Internet, I don't even know how to process what happened to me today. I am feeling angry and humiliated and anxious all because I did something today that I DO NOT think was wrong but someone else did.
A man called the police on me today for leaving my sleeping twins and fully awake six-year-old daughter in the car alone... for less than five minutes.
This is what happened:
I needed to pick up a dress that I had ordered. The store opened at 11 and I pulled into the parking lot at 11. All three girls were in the car but Jude and Elie had just fallen asleep. Vivi was awake and coloring and said she didn't want to go in. There were only three or four other cars in the parking lot and because the front of the store where I would be has a big window and I knew I wouldn't be long, I decided to run in alone. I put down the windows in the car (it was 80 degrees and somewhat overcast), locked the doors, and gave Vivi the usual warning that she should not unlock the door for anyone. (The car alarm would go off if someone reached in and unlocked the door manually.)
I walked into the store and told the woman I was here to pick up my dress. While she was retrieving it, I stood at the window and watched my car. I saw a man come up who was parked next to me. He noticed the girls but did not touch my car or speak to them. (I would have been out there in a heartbeat if that had been the case.) Then he got on his phone. I didn't think anything of it and I had probably been in the store 2-3 minutes at this point.
At that point, the woman brought out my dress. I checked it out and signed for it and then I returned to my car. The man who was on the phone was no longer there but his car still was. When I get to the car, Vivi told me she needed the bathroom. I let her out of the car, locked it again, walked the 15 feet to the store and asked the woman right inside if my daughter could use the bathroom. At the entryway of the store, I watched Vivi walk into the bathroom and I told her to lock the door and come straight out to the car where I would be waiting for her. She was back in less than 3 minutes.
While we were getting buckled, the man with the phone got into his car (clearly seeing me) and proceeded to drive very slowly around the small parking lot. That is when I saw the fire truck and two police cars coming down the street. I thought maybe they were coming for this weird guy driving around but as I was pulling out the police motioned for me to stop. I did not have any idea that this situation was all about me until the policeman came up to my window and told me to turn off my car and asked me if I had left my children alone in the car.
I explained everything that I just wrote here. The fireman/EMT said that the person who called said the kids "weren't looking good" so he touched Jude's leg. He just laughed and said, "She is the perfect temperature. Definitely not a problem." (Jude and Elie stayed asleep during the whole debacle but Vivi was very confused and anxious.) The police kept asking if I had the windows up or down. I felt like he was trying to catch me in a lie. Eventually, he told me to "wait in my vehicle" while he verified my story in the store. (The retail staff validated everything I said.)
The firemen/EMTs left and when the policeman came back to the car, he said, "I'm going to let you go but I think you are playing with fire here." That just made me angry. I said, "I am a good mother. I would never intentionally put them in harm's way and with your line of thinking, it is playing with fire to give them a bath because they could slip in the tub and crack their head open." He acknowledged that was true and then informed me that he needed to write a police report so I had to give him all my family's vital statistics.
I didn't start crying until he made the "playing with fire" comment. I've never felt so angry and judged as I did in that moment. I know I am a good mother but that scene in the parking lot made me feel like I was a pariah for doing something that almost all of our parents did routinely. (By the way, statistically we are MUCH safer now than when we were children.)
I think as a culture we have become so obsessed with the safety of our children that we've lost all sense of what is reasonable. If I had woken my children up and forced Vivi out of the car, it would have been a 30 minute production and everyone would have suffered for it. I made my decision AFTER assessing the time, health, happiness, risk, and safety of all involved. I'm not a thoughtless dimwit.
I don't want my children going through life never feeling safe in public. I didn't grow up that way and I still believe that 99% of the people in the world are good. Sure it only takes one weirdo to ruin your life but trying to prevent that is like preparing for an asteroid to hit. Police report or not, I would still make the same decision I made today.