equipment telling them what to do. I don't feel like "hovering" is to sit on a bench where I can see them and control them. Letting your children wander the halls of a public building, even if it's a church or library is not OK.

I think the worst thing I saw when I was a page was a parent who yelled at the four year old for not watching her baby sister, who we found crying and alone in the children's section. It was either that or the lady who told her son the librarians were going to "cut off his fingers" if he didn't behave.

Nemesis said... [reply]

Thanks for the comment, anon. I don't think it should be too hard to defend the idea that letting toddlers roam out of eyesight with strangers around is a bad idea. Just look at the article Bridget provided--and those were older kids! And seriously, just because church buildings are "dedicated" it doesn't mean they're safe. They're large, unlocked buildings with no security staff. And with several wards using one building it's a given that you won't recognize people.

I honestly don't know where the middle ground is. I'm sure when I'm a parent I'll have to figure it out. But as an aunt, I tend to err on the side of caution because I could never live with myself if something happened to my niece or nephew on my watch--especially when I know how vigilant my sis is about watching them in public.

I guess part of it is about educating kids about safety, and until we know they have the skills and maturity to handle being without adult supervision then we just have to be there to keep an eye out--or make sure that someone we know and trust is keeping an eye on them for us.

Have any other moms found a happy medium here?

Nemesis said... [reply]

Aaaand as I was typing FoxyJ chimed in with words of wisdom. Thanks!

Cannot believe that woman said that about the librarians chopping little boys' fingers off. How did she even find out about that? It's like one of our most carefully guarded secrets!

Jenny said... [reply]

I think Foxy gave the rule for parenting in public. That's what we try to do. If we are somewhere really crowded or in a place where there are dangerous things (breakables or cliffs) arms reach or touching is how close they have to be.

Or anytime you think to yourself, well someone will stop them or come get me or keep an eye out if anything happens, you're probably too far away from them.

So poor baby Ethan will probably be going to public bathrooms with his mother until he's like 12, because there is no way on this green Earth he's going into a men's room alone.

Maggie said... [reply]

When we went to the ward's Halloween party in our new ward, one of our friends let their 14 month old little boy go into the cultural hall alone to play with the other kids while they stayed in the RS room with us to chat. I wasn't really shocked when someone brought him back in to the room because he had made it into the kitchen and was playing with unsafe sharp objects.

coolmom said... [reply]

You send boys to the mens room in groups and make them stay together, or you wait until the men's room is empty, (you know this by knocking on the door and looking in) send in your kid, and no one else goes in until he comes out. Or you just say "forget it" and take your boy to the ladies room. I would rather a young boy be safe than see me wash my hands. Also, some places are coming up with "Family" restrooms where both sexes can enter.

coolmom said... [reply]

I'm surprised no one brought up the "baby monitor" method of free babysitting. This should be a felony. Actually, it probably is. You really can't ever be too safe. But sometimes you are lucky.

jeri said... [reply]

I agree with Jenny and FoxyJ. I don't hover over them and they can play on the playground by themselves, but they have to be in my eyesight at all times. And if it's crowded or someplace they might be in danger (edge of something, by water, etc.), I put them in a little harness-leash thing. They love to wear them and it keeps them from sneaking out of my grip and away from me (and I have sneaker run-off kids).

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