March 25, 2009


Beth and I managed to escape from our house on Saturday night. We forgot we could do that, actually. My parents came over and Beth and I went out to dinner. We were both about five minutes from losing our minds. Of course, the entire time we were out, we talked about - you guessed it - the kids. We were on our way home from the restaurant and stopped for a cup of coffee. We got back to our car, buckled up, and, while starting the car, I looked over to my left. I was instantly intrigued and concerned.

Me: Look over there.
Beth: Where?
Me: In the car next to me.
Beth: Yeah, so?
Me: You don't see anything strange?
Beth: No.
Me: You should never be a detective.
Beth: I wasn't planning on becoming one.
Me: Ok, good.
Beth: What the hell are you talking about?
Me: Um, the two sleeping kids in the back of the car.
Beth: Oh. Um, wow.
Me: Yeah. And I don't see an adult in there, do you?

Seven o'clock in a crowded shopping center parking lot. Two kids - one couldn't have been more than two, the other maybe ten - sleeping in the back of a Toyota Camry. No adult in sight.

Me: Okay, well, what the hell do we do now?
Beth: Let's just stay here and see if someone comes back.
Me: Okay.

So we sat. Five minutes later, a guy I'm presuming the kids call dad (but should call douchebag) came back, chatting on his cell phone. He got in, started the car and drove away. The kids snoozed on.

It would never occur to me to leave a kid in a car for any reason under any circumstances. Unless it was the End Of Days and the only way to save humanity - and, of course, my kids - from the Apocalypse was to quickly jump out of the car and hit up the Holy ATM machine for a 20-spot. And even then I'm not so sure. Because, while you should never leave your kids anywhere, you should most assuredly never leave them anywhere on wheels making their already bite-sized selves easier to transport.

Because that is my biggest fear. Losing my kids.

Nearly every day I walk by a wall of lost kids. Behind plexi-glass are fliers, each with little copied faces gazing out at each of us walking by, getting our morning coffee. There's one, a girl in the bottom right-hand corner of the wall, who looks back at me with fiery intensity as if to say good morning and enjoy your coffee and all but I'm still missing. I wonder about her. Not just when I'm walking by but at night when I'm trying to fall asleep. Because it makes me wonder who she was and where she is. And it scares the hell out of me.

Since the parking lot incident over the weekend, I've wondered if I should have said anything. Rationally, I know that nothing I'd say would change someone's parenting skills. And questioning someone's parenting skills just pisses them off. There was no battle to be won there. But I think I know what I would have said had I thought it would do any good.

Hey you royal dumbass. What the fuck are you thinking leaving your two kids behind in a car? They are the most precious things you will ever have in your entire life. They are people, not dogs you crack the window for and leave to go shopping. There are walls and walls of faces gazing out at the likes of me just wanting to be found, waiting to be returned to their parents, waiting...just waiting. Unlike you, I wasn't planning on leaving your kids. In fact, I was five minutes away from calling the cops. I wake up in the morning and lament the fact that I have to leave my kids for nine or ten hours to work. And you leave them in a car. For anything to happen. I think it's time you try an exercise I like to call Growing The Fuck Up.

Posted by Chris at March 25, 2009 6:16 AM

This may sound harse but I would have called the police. Here in Souther California, without fail, there are numerous cases of children dying (or adducted) because they were "only left for a moment" or, even worse "oops, I forgot". I do the same when I see dogs left in cars. It's selfish, irresponsible and completely unnecessary. If having to unstrap a child out of a carseat to run in a store to do an errand is too much trouble for your lazy ass, then don't have kids - period.
My stepson's Mother (or shall I say the woman who gave birth to him) pulled this stunt once - we were meeting at a local fast food place, arrived to find her nowhere in sight while her three, under the age of five children were left alone in her car WITH the keys in the ignition. To say we ripped her a new a-hole would be an understatement.
Also from the obvious reasons, the temp in a car, even on a moderately cool day can right significantly in a matter of moments. What happened to common sense????!!!

Posted by: LaineyDid at March 25, 2009 6:41 AM

oops - harse = harse. Forgive the typo. It's 3am and we just dropped our 13 yr old at the airport for his Italy school trip :)

Posted by: laineyDid at March 25, 2009 6:43 AM

My kids are 9 and almost 13 and certainly old enough to sit in the car for a few minutes while I run in the pay for my gas or whatever and it STILL makes me nervous. And that's with locking the car doors and living in a very small town. I would never, ever have left them when they were that little. If this guy needed his coffee that badly, McDonald's has a drive-thru.

Posted by: Traci at March 25, 2009 6:52 AM

I agree. Calling the police would have probably only created more problems for the kids. You did the right thing. You waited and made sure they were going to be okay.

Posted by: Debbie at March 25, 2009 7:23 AM

That there were two of them makes it worse somehow... still it's a hard call. Glad you guys stuck around.

I do run to the bank machine and leave The Boy in the car, but he's 8 -- and well, I don't even leave the keys in the ignition.

Posted by: Nat at March 25, 2009 7:23 AM

i am of the mindset it takes a village. so i would have said something. i most likely would have called the police and given the guys license plate number...i've been known to scream at people while driving about buckling their kids in the car. i always just feel that if the parent isn't going to parent it's then my job to help that parent see the light and be a better parent...not for their sake, but for the sake of the child who is being neglected. or if a parent is screaming at their kid in the store, i'm that mom that offers to help so the mom or dad can take a breather and step back. they're a precious gift and oh so fragile...i think people forget that at times with their words and actions.

some days people listen, other days they just roll their eyes at me.

good to hear you had a date nite. totally deserve it after last week.

Posted by: kimmyk at March 25, 2009 7:33 AM

Honestly I wouldn't have sat their waiting, I would have called the Police. I know that may sound harsh, but maybe this douchebag needs a reality based kick in the pants and maybe his wife at home thinking he takes good care of their kids ought to know what actually happens when daddy is out.

If I go to the grocery store and I see a dog in the car and it's summertime, I will go in the grocery store and tell them to make an announcement and the grocery store will, they usually will say Gray Car License DOUCHE your dog is in a car with rolled up windows, if you do not take care of the animal we will be calling the police and the police may break your windows. Not my business, but seriously in the summer their inside doing grocery shopping while their poor dog frys in the car.

If I would do it for a dog, I sure as hell would do it for a child.

Posted by: Dee at March 25, 2009 8:23 AM

Speaking of kids and being left in the car...did y'all see this story in the Post a couple of weeks ago?

I often wonder what my wife and I talked about back before we had kids...and what we'll talk about once they are out of the house.

Posted by: COD at March 25, 2009 8:45 AM

I would have been concerned too and probably would have sat and waited like you did. I probably wouldn't have called the police because that's just me and I would figure I was doing what I could to be sure they were safe Was their door locked? That's the first thing I probably would have looked for.
I never left my son in the car by himself until he was 12 or 13 at which point he refuses to come into the store. Then I'd lock him in the car and the first few times he'd set off the car alarm by turning on the radio!
When we were little my mother always left us in the car (60s) until one day we were fooling around while she was in the post office and we knocked the gear shift out of park and the car rolled into the car in front of us! Scared the CRAP out of us. I think someone went into the post office and got my mother.

Posted by: NancyJak at March 25, 2009 8:50 AM all time pet peeve! I was a teenage mother, I NEVER, EVER, was irresponsible enough to leave my kids in the f'n car! Even when I JUST needed a gallon of milk, I wasn't lazy! BOTH kids, small, asleep was TAKEN IN THE DAMN STORE! I watched them like a mother hawk! When they were old enough to walk with me, they HAD to hold on to my belt loops or my pocket, or my purse! So I could feel them at all times!

Me...I am harsh, I would have called 911...because some people ARE dumbasses! The only way THEY get it is with a brick!

Where I work...we deal with those cases you were talking leaves me cold to think how lazy people are!

You are a good dad!

Posted by: Gypsy at March 25, 2009 9:50 AM

I would've called the cops and if the guy came back and drove away before they got there, gotten the license plate. I'm with you - I hate leaving my kid every day and it makes me sick if any kind of horrible thought about something happening to her enters my head. What the hell was wrong with this guy? I would've had to ask him what was so important for him to get that he had to stop and leave two kids in the car in order to get it!

Ohhh man. Now I'm all fired up for my staff meeting. My poor staff.

Posted by: Pocklock at March 25, 2009 10:02 AM

Isn't it frustrating when you know, rationally, that nothing you could say would actually change their behavior/make them a better parent, but you also feel, strongly, that they NEED TO HEAR IT because they're so out of line? I always struggle in those situations.

Posted by: pseudostoops at March 25, 2009 10:08 AM

similar thing happened top me some time ago, but we did call the cops. and we sat there and waited for them to arrive. as they arrived the mother came back to the car and was freaking out. i could have cared less. dont know what happened after that cause we left, but i was absolutely struck by the level of stupidity and carelessness. if faced with same situation again, i'd do the same thing.

Posted by: madmom at March 25, 2009 10:13 AM

It's my number one fear too. You did well. Thank you for keeping two kids safer, even if they weren't yours.

On a different note, some show suggested having a date without discussing kids, money, or jobs. Jen and I did it a couple of weeks ago and it was fun, and not as hard as you might think.

Posted by: Brad at March 25, 2009 10:15 AM

oh and that wall you described...put an ache in my heart. i can barely stand ot hear about missing or abused children. it makes me heartsick. how people can harm children is beyond my comprehension.

Posted by: madmom at March 25, 2009 10:15 AM

You did the right thing. and I'm sure so many parents are thanking you for doing that. It makes me sick to see things like that. I could never imagine leaving my child in the car for any reason. And believe me, there were so many times I wished I could have, because I wanted to just run into a place for a second. But, I never would. The results would be unthinkable.

Posted by: Jean at March 25, 2009 10:17 AM

I would have called 911. I can't believe anyone would do that. Lucky you and Beth were not predators who happened to notice the two sleeping kids in the car. It would not have taken long for someone to break into that car and take them. Good for you for waiting and making sure they were ok.

Posted by: donna at March 25, 2009 10:25 AM

It's a tough call.

You have to wonder how often douchebag does that. Maybe getting the license plate and reporting it. I'm sure they take everything into consideration.

Good job!

Posted by: Red at March 25, 2009 10:28 AM

Some people...
My friend's husband, when my friend went back to work, and he was laid off, didn't give the baby her reflux meds because he "didn't want to bother". I still want to punch him in the face, especially cuz baby ended up in the hospital. Thankfully she's doing better now...but I'm still pretty much mad as hell.
There are so many people who wish desperately to have kids, and so many douchebags who won't take care of the ones they have and it just kills me.

Posted by: Heather at March 25, 2009 10:36 AM

I got lost twice as a little girl. And I still remember both times vividly.

Posted by: k8 at March 25, 2009 10:49 AM

When I was a kid, that wasn't really unheard of. Where I grew up kind of lent itself to a bit of safety, even if that's gone now.

I don't know what I would've done either. I don't have kids but kidnapped and missing children terrify me. When I lived in California, the digital signs over the freeway would list an Amber alert way too many times a month and it would just make my blood run cold. The world always seemed so much bigger and scarier then.

Posted by: Sparkle Pants at March 25, 2009 11:06 AM

Eh, I kind of wonder if I'm going to get flamed for this. I don't have kids yet but when I was 10+, I was left in the car occasionally -- at my own request. If my Dad had to run into a store, I'd just ask him if I could hang out and listen to my Walkman.

He had no problem with it. I got simple instructions: doors locked, don't move until I get back... if anyone bugs you, wail on the horn. Albeit, it's a different situation than what you've described. He would've never dreamed of doing that when I was younger than 10 -- so the two year old being in there in a little sketchy. If you were concerned though, it's good you hung out and made sure they were okay! That's never a bad thing.

Posted by: Garth at March 25, 2009 11:10 AM

In NV, it's against the law to leave your kids (younger than 14, I think) in the car for any length of time. 911 is immediate and essential. Not only can kids get abducted that way but we always have a few dipshit parents who leave their kids in hot cars here every summer with tragic endings. I would've called but I'd have had the law on my side here.

Posted by: rebecca at March 25, 2009 11:28 AM

I would have called the police and given them his liscense plate number, I've done it in the past. You can also report the event online at the police website as long as it's within 10 days with liscense plate, car description, etc. on teh Ffx. CO website, not sure what county you were in at the time but just a heads up (they allow you to report kids not buckled up and I'm guessing unattended would count as well). A lot of people suck and should be required to get a liscense to have kids.

Posted by: MaryLea at March 25, 2009 11:36 AM

I agree that I would never leave children in a car, but remember, there are many latch-key children still today. Depending on what state you live in, kids between the age of 8-9 can legally stay at home alone. They must be at least 13-14 to have younger children in their care.

So, legally, that 10 year old in the car could have been there on his/her own, but that 2 yr old shouldn't have been.

I once stayed in a parking lot for 10 minutes outside of a Target waiting for a parent to return to her 3-4yr old and her 5-6 yr old in a parked vehicle. The windows were not down and it was July in Houston. I had my face pressed against the glass watching their little chests move up and down to make sure they were breathing. I was seconds away from breaking a window and calling the police when she strolled out with a huge basket of stuff. I can only guess it took more than 30 minutes to do all that shopping. She said she didn't want to wake the little one since he was napping. I was so furious I wanted to tear her head off. Leaving those babies to cook in that car.

Posted by: Jen at March 25, 2009 11:50 AM

I would have called the police. Maybe that would have given the father some common sense. Even if they left before the police got there, there's a chance they would follow up with them.

I will never understand how any can leave their kids in the car. EVER. Even for "just a second." I guess it's possible the older kid was older than they looked and technically old enough to watch the younger one, but um they can't watch the baby if they are sleeping.

I have a friend who put her baby in the car in the driveway then went in the house to grab her 2 year old who had bolted back in the house. It was hot (Arizona in summer) so she left the keys in the ignition with the air on. In the time it took her to go back in the house, someone stole the car. Once they spotted the 6 month old asleep in the back, they ditched the car, of course turning it and the AC off.

Luckily for everyone, they found her and the car pretty quickly, and there was no long term damage done.

But seriously. People are idiots. There should be a licensing process to have children. And yearly testing to keep said children. Ugh. I'm going to stop typing before this turns into even more of a rant about how stupid some people are.

Posted by: Steph at March 25, 2009 12:23 PM

I agree with the posters that say that the 10-year old was definitely old enough, but it's unforgivable to leave a 2-year old in a car. When I was growing up and being dragged around on errands with my mother, I used to BEG to be left in the car while she grocery shopped or whatever, and I would happily nap or read or whatever until she returned. But the 2-year-old...what the hell? If there's an emergency with the baby, what is the fourth-grader supposed to do about it?!?

Posted by: Catherine at March 25, 2009 12:30 PM

I came across a similar scenario about a year ago and I called the police. I am in full agreement with you about NEVER leaving my kids in a car, running or not. I don't even return shopping carts if I am not parked right next to the return rack. My biggest fear is someone taking my kids so how someone could willingly leave their children in a car, at night no less, is beyond me.

Posted by: Sarah at March 25, 2009 12:52 PM

Dude, there is a Mom at my kids pre-school and when she picks up her son she leaves her infant son in the car alone. Never ever would I do that, there is no level of convenience that makes the idea of possibly losing my kid okay.

Posted by: punk rock mom at March 25, 2009 1:12 PM

Oh dear.

I was going to post a comment that seems to run contrary to the majority of opinions expressed above. My comment is probably born out of my growing up and living in a different (and less fearful) culture than many posters here.

At the risk of having the label douchebag applied to me, I'll stop right now.

Posted by: Jacqueline at March 25, 2009 2:07 PM

A lady was just arrested for this here, she left her 6 year old in her van watching a dvd while she went in a store. Major no no leaving them even for a "minute". I believe the legal age is 12.

Posted by: Kami at March 25, 2009 2:36 PM

You're right about telling the "dad" about his transgression. He would have probably started shouting at you, or worse.

I would never leave my kids in the car or not have them buckled up in their kid seats. Or let them ride their bikes without helmets.

And yet, everyday I see people doing this with their own children and wonder how these kids manage to actually grow up.

I had a nightmare the other night about losing my children. It was horrible, it still makes me sick to think about it.

Good on you and Beth for sitting and waiting for their ass of a dad to return. I would have dropped a dime on him, almost certainly.

Posted by: Erik at March 25, 2009 3:03 PM

Yeah, I've seen that. I always wait and keep watch until the parent comes out. What else can you do?

There was a case in RI when I lived there of a woman who left her car *running* while she ran into the deli (I guess the car was in front of a window so she could see it) and a guy jumped in and drove away with her 4-year-old in the back. Luckily when the guy stopped and left the little boy on the side of the road a good person spotted him and took care of him until they found out who he was.

Posted by: jess at March 25, 2009 3:25 PM

My husband and I were talking about this last night. Peanut likes to ride his bike in the driveway and we let him - as long as one of us is with him at ALL times. Once in a while we will leave the door open and run in to get something. Even then we can see him out the door. We'll let him play in the (fenced) back yard alone while we are in the kitchen (again, we can see out windows and the door). Husband lamented we couldn't let him go out the front alone. He said he hated to think so awful that someone would take him. I said I would rather be harsh, think the worst and protect him from it, than be lazy for 10 seconds and live my worst nightmare.

Posted by: mutt at March 25, 2009 3:43 PM

my mom used to do this to run to the atm or pay for gas or whatever and I hated it.

Sure it was the 70s/early 80s and sure she was always RIGHT there, but it was still scary.

I'm 32 now and when I'm stressed out I still dream that I'm stuck in a moving car with no breaks or no steering wheel or I'm trapped in the backseat with no driver and I know that's where that stems from.

Posted by: lora at March 25, 2009 4:14 PM

my mom used to do this to run to the atm or pay for gas or whatever and I hated it.

Sure it was the 70s/early 80s and sure she was always RIGHT there, but it was still scary.

I'm 32 now and when I'm stressed out I still dream that I'm stuck in a moving car with no breaks or no steering wheel or I'm trapped in the backseat with no driver and I know that's where that stems from.

Posted by: lora at March 25, 2009 4:14 PM

its too bad not everyone thinks like you do about this. i think you said it perfectly.

i am also hyper-vigilant about babies and dogs left in cars.

Posted by: kati at March 25, 2009 4:15 PM

my mom used to do this to run to the atm or pay for gas or whatever and I hated it.

Sure it was the 70s/early 80s and sure she was always RIGHT there, but it was still scary.

I'm 32 now and when I'm stressed out I still dream that I'm stuck in a moving car with no breaks or no steering wheel or I'm trapped in the backseat with no driver and I know that's where that stems from.

Posted by: lora at March 25, 2009 4:16 PM

my mom used to do this to run to the atm or pay for gas or whatever and I hated it.

Sure it was the 70s/early 80s and sure she was always RIGHT there, but it was still scary.

I'm 32 now and when I'm stressed out I still dream that I'm stuck in a moving car with no breaks or no steering wheel or I'm trapped in the backseat with no driver and I know that's where that stems from.

Posted by: lora at March 25, 2009 4:16 PM

I think you should have left a note and then crouched down out of sight. The note should have said.

"We are watching your kids sleep right now. Not because we are sick fucks planning to take them for our own nefarious needs. Not because we are a schizophrenic homeless woman who went crazy 15 years ago when she lost her kids - thrilled that she found them again in your car. But because we are PARENTS, unlike you, and we wanted to make sure no harm came to them while you left them alone, sleeping, in a car. Aren't you glad it was us watching them?"

Posted by: jodi at March 25, 2009 4:43 PM

I really appreciate the fact that on this tiny oasis from insanity (aka your date) you would take the time to be concerned about somebody elses' kids. It shows your good heart. And like you it ENRAGES me that anyone could be so cavalier about such a precious gift. We are incredibly over-protective of our daughter and I can't imagine any other way to be. Leaving kids alone in the car just seems like an open invitation for harm.

Posted by: citystreams at March 25, 2009 5:16 PM

Next time, call the cops. That is totally a crime!

Posted by: Maribeth at March 25, 2009 5:23 PM

I am a social worker and a mandated reporter of child abuse which includes neglect so bottom line: HELL YES I would have called the police!! I also would have ended up arrested for bitch slapping the chicken head who felt that leaving his kids in the car was appropriate. See what Matt has to put up with??

Posted by: Dee at March 25, 2009 9:26 PM

I am a social worker and a mandated reporter of child abuse which includes neglect so bottom line: HELL YES I would have called the police!! I also would have ended up arrested for bitch slapping the chicken head who felt that leaving his kids in the car was appropriate. See what Matt has to put up with??

Posted by: Dee at March 25, 2009 9:27 PM

I agree that it was an awful thing to do, but because of the harshness above, I need to point out a few things (at the risk, as the poster above said, of being called a douchebag):

1) The vast majority of missing kids are kidnapped by estranged parents. Just like (this is the part that will really get me in trouble) the vast majority of rapes are by acquaintances of the victim. In both cases, we as a society focus on the "stranger danger" and not the situation where the horrible action (mostly) happens. Having said that, there are lots of other very wrong things that can happen to two kids in a car. The one that leaps to my mind is that the ten-year-old can decide they're tired of being uncomfortable in the back seat and decide to drive home. It wouldn't be the first time. The second thing is that the kids could play with the controls in the car if they wake up, and lock something they shouldn't. You can't count on them staying asleep, and you can't count on the environment they're in.

2) What if the kids were asleep before Dad left the car to do whatever? He still shouldn't have left them, but this could be a case of badly misguided care.

I guess what I'm saying is, please don't call the cops on people like this because of some bogeyman child-snatcher. Call the cops on people like this because it's an incredibly stupid and unsafe thing to do.

Posted by: Kat at March 25, 2009 10:06 PM

So many people parent by default. It's like they never think anything could go wrong. I could never do that, leave my sleeping (or awake) kids in the car. But I do think some people don't see it as any big deal.

That being said, I'd have sat and waited like you guys did. After a five minute time frame, I may have called the cops.

Posted by: Issa at March 25, 2009 11:18 PM

A few years ago we had three instances within 5 months of cars being stolen with children in them while the parent ran into a store-one 3-year old, a 4-month old, and a 5-month old-all left in the car with the keys while the parents went into restaurants and convenience stores. Luckily, the cars and the children were quickly discovered in all instances and none were harmed, but how scary!

Posted by: Dreamybee at March 26, 2009 10:32 AM

I think you did the right thing for the time frame... A little bit longer and calling the police is the next step. I've actually done that - at the outlet mall in Williamsburg - we noticed 2 kids in car seats in a car with enigine running and doors locked... we waited 5 min and called police and waited another 10 minutes for the police - the mother came out before the police got there unfortunately but we let her know we had called them and they had her plates... she freaked out and gave the "only a few minutes" (BS!!!) and "they were asleep" excuses... Too bad - we said... We waited for police to get there and told the story - they called us back later to get the details again and basically let us know it had turned into a Child Portective Services investigation because this was the 3rd time they had the same complaint!

Posted by: Sue at March 26, 2009 11:46 AM

My mom used to leave me and my sister in the car while she did shopping when we were really little.
All the time.

I'd never ever even think of doing that today.

Posted by: jessica at March 26, 2009 12:36 PM

Why were you spying on my kids and me in the shopping center parking lot?

Posted by: Gramps at March 26, 2009 1:09 PM

I am not even comfortable with leaving my pets in the car unattended and would not leave kids so.

However, this circumstance always reminds me of how much things have changed in the 30-odd years since many we were little.

I can't recall how many times I was left alone in a locked car (windows seasonably shut or cracked) at a grocery store or pharmacy either because I was sleeping, or as punishment b/c I was being a brat and my mom didn't want to drag me around the store with her.

Gone too are the fun days of bouncing around unrestrained with siblings and cousins in the 'way-way back of the family station wagon ;-)

I think I'd stick around myself to keep a watchful eye on kids left alone in a car but doubt I would call the cops unless the weather posed health risks, or the kids were alone beyond 20 or 30 minutes, or the age(s)of the child(ren) was under four or five.

Posted by: Karen at March 26, 2009 4:30 PM

That is crazy fucked up. I mean, I have NOW, when Declan is almost 7, bolted into the 7-11 for a Slurpee... but I still feel like shit about it and never ever never ever would have done it when he was little like that. WTF is wrong with people?

Posted by: Aimee Greeblemonkey at March 27, 2009 2:22 AM

I echo the others. I would have called the cops. That drives me insane. I'm so overly (maybe even too much)protective of my kid. I'm like you. Losing him is my biggest fear and there are nights I lay awake at night worrying that he'll get kidnapped, or hit by a car, or drown or(insert other parental fear here). Why leave them in a situation like that?

Posted by: statia at March 28, 2009 8:49 AM