Recently I drove into town to go to the library. As I turned into the parking lot, I nearly ran over a two-year-old girl, alone. I parked, walked over to her, and asked “Where’s your mommy, sweetheart?” The child pointed to a house half a block away.
I took her by the hand, then lifted her onto my hip as we walked toward the house. Seven or eight children were playing on the lawn, ranging in age from three to ten years.
“Does this little girl live here?” I asked the group, and received affirmation. “I nearly ran over her in the library parking lot.”
One of the boys ran indoors and retrieved an adult woman. The woman took one look at the toddler and yelled, “What did I tell you about staying in the yard?” She spanked the child. "Now get into your bed and stay there!"
I walked away muttering to myself.
A few years ago a similar incident happened. Don and I were driving through the same town when we spotted a three-year-old boy on the shoulder of the highway, dangerously close to stepping into traffic. We jerked to a stop and Don ran to take the child off the road. Turns out he had wandered away from the Grange building in town, where an event was taking place. When he walked into the building holding the boy by the hand, the mother ran up, relieved. She had been frantically looking for him and had no idea he had wandered so far away. She snatched him up and hugged him.
Please note the differences in outcome with both these incidences. Which mother do you like better?
There isn’t a parent alive who hasn’t temporarily misplaced a child. It's terrifying, it's soul-searching, it's frantic. But let's make one thing clear: It isn't a toddler's fault if she wanders away from an unfenced yard.
A two-year-old isn’t capable of understanding the boundaries of a yard if there’s something interesting to investigate beyond those boundaries.
Twenty years ago one of Don's friends went fishing with his four-year-old son. In a moment of inattention, the boy wandered too close to the river and drowned. The father has (literally) been an emotional wreck ever since. He has never forgiven himself for that momentary lapse.
This kind of lapse can happen to anyone. I would never blame someone when a child wanders off… until I see their reaction when the child is (God willing) found.
That's what made me so mad about the mother of the toddler I found. Her reaction wasn’t, “Oh my God, what happened to my child?” It was, “Oh my God, how could you inconvenience me so much?”
I know there is a bell curve to humanity. There are outstanding mothers and there are abusive mothers. The vast majority of us fall in the middle because most of us are decent mothers. This woman clearly falls on the lower end. She has apparently lost the instinct to nurture and protect her child. She didn’t have the imagination to think what could potentially happen if the toddler wandered off.
There really isn’t a point to this blog post except to rant, I guess. Women like this child’s mother might lead me to despair about our culture…until I stop and look around at others who mother beautifully.