Photo by Aaryn Belfer
Before I let my daughter go to the home of a school friend whose a) parents I’ve never met or b) house I’ve 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 they’re gun owners, and regardless of the answer, I generally say no way in hell is she going over there. Unless I’ve visited and white-gloved to my satisfaction (I recently invited myself to dinner before deciding whether Ruby could go for a sleepover), it’s more likely I’ll open my doors for the play date / sleepover / glorified babysitting stint.
And I don’t particularly care if other parents think it’s weird or over the top, just like many of them apparently don’t 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 I’m 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 I’ve 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 Ruby’s 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 I’d likely never associate with, I find that this type of behavior is not isolated. But I’m becoming ever more adept at dealing with it.
Case in point: Ruby’s teacher organized a trip to the beach during spring break, and a parent I’ve not met before emailed to ask if I would take her daughter because she couldn’t. Of course I said yes, because somebody’s 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. I’m 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 didn’t 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 didn’t 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 I’d 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 isn’t 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 I’d 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 wouldn’t you want to know if I kept an adorable baby honey badger as a domesticated pet?
Not if you’re modern mommy you don’t. Modern mommy don’t give a shit.
Instead, modern mommy—or daddy; let’s not be discriminating—pushes the envelope of the generosity of others in a way that I would never dare. I can’t begin to contemplate the guilt I’d feel by pulling some of these moves on other parents, which is to say nothing of my need to look out for my child’s 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 I’d 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—what’s 30 minutes? even if it completely jacked my schedule. And then, too, I’d have complained about it here.
But like I said, I’m getting good at dealing with this passive-aggressive style of parenting and saw this one coming. I hit back with a No, that won’t work for me. I didn’t need to take a breath, I didn’t 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 can’t make it by 4:00,” I typed into my phone, “then I don’t think this is going to work out.” And— and!—Get this! I didn’t feel a smidge bit of guilt. A pretty epic moment for a Jewish chick.
Seriously, folks, if you’d 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 you’d let your child ride in a car with that stranger who, for all you know, considers driving time her texting time; if you’d 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 shouldn’t be a parent.
Maybe you should settle instead for a cat. Or a honey badger.
You can read more of Aaryn Belfer at Thematically Fickle.