A few years ago (and long before Greenleigh was even a thought) I was at home during the day and turned on the Dr. Phil show. Oh, how I love daytime television, even Dr. Phil. This particular episode focused on a woman named Treffly Coyne, who had been arrested and charged for leaving her sleeping 2 year old in the car while she walked approximately 30 feet away to donate some money to a Salvation Army bell-ringer. Coyne explained to the audience that when she put her daughter in the car that evening she was asleep, and she was still asleep when they reached the Wal-Mart where she was to donate the money. It was sleeting outside, so she made the decision to leave her toddler in the car, and only take her older daughters with her. She left the car running with the heat on, set the alarm, and walked over to the bell-ringer. After donating the money, they began their walk back to the vehicle, but were stopped by a community safety officer. Coyne was then arrested and charged with child endangerment and obstructing an officer, charges which carried a $2500 fine and up to a year in jail. Public outrage ensued. People dug in their heels on either side of the issue. After months of debate, the charges were dropped.
During the course of the show, Dr. Phil took an audience poll to see whether they thought Coyne had done something wrong. In a rough poll based on people raising their hands, it appeared that about half of the audience thought they should be prosecuted. At the time, I didn’t really know where I stood. On one hand she left her toddler in the car, unattended. A myriad of bad things could have happened. On the other hand, it was 30 feet (or less), during inclement weather, and the child was sleeping in a locked car with the alarm activated. My mother left my sister and I in cars when we were little under less favorable conditions, and we turned out okay. As the show progressed on, one of the audience members said something to the effect that she wouldn’t even leave her kids in the car when she walked down her short driveway to put something in the mailbox.
About a year ago I was out grocery shopping with Greenleigh all by myself. I had unloaded the cart and gotten Greenleigh into her carseat. I then looked at the empty cart and realized that I needed to return it to one of the cart corals or the store. As someone who has had her car scratched by a loose shopping cart in a parking lot, I hate when they are left just anywhere. So there it was – do I turn on the car, start the air, and walk over to return the cart by myself or take Greenleigh out of her seat, make her walk with me to the return area, and then buckle her in all over again? I remembered the Dr. Phil episode. I debated it in my head for what seemed like an eternity. After all, I could keep my eye on her the entire time I walked the cart over and the air conditioning would be on…but what if [insert all sorts of bad things that could happen in the span of 60 seconds here]… In the end, I decided to take Greenleigh out of the carseat then walk over and return the cart.
After that day, I learned to unload the groceries first, return the cart, then put Greenleigh in the carseat. But even with the grocery store figured out, similar situations kept arising. What about at the post office when I have to drop a letter in the box which is right next to the front door? How about at the ATM when you have to exit your vehicle? What about at daycare when the baby is sleeping in the backseat and they have Greenleigh ready and waiting for me at the front door? What if I have the kids loaded up in the car to go to daycare but remember that I forgot something in the house? Is it okay to go back and get it? We live in a townhouse and have a community parking lot, does that change your answer? These are all situations where I would have to exit the vehicle and walk 30 feet or less. This all prompted me to ask, “How far is too far? How far can you walk from your car with your kids inside? At what point is it no longer okay?”
Occasionally I would ask other moms how they handled these types of situations and they acted like it was no big deal. One mom told me that she regularly left her infant in the car (with the car running) when she walked into the school to get her older child. That’s a little too far for my personal comfort zone, but perfectly within theirs. Other moms, like that Dr. Phil audience member, said that there was no comfortable distance.
So I want to know, how do you handle the shopping cart conundrum? Do you leave your children in the car or take them everywhere with you? How far is too far for you?