Taking her son to the playground was supposed to be a fun outing, but when Berit Thorkelson spotted two young children playing unsupervised, she was faced with a tough decision.
By Berit Thorkelson
We happen to live in a city with lots of parks. Nice parks. We have options, and that's good. We never lack in the twisty-slide department.
The closest one is our default park. It's four blocks away, and we hit it up at least a few days a week. Sometimes, we're the only ones there, so we have our choice of swings and slides. Other times, it crawls with kids and parents. On those days, Clint usually follows Roy around while I monitor access to Nico, who is a total celebrity around kids, probably because she's small and friendly. As long as I'm by her side, she's cool with her sudden popularity, absorbing gentle pats and dispensing the odd squeal-inciting lick.
The other night when we showed up, there was just one other parent and three kids, all on the swingset. As usual, Nico grabbed the spotlight right away, with the mom and her red-headed tween-aged boy fawning over her. We settled into the usual park routine. About 5 minutes go by, and the woman mentions that those other two kids there on the swingset? They're not hers. "The parents dropped them off right before you guys got here, then drove away," she says.
"They're not yours?" Clint asked in disbelief. Negative, she confirmed. "How old are you?" he asked the eldest, a timid and pale child who was pushing his infant brother, sporting the most adorable mop of curly black hair. "Seven," he quietly replied. I'd be surprised if he could lift the little one out of the swing.
The woman moved toward us, introduced herself and chattered away, spouting facts: They just left. She didn't know what to do. This is wrong. People don't do this. And then: What are you going to do?
I honestly looked for the "What Would You Do?" hidden cameras. "I'm calling the police," Clint said, whipping out his phone.
"They're in that house," the boy offered, pointing to a gray two-story bordering the park. It was clearly a struggle for him to articulate the phrase.
Clint paused. We all kept glancing around in disbelief, trying to make sense of the situation. I outlined what I saw as the only options. 1) Knock on the door of the house. 2) Call the police. When I pictured either of the situations playing out, it involved drug dealers and guns, and that paralyzed me. I also tried to dredge up a logical situation for leaving the kids at the park. Something reasonable. Understandable. Something that would make calling the police a ridiculous and reactionary option. For the life of me, I could not think of one.
And then a car pulls up. Wait, not a car. A gleaming white SUV with spinning silver rims. A couple gets out of the back and rushes toward the kids, smiling. The woman's jaw is clicking and grinding: Meth mouth, not a doubt in my mind. "Ooh, was he crying?" She cooed.
"No, he was fine. But do you think it's a good idea to leave your kids alone in the park?" I asked.
"Our friend was just going to drive to the corner, but then he kept on going," she said with a cheerful, over-the-top annoyance.
"What would make you think it's ever a good idea to leave your kids here?" I persisted
She ignored me. As they walked briskly to the car with their two kids, Clint followed, got the license plate digits and called the police, who said they'd follow up.
I keep thinking about that poor 7-year old, knowing enough to try and cover for his parents. If he was left alone to push the wee one in the swing for 15 minutes while his parents bought drugs, imagine what else he's had to do. Imagine what else he's seen.
We will program the non-emergency police number into our phones. If it happens again, we will call it right away. Other than that, what more can we do? That is not a rhetorical question.
This article first appeared on Parents.com. Check out more from Thorkelson's blog Love & Diapers and the rest of the Parents.com bloggers.