Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Why Would We Leave the Kids in the Car?

It's not "should we?" so much as: "Why would we?" At least that's how I see it, as someone who was sometimes left in the car those 50 years ago, while my mom did the grocery shopping. I wasn't a toddler. I knew to just sit there, and not to unlock the doors, not to open the locks which apparently made my little waiting place an impregnable fortress. I was safe. That's why she left me in the car -- because I was young, so I wouldn't be safe at home alone.  I might get into something dangerous, I guess.

They were different times. I've talked to others my age and found out my mom was not alone. I've also done internet searches and found there are people who still do it. If the child is eight or nine, what harm is there? The danger is with infants and toddlers, right?   Well, I'm not so sure that's true. How long does it take a predator to get into a car?  How long does it take a car to get hot?  Does the child know when it's too hot, and he needs to get out and go find his mother?  And if he keeps the doors locked for safety, how will he decide whether he should get out or not?

But none of those thoughts went through my head as a child. I was safe...and bored and lonely. My mom left me in the car so she could get the shopping done, which was hard to do with me along, because I talked so much. Don't get the wrong idea. She was kind about it, almost apologetic. And as I said, it was common in my time. But I knew I must be a nuisance (although it didn't stop me from talking, every chance I got).  As a teenager, I looked back and got angry about it. Unfortunately, in spite of all my talking, we didn't really communicate about the deep stuff, so I never discussed it with her and cleared the air.

Most people, who don't like something their parents did, either repeat the pattern or go all the other way. Guess what some of my adult kids do for fun when they don't have money and they need to get out of the house?  They go to the grocery store!  They also know how to bargain shop and eat healthfully (they do better than I do).  

When my kids were children, even if they begged, I generally would not let them stay in the car until they were old enough to get a driver's license or permit...unless they were staying in the car with a trusted older sibling who was old enough to drive. I guess I had the opposite view from my childhood times about where they were safe.  My children were allowed to stay home alone - or were asked to babysit their younger brothers - at younger ages than that. So maybe 15 or 16 was a little arbitrary.  But you get the idea. I wasn't going to repeat that pattern.

But what were my decisions really about?  Safety, yes. But mostly, I didn't want them to feel they were too much trouble. I wanted my kids to know they were important. That doesn't mean I was never impatient with them, nor does it mean they were always by my side inside the store. Once I felt they were old enough, I let them go off on their own in the grocery store and explore if they wanted to, as long as they didn't leave the building; they knew where and when to meet me; and they knew if someone tried anything they should find me or find an employee.

And someone did try something once. A man wanted my then-11 year old son, who was browsing the toy aisle at a discount department store (no, not the big W, another one), to go with him to the restroom and then leave. No, it wasn't a mistake, because my son simply moved to another aisle to get away, and the man followed him and urged him more forcefully. My son found me, we reported to management, who got their detective. We never found the guy again, and I'm sure the experience was hard on my son. But there are no predators, right? Especially in safe, mid-sized, Midwestern towns, right?  Good thing there weren't any kids alone in the parking lot.

But again, as important as safety is, there was more to my decision to take  my kids with me to the store. I wanted my kids to know they were always welcome with me! I wanted them to know we conducted this family together. And yes, some Fridays, when Dad was able to get off work early, he joined us too. When my older kids went to college, some of them voluntarily - even eagerly - joined us when they could. We shopped together, we cooked together, and we ate together. It kept us together, even after the invasion of the e-world (internet).

So how did I keep everyone happy at the store?  Toddlers? I didn't always. Others? I have a dirty little secret:  At some point, I started "the two dollars".    When one of my older kids was taking half the shopping list and filling it, I told him he could buy something extra to share with everyone, something completely of his own choosing, something up to two dollars worth.  As the weeks went on, his younger siblings started trying to influence him and it got too conflicted, so finally I rewarded them for their arguing (oops, not my plan, but my plan worked to make peace).  I said that now each child could pick something to share with the whole family for up to two dollars per child.  With inflation, I sometimes shrugged if the amount was larger ($3 bag of chips?).  You see, I didn't buy junk food so, to them, it was a big treat. And it kept them motivated to enjoy the trip to the store. Even during the times when money was very tight, I continued "the two dollars".

So now you see that I bribed my kids to love grocery find inexpensive entertainment, to enjoy being together in another setting, to know how to shop for their own needs.

Involving my kids in the shopping trips started out as a way to break a pattern I had not liked as a child. But it grew into one of my best bargains.


Janet said...

I was never left in the car, so I couldn't imagine it as an adult and as a home-schooler since the kids were always with me we shopped together all the time. That's just the way life was. I didn't bribe them often, but I am sure I did, too. I remember hearing about others who were as a kid and being horrified! As they got older they were my super helpers, getting food from a different place,carrying the bags, etc. It was never much of a chore and now I hate grocery shopping because I am by myself!!

Margaret Mary Myers said...

Thank you for sharing, Janet. I know what you mean about shopping by yourself now. I'm doing that now too. What a bummer. :)

Alexandra said...

Scary story about your son! You can't be too careful. I keep the children within eyesight at all times.I had much more freedom as a child, but it was a different era.

Margaret Mary Myers said...

Hi Alexandra. Yes, in some ways things were safer when we were children (not that we were children at the same time; I'm probably at least a generation older than you. :) ). Although there were other dangers when I was a kid, there was probably less stranger danger years ago.