My Run-In with the Police

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.


  1. Oh my. My heart is pounding, my breath is racing, and I'm absolutely seething on your behalf right now.

    I've done the same thing, many times. You are a good mother. Our culture has become ruled by non-sense and exaggeration and lies and fears. You hit the nail on the head when you said you were made to feel like a pariah for doing something our parents did routinely.

    We are too often drawn into believing that we HAVE to parent as if an asteroid is about to hit. That's not how I want to raise my children. Good for you for sticking to your guns.

    I could go on and on about this...I feel very very strongly about what happened to you. I hope people come out of the woodwork -- as they should -- to support you.

    I am so sorry this happened to you.

  2. Wow, that stinks.

    This almost happened to me a month ago. My son was sick and he was up all night. I had to take him to the doctor and then to get x-rays, then I had to go back after leaving and pick up the x-rays. Isaiah had just fallen asleep (the girls were with my mom) so I parked right by the big windows and glass doors and went inside. It took a while for them to get my x-rays, but I stood there watching my car (windows open, locked, same thing) the whole time. A guy saw my car, stood by the lisence plate and started dialing. Luckily I caught him before the call went through and let him know I was standing there, watching my car, waiting for the x-rays. He backed off and left it alone.
    I am so sorry this happened to you, and that he made it seem like your kids were in danger when they weren't.
    But, on the other side I read on facebook that 59 kids have died this year from overheating in cars. I have no idea if that's true or not, but if it is I guess it's a good thing that strangers are looking out.
    You are a good mom. You made the right call. You are a GREAT mom.

  3. That SUCKS. I'm so sorry -- I would have been very hurt and upset.

    It's easy for people to say they'd never do this *when they only have one baby at a time!* In your situation I would have done the same thing -- if I were able to see the car the whole time, and if a child who was old enough to unbuckle herself and not goof off was in the car too.

    I try hard not to raise my children to live in fear. It is hard for me to avoid it but I don't want that life for them. You were right there and your kids were perfectly safe. You shouldn't be judged for that!

  4. I am so sorry to hear about this awful experience. I can only imagine how you must have felt, and how you must still feel. I hope you can shake it soon and get it behind you.

  5. You're an awesome woman and amazing mom and I'm so sorry this happened to you! This 'always connected' world has gotten out of control, IMHO. No one would have taken the time to go to a pay phone, insert a quarter and dial the police in our day. Everyone's a hero with a cell phone. I'm glad the cops weren't called on me when my kids were playing with a stick at the park. Another mom made it very clear that they could poke an eye out. Or worse.

    You rock!

  6. Wow, wow. I'm having major adrenaline. You obviously made a mature, well thought out, etc etc decision.
    I'm so sorry that this weirdo made such a hullabaloo over nothing which then interfered so dramatically in YOUR family life. Ugh.
    I'm proud of you for thinking on your feet with a retort for the police officer.
    Grrr, grrr, grrr. Just keep mommin' on - you got it, you know what you're doing. If this is the police/fire/emt's biggest concern ... then I guess Providence is pretty safe. *roll eyes*
    Even more aggravating that your word was not valid enough (it needed to be confirmed by the store employee) but this random "concerned citizen" didn't need anyone else to back his story! Ahhh!


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