This morning Charlie and I loaded up the children and drove to Spanish Landing, which is a nice park area along the San Diego Harbor.
The purpose of this trip was so that my husband could meet with the San Diego Triathlon Club and see the course that he will be completing as part of his triathlon, a week from today.
Once Charlie had learned all there was to learn about the race course, we made our way over to a small playground that was adjacent to the parking lot. The playground was situated on the sandy beach, approximately 100 feet from the bay. As our children were set loose to climb all over the play structure, I noticed that there was a little boy, with beautiful brown curly hair, playing by himself. When he saw our tribe of children, he quickly came over to join us.
After playing for 30 minutes or so, it dawned on me that there was no one checking in on him. By this point, I knew that his name was Joshua and he was five years old. When I asked him where his mother was, he pointed to a person who was curled up under a blanket and sound asleep on the ground.
Charlie and I exchanged confused looks before I climbed off the play structure to go investigate.
There was a carriage parked about 50 feet from the play structure and directly beneath, was what appeared to be a woman, totally unconscious.
In the same general vicinity, there were two picnic tables that were occupied by what looked like one large family. I walked over to the picnic table and the people who had been gathered around, began walking towards me. I pointed to the woman laying on the ground and asked if perhaps she was with them?
They shook their heads no and said she wasn't with them, and she had been passed out for the two hours that they had been there. One of the men in the group said that he had bent down and asked her to move - before yelling that there was no loitering allowed - and she didn't budge.
When I told the people that our children were playing with what I believed to be her son, they nodded and said that they noticed that there was a little boy running around and they thought that perhaps he was her child but they weren't quite sure.
Now, I've experienced people who are too busy socializing or reading a book to pay attention to the children under their care. But I've never once seen someone who intentionally falls asleep - in a public place under a blanket - while their young child runs around.
So. I walked back to the beach area and Joshua was now playing at the water's edge with our children. While our kids were hanging back on the sand, he had walked in to the water - up to his knees - and his blue jeans, socks and shoes were soaked. I coaxed him out of the water and asked him where he lives. He said that he had lived in Canada but now he doesn't know where he lives and he'd need to ask his mom.
My mind was reeling with what to do.
There was no way I was going to leave the park without knowing that Joshua was being looked after by a conscious adult. But should I go over and try to wake the mother up? After a brief exchange with Charlie, I decided to call the police.
1) I was genuinely concerned for Joshua's welfare and in my opinion, this was a clear cut case of NEGLECT. What if he waded too deep in the water and drowned? What if someone picked him up and took off? Although there is evidence to suggest that crime rates are down, terribly bad things still happen to children.
2) So what if I woke her up? I doubted that this was the first time his mother fell asleep in a public area - and what was to stop her from doing it again?
3) What if the woman was on drugs and woke up belligerent?
While I waited for the police to show up, and Joshua's mother slept on, I struck up a conversation with the family at the picnic table. They believed that she had rolled in and noticed that there was a playground which would attract families with small children - so she decided that while she slept - other people would watch her son. Which is pretty much exactly what happened.
After 10 minutes, the police arrived. I met the officer as he walked towards us and I repeated the entire story to him. We had been there for about an hour and Joshua's mother never once woke up. I was concerned that someone could take off with him. I was concerned that he could fall in the water and drown. The officer nodded in agreement and then walked over to where Joshua's mom lay sleeping. He bent down to talk with her and she sat up and groggily rubbed her eyes.
They talked for about 15 minutes. Then, he left.
Joshua's mother pulled out a cell phone and made a call. But after a few minutes, once the police officer had driven away, she pulled the blanket over her shoulders and fell back to sleep. By this point, Joshua had attached himself to a new family and I felt like I done all that I could, or should. Since it was time for us to feed the kids lunch, we made our way back to the car.
But on the drive home I felt totally perplexed.
Was I interfering? Was it my place to get involved? Did I do the right thing? If I did the right thing, why did the police turn their back and leave? What classifies neglect? And at what point should the authorities step in to make sure that a child is safe?
What would you have done?