Before I let my daughter go to the home of a school friend whose a) parents Ive never met or b) house Ive never visited, there are a couple of things I do. First, I say no way in hell is she going over there. Then I calmly reconsider and ask the parents if theyre gun owners, and regardless of the answer, I generally say no way in hell is she going over there. Unless Ive visited and white-gloved to my satisfaction (I recently invited myself to dinner before deciding whether Ruby could go for a sleepover), its more likely Ill open my doors for the play date / sleepover / glorified babysitting stint.
And I dont particularly care if other parents think its weird or over the top, just like many of them apparently dont care if I think their laissez-faire method of child rearing is under it. And calling it laid-back is an overstated description. I never fail to be amazed by the actions of other parents.
While Im busy bubble-wrapping my child and packing her securely in a Styrofoam box with peanuts—along with explicit instructions on how to kick a dude in the nuts—before I send her out into the world, other parents Ive encountered seem more than eager to shove their children from a moving car right onto my doorstep, usually early and unprepared. Regular readers might remember my story of Mr. McGee, the esteemed and apparently very busy father of one of Rubys schoolmates, who left his child unaccompanied on my porch an hour before birthday-party start time.
Indeed, almost seven years into my indoctrination with people whom, under any other life circumstance besides parenting Id likely never associate with, I find that this type of behavior is not isolated. But Im becoming ever more adept at dealing with it.
Case in point: Rubys teacher organized a trip to the beach during spring break, and a parent Ive not met before emailed to ask if I would take her daughter because she couldnt. Of course I said yes, because somebodys got to think about the children, and it might as well be me. Despite all evidence to the contrary, my default response to any such request is steeped in Helen Lovejoy philosophy. Im going to the beach anyway, and I have an extra car seat and sand toys aplenty. Why not? I thought. I even offered to pick up and drop off the little angel—despite not knowing where these people live.
I didnt consider the possibility of getting sued if I got into a car accident en route. Or if there was a near-drowning incident. Or a shark attack. I didnt think to ask if her kid can swim. So, the learning curve is a little steep.The nice lady-mom-person said she could drop off and pick up. Whew. I gave her the times, my address and my phone number and asked about any dietary requirements, since Id be packing lunches. And that was it. No Thanks, my daughter is really looking forward to it or Let me give you my phone number or Do you own a gun?
To be fair, the gun question isnt all that great an indicator of parental attentiveness. A couple years back, I sent my child to La Jolla Shores with a non-gun-owning, free-spirit hippie, a guy Id approved against my gut on account of his more palatable wife, only to find out later that he went surfing and left our then-4-year-olds on the beach alone.
So, the firearm issue might be irrelevant to some. But wouldnt you want to know if I kept an adorable baby honey badger as a domesticated pet?
Not if youre modern mommy you dont. Modern mommy dont give a shit.
Instead, modern mommy—or daddy; lets not be discriminating—pushes the envelope of the generosity of others in a way that I would never dare. I cant begin to contemplate the guilt Id feel by pulling some of these moves on other parents, which is to say nothing of my need to look out for my childs safety—which is to say, my need to be a good parent.
On the morning of our beach excursion, I sent a text to the mother of the child whose life Id be taking into my hands for the day (I had to request her number), asking that she pack a sweatshirt. The response? Is it OK to drop my angel 30 minutes early?
In my less-experienced days, I might have said, Sure no problem—whats 30 minutes? even if it completely jacked my schedule. And then, too, Id have complained about it here.
But like I said, Im getting good at dealing with this passive-aggressive style of parenting and saw this one coming. I hit back with a No, that wont work for me. I didnt need to take a breath, I didnt need to think it through. I maintained my composure, seated as it was next to my boundaries, and I deftly used this opportunity to verify the pick-up time. If you cant make it by 4:00, I typed into my phone, then I dont think this is going to work out. And— and!—Get this! I didnt feel a smidge bit of guilt. A pretty epic moment for a Jewish chick.
Seriously, folks, if youd send your child to the home of a stranger without having been to that home, where, for all you know, clown porn is on a 24-hour loop; if youd let your child ride in a car with that stranger who, for all you know, considers driving time her texting time; if youd let your child hang out at a beach with that stranger who, for all you know, wears a thong bikini and carries a plastic tumbler with ice-cold vodka tonic just to prove that yes, you can to drink on the beach, then you shouldnt be a parent.
Maybe you should settle instead for a cat. Or a honey badger.