Friday, October 07, 2011

Me? Stranger Danger?

I understand that I was more into free-range parenting than most other parents I knew. I also understand that, in the past 25 years, society has leaned much further in the direction of Protecting Children At All Costs. But, really, now, c'mon....

For the last two days, I have spent copious hours in the garden, catching up on weeding and tilling that hadn't been done properly since last spring last year. I had kids out there helping me for a good part of the time. The next-door-neighbor kids have a babysitter who's been around for over a year. If I remember correctly, Katie has even taken Alia over to play with those kids and chatted with the sitter.

So I'm sitting in the dirt, trying to separate the Creeping Charley and the grass from my perennial onions. The 3-yr-old girl next door comes over to chat a bit. She's done that several times on weekends when her daddy is working in the yard. But today the babysitter is there. The babysitter called the girl back to the patio. Eventually, the girl wandered back in my direction; she was interested in what I was up to; she wanted to ask about my strawberry patch; she was having a hard time understanding that today I was working on the onions and not the strawberries. Please imagine the picture. The girl is in her own yard, and I am in mine. She is nowhere within my reach -- never closer than 10-15 feet away from me. I am sitting, not standing; I can't bolt over to grab her. We are both in full view of the sitter, only about 40-50 feet from her. We are far enough apart that we have to raise our voices to be heard by each other.

But still, the sitter kept calling the child back to the patio. At one point, I smiled and called to the sitter, "Oh, it's no problem; she's not bothering me!" The sitter ignored my comment: "Come back here and stay on the concrete patio. Don't you go over there!" Pretty soon, the sitter even had interjected herself in the boys' game of catch, rounding up the 6-yr-old and 8-yr-old on the patio, putting herself in the yard where they'd been, stationing herself between me and her charges. She gave them instructions not to go out into the yard.


It would make perfect sense to me if the sitter didn't want the kids to follow me into the garage. She doesn't know me well enough to use me for a back-up sitter if an emergency should come up. I understand this. But to keep the kids corralled in a small space outside on a gorgeous day because the neighbor happens to be outside too? Oh dear me.


  1. I think a lot of it has to do with people only assuming that other adults are "safe" if they have a small child with them.

    When Maria and I were 19-20 we went to the Children's Science museum for fun and education and got the stink-eye from every parent and teacher in the building, even though the employees didn't look at all phased.

    A kid waved at Matt and me when we were at the zoo one day, and I waved back, and the child was promptly dragged away by a scowling parent, only to wave at another couple- this one with an infant in a stroller across the way- and nothing was done.

    One would think that the babysitter could associate "neighbor Susan gardening" with "neighbor Susan with the grandkids that come to play," but I think not having a kiddo there with you blinds people...

  2. Sad, but I suspect you're right.

  3. Could it also just be that the sitter doesn't want the child to be bothering grown ups? I know I've "called off" my kid any number of times for that reason - not wanting to her to be pestering.

    Well, and in her defense, she may not know that the parents know you a little and be erring on the side of covering-her-rear, you know?

    (But you're probably right, Susan. Sadly.)