Yet another challenge of parenthood is the whole debate of "when is it okay to leave the baby alone?" As in, I have to run into the house because I forgot something, can I leave the baby in the car in the garage/driveway? What if I live in the city and the car is right out front. Or, I just have to run into the post office to pick something up and she's sleeping in the back seat. Do I have to disturb her? Or, she's napping and I need to run (literally) next door to get an egg. Do I have to take her with me?
These situations come up on a daily basis and it's a judgement call. But there is a fine line between what is okay and what the law considers child endangerment.
There are the people who leave the baby in the car seat to run in to pick up a prescription. The neighborhood ladies who get together to play cards and bring their baby monitors and then check up on the kids every hour to make sure they are okay. Those who live in a high rise and go downstairs to do the laundry while the baby naps quietly above. And those who never ever leave the baby unattended.
I think it all has to do with what you are comfortable with and how safe you feel your baby can be without you. You hear of cars being stolen with kids in the back seat, homes catching fire while the parents stepped next door, and children being kidnapped unknowingly. Is it worth the risk?
Recently, a woman near Chicago was accused of child endangerment when she stepped fifteen feet away from her car to take her two older kids into a Wal-mart to drop off coins they had collected and were donating to a charity during the holidays. Her baby was asleep in the back seat and the car was within her line of vision. Someone noticed the car, and the baby in the back , immediately called police and the woman was charged with child endangerment. Everyone in her town considered her guilty from the very start. It wasn't until the case was heard that the charges were dismissed. Is it worth the ridicule and potential felony charges?
And a friend of mine didn't think much of doing laundry in the basement of the building until someone asked her what she would do if she got stuck in the elevator while her daughter was upstairs alone? I can tell you straight away that I would panic. I'd call everyone and their mother until I found someone to go check on her until I got rescued. But I can't blame my friend for not being in "what if" mode all of the time. I'm guilty of doing laundry in the basement one floor below my unit while the baby is sleeping. What's the difference between that and having a two story house in the suburbs? If I get locked in the basement, how is that different from being locked out of your house if you go to grab the mail from the box near the street?
I once called my husband to ask if I needed to drag the car seat and Ada into the alderman's office eight feet from the car door when both his office and the car would be in plain site of me at all times. The errand was to last 1 minute and his front desk is 2 feet from the door with glass windows clearly displaying my car. He said, "Yep, you gotta take her in with you. Better safe than sorry. I know it's a pain in the butt but if you don't and something happens to her, you'll regret it for the rest of your life." And he's right. But instead of taking her in with me, I flagged down some nice woman who was heading into the alderman's office and asked her to drop my stuff off for me. Then I sat there and watched her had it to the woman behind the counter. They all looked at me like I was a freak even though I tried to explain that I had a baby in the back seat. And then as I started to pull out of the parking spot, another mother was trying to hold open the door while dragging her big jogging stroller into the lobby to do the same thing.
Another instance was while having dinner and playing a game with friends we all decided we'd go across the street to get some ice cream. We debated who was going and someone suggested we all go. I said, "sure that sounds great." Then my husband looked at me as I put my arm into my coat sleeve and said, "Honey, one of us has to stay here with the baby." I had completely forgotten that she even existed since she'd been asleep for an hour and hadn't made a peep. So I stayed behind and twiddled my thumbs until they brought back a shake for me.
I guess my rule of thumb is: 1) Absolutely (almost) never leave her in the car unattended - maybe if I lived in a really small town and she was in the driveway and I was going to go double check that I locked the front door or get my sunglasses from just inside the door. 2) Never leave her more than one flight away from me - I think in a fire, that's as far as I could even consider getting in order to save her and myself. My mom has a rule that all of her kids had to live in the same part of the house as her, i.e. the bedrooms all had to be next to one another so she could get to them should the house catch fire and that always stayed with me. 3) Avoid having doors that lock between you and your baby whenever possible, and make sure you have keys (see my rant entitled "stupid keys" and you'll know why). This would include elevators, which I don't really like to begin with. 4) Don't leave your property without someone watching them, ever. The basement is one thing, the mailbox is another, dropping something off to a neighbor within a shout of your house is pushing it unless you are a really fast runner. 5) And even though the whole taking the baby monitor next door while you hang out with friends is tempting, just hire a babysitter to watch a movie or sleep on your couch while the baby sleeps. It's worth the peace of mind.
Moral of the story: Safety first, don't be lazy, and avoid jail time since it's hard to be a parent behind bars.