Do y'all remember when I got investigated by CPS in the summer of '08? I blogged the whole saga, but the nutshell version is that a neighbor thought my 6yo son shouldn't have been told to walk home by himself from a quarter-mile away and drama ensued.
A little necessary background: we live in a quiet pedestrian-friendly neighborhood on the edge of a college campus. We walk a lot. Yesterday Pete and Stella and I enjoyed a rambly walk home from preschool, detouring to collect a handful of last season's battered walnuts and horse chestnuts in a neighbor's yard, and stopping by the creek to admire an underwater worm. (A suspiciously still underwater worm, but I kept my suspicions to myself.)
When we got to our house Pete asked me, for the first time ever, if he could walk around the block once by himself. He's 5. Our block is tiny. I said yes.
I stopped in the house for about three minutes, and then I started around the block clockwise to meet up with Pete. He was on the sidewalk with a neighbor, who said, "Is he yours?"
She had stopped him and said, "Where's your mom?" He told her, "Over there," pointing to our house -- clearly visible from where they were standing. (For perspective, this picture shows a chunk of our little block. Pete was standing to the left of that gray house.) He told her, "My mom said I could walk around one time by myself."
And the neighbor said, "She shouldn't have done that."
She said, "Maybe we should walk around together to find your mom," but then she just stood there with him, telling him how dangerous the street is. (For perspective, our side of the block sees ~3 cars per hour during the day and theirs is similar.) That's when I arrived.
"Is he yours?" she asked me, and proceeded to tell me a story that made me think he had lost his mind and run out in front of a car without looking. In reality, he was walking peaceably on the sidewalk and paused to look across the street at her and her dog -- a story I had to work at extracting from her. While she was talking, I saw Pete's little face working as he tried to hold back tears that wouldn't be held back. He crumpled onto the grass and sobbed.
"You didn't do anything wrong," I told him quietly. "You had my permission to walk here. I'm glad you're a brave guy."
It didn't help. He sobbed for a long time while I sat beside him and rubbed his back. His lovely big-guy idea had soured, and he was crushed. Unapologetic, the neighbor kept saying, "I was just trying to keep you from getting hit by a car." (While you were standing on the sidewalk. In the middle of the block. With no cars in sight.)
So this is twice now, that a neighbor has been so determined to keep my child safe that she prevents him from getting home as instructed. This time, I need to have another conversation with the woman in question. I see her often; we regularly exchange pleasantries while she's walking her dog. She can't make my 5yo son cry because he is on the sidewalk 50 yards away from me, having spent four minutes out of my sight with my permission.
I'm feeling puzzled here. There seems to be this crazy divide in my neighborhood: there are the parents who think it's a reasonably safe place for kids to explore, and there are the residents waiting for the CSI Gladlyville team to start excavating the dead bodies of children whose mothers failed to swathe them in bubble wrap while they sat safely indoors watching television.
This is a battle I am willing to fight, because I believe it is important. I have thought a lot about my children's abilities and their limitations, and I continue to monitor the safety of the neighborhood -- keeping an eye out for changes in traffic, changes in the sex offender registry, changes in nearby rental housing.
I just don't understand why it has to be a battle.
P.S. The CPS investigation was traumatic for me, and it is still a tender spot. If you disagree with me, please be kind.