An Arizona mom of four has been charged with child endangerment after accidentally leaving her baby in his carseat in a shopping cart. The mom left the supermarket without the tot, who was spotted almost immediately by an off-duty cop and taken next door to a Supercuts. He remained there, watched over by the locals, for 40 minutes—the time it took for the mom, Cherish Peterson, to get home, realize her mistake, and rush back.
As KPHO/KTVK reported, "Fortunately, the baby boy is uninjured and doing fine."
Fortunately? Like, "Phew! Somehow the boy wasn't mangled?" The kid was in a carseat in a stationary cart. What's that "fortunately" doing there?
Sadly, that's the way the media and much of America automatically respond any time a child is unsupervised. The underlying assumption is that any moment spent outside a parent's purview is a moment that the child could—and probably will—suffer grievous harm. It's the reason a panel of three judges convicted a New Jersey mom of "child abuse" for letting her toddler wait in the car for 5 to 10 minutes on a temperate day. Those judges said a "parade of horribles" could have rained down on the child—kidnapping, freezing, boiling, everything but locusts—so she was guilty for not acting to prevent all that exceedingly unlikely danger.
That's the reason this story of the child in the shopping cart commanded over three minutes of airtime on the news. In any other era it might have been, if anything, a feel-good story of a ditzy mom helped by a kindly bystander, or one of those funniest home video moments. Instead, the mom is weeping on camera and confessing her sins as if she's facing the electric chair.
The police are pressing child endangerment charges. But I'm hopeful that if this case ends up in court, the mom's lawyer will refer to the New Jersey Supreme Court's recent 7-0 decision that declared being an imperfect parent or having an imperfect day does not constitute a crime.
Leaving her kid in the cart is not something this mom did intentionally and she has no intention of doing it again. A screw-up isn't unheard of. It isn't abuse. It isn't something to be judged. It isn't news. And it most certainly isn't a crime.
Maybe, just maybe, the court will understand this.
On a related note: Boston Globe magazine recently ran an article, "When Did Parents Get So Scared?" The author interviewed me talking about America's child-danger obsessed culture, but ends by quoting John Walsh, the man whose son was abducted and murdered more than 30 years ago. This is a common practice when reporters interview me: the "other side" is a grief-stricken parent, making it seem as if we represent equal likely outcomes: A child growing up safe and sound, or being raped and murdered by a stranger.
The Globe piece ends with Walsh saying, "Children are a gift, and there are people who hunt them." Like deer season. He then tells the writer to prepare her kids for that possibility. "Give them the tools to make them safe, and maybe you'll be one of those lucky ones."
In other words: Maybe, just maybe, there's an off-chance your child will live.