Wednesday, September 19, 2007

the submarine parent

Because it is extremely important for my mental health to get out of the house at least once a day with the children, yesterday I loaded everyone up - just after breakfast - and headed to a local park.

With our picnic lunch in hand, we arrived at 10:00 AM.

There was a local playgroup meeting at this same park - so I would estimate that there were roughly 25 kids running around. Within a few minutes of arriving, we were joined by a little boy named Brandon, who had just turned four years old.

Brandon climbed on all the play structures with our children ... took turns going down the slide ... hung on the bars and made noises like a monkey ... and shared a swing with William.

An hour passed.

Although I was definitely looking, not once could I see an adult who was supervising Brandon.

Because it was getting close to lunch time and the temperature was heating up, I herded my children over to a small covered picnic table, beneath a play structure, and pulled out their sippy cups of lemonade and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Little Brandon saddled up next to them and sweetly inquired "Where's my lunch?"

As is always the case, I had enough food with me to feed a small colony of children. I had three full sandwiches, a ziploc bag full of apples, a sleeve of Fig Newtons, three granola bars and two oranges. But, I have no idea if Brandon has food allergies - OR - what his guardian/parent would think of some absolute stranger feeding their son on a playground, so I told him "Brandon, I'm so sorry! I had NO idea that you were going to be here today or else I would have packed something for you to eat, too!"

While my children sat down and ate their lunch and drank their ice cold lemonade, Brandon watched. At one point I asked "Brandon, who are you here with?" And he responded, while pointing at a covered picnic area 100 yards away, "Mommy. She's over there ... somewhere."

I stood up from where we were seated beneath the play structure and looked again, and although I could see a clump of people standing around talking, I couldn't see anyone that so much as glanced in our general direction.

Another hour passed.

Several people left the playground and a few more people arrived. I was busy pushing the children on the swings, spotting them as they climbed up structures that were designed for kids between 5 and 12 years old, and generally - trying to keep them all within eye sight.

I was also trying to keep Henry, who was sleeping in the stroller, protected from a 20-month old who felt obliged to come over and try to shove his pacifier in my baby's mouth. When I reached my hand down and said "Oh that's nice but he doesn't need your pacifier" the toddler's mother walked up and informed me "Timmy has a 7-month old baby brother at home and he loves to share his pacifier with him."

That's nice.

When little Timmy tried again, and again and again to give Henry his pacifier, I finally decided that it was time for Henry to be put in the Bjorn where he would be out of Timmy and his pacifier's reach. As I was lifting Henry up, Timmy's mother gave me an offended look and said "I always let Timmy help out with his little brother."

That's nice, too.

But here's the thing. After having premature newborns that spent six weeks in the NICU, I'm a bit of a germophobe when it comes to babies.

And here's the other thing. Timmy isn't Henry's brother. I've never seen Timmy before. And for all I know, he drank toilet water for breakfast and was just licking the ground. If one of my children so much as tried to touch a strange baby's face - never mind give them THEIR pacifier - it would only happen once. I'd make sure it never happened again, even if that meant physically removing our child to a different part of the park.

Meanwhile, Brandon continued to play with our children, for the next half hour. Not once did his mother come over to check on him ... or to find out if the woman who was obviously looking after three young children - with a fourth strapped to her body - was in a good position to be pushing her son on a swing.

At 12:30, it was time for us to head home for naps.

Because in the two and a half hours we were at the park, I had yet to visually confirm that Brandon had a guardian, I walked over to the covered picnic area and asked "Hi, is someone here Brandon's mom?" A woman who was facing the opposite direction, was tapped on the shoulder by another woman before she turned around.

I said "Hi, are you here with Brandon?" and when she nodded yes, I said "OK, because I'm getting ready to leave and I wanted to make sure that he had someone here who was looking after him. Otherwise, I thought we'd just bringing him back to our house where he could spend the holidays with my family."

She laughed and then turned around to rejoin her conversation.

Brandon actually started to follow us out of the park and towards our car, before I had to stop and tell him that his mom would be very sad if he left. After a certain amount of convincing, Brandon walked back to the park and sadly waved goodbye. It took a lot of restraint to not at least toss him an orange or sleeve of Fig Newton's before I pulled out of the parking lot.

On the drive home, I decided that if I'm a helicopter parent, Brandon's mother would have to be the antithesis, a submarine parent. She just drops her child off and then dives, dives, dives. If she comes up to periscope depth, she might be able to spot her child. But chances are, no one will be able to spot her.

In a way, it's too bad we found Brandon's mom.

William would love to have a big brother.


  1. That story just breaks my heart. How can the mother of such a young child be THAT uninvolved?

  2. WHAT IN THE H-E-DOUBLE HOCKEY STICKS IS WRONG WITH THAT MOTHER? No food or water for that long? I mean, I stand (hover) there at the playground with a sippy cup and an apple... OMG... what's wrong with me?

  3. this is one of the all-time sad little-kid stories. my heart breaks for brandon.

  4. Publish this story! Send it to Dear Abby, send it to the newspaper, send it to a parenting magazine . . . this is an eye witness account of child abuse.

    All I can think about right now is all the people who would give anything to be able to have a healthy child . . . and all the ways in which Brandon will be messed up by the time he is in high school.

  5. In my work world, that would be Threat of Harm of Physical Neglect!

  6. How sad for that child. I believe in a little independence, but that is too much! Poor little soul, and a HUGE "SHAME ON THAT MOTHER!" Grr... people like that make me think that some people should have their right to have children revoked!

  7. Arghhh... cannot stand submarine parents!
    I'm a helicopter myself...

  8. How awful. That child could be swept away by some creepy stranger in the blink of an eye. I can't imagine my child 2 1/2 hours without parental supervision. That really freaks me out. He was lucky to have you and your family, if only for a short time in his life.

  9. I am so sad for little Brandon right now. Seriously heartbroken.

  10. That is so very very sad to hear. Bless his little heart.

  11. Who does not give their child water or food for that long of a time. And then she just turns around to finish her conversation. OMG... what is wrong with her?

  12. Jen- I read this post before I went to the park with the kids after dinner. It was after 7pm when we left to go home and it was very dark. The lights were on and there was a soccer game going on the other side of the park. Yet there were young unattended children at the play equipment. I was the only adult there. When I left, they were on their own. People do this all the time. I could not see across the park to see any adults IT WAS THAT DARK. I can't tell you how many times a little kid has latched on to my herd before too. I even fed a kid once. I never thought of food allergies! It's amazing isn't it???

    As far as little Timmy and that filthy germy pacifier, OMG!!!! It's a good thing Henry wasn't Austin and you weren't Greg!!! He would have FREAKED OUT! Little Timmy and his mom would have run screaming from the park! I'm not kidding either.

  13. Yikes. My 4yo got all bent out of shape with me today because he started out on a walk with me then decided to go back on the path the park where Dad was and I insisted on watching to make sure he got back to my husband. He kept turning and yelling at me that he knew the way and I didn't need to watch over him so much. I almost felt a little overprotective, but not anymore. I think I'd rather have my kids "suffer" from a helicopter than a submarine.

    Now as far as Timmy goes. OK, that's just crazy. Helping with baby brother is WAY different from helping with every baby you see. And shared pacifiers GROSS me out in general. Yeah, I think I would have had words with that mom.

    You have interesting parent-watching parks where you live. Ours are all good for watching nannies, which can get kinda boring. ;)

  14. We have one of these sad stories--we call it "The Boy at the Pool". Thinking of him breaks my heart to this minute, even though we "met" our Boy at the Pool eight years ago. I know I'll carry that child in my heart for the rest of my life. Now I'll carry Brandon along with him. Just crushing.


  15. That is so, so, so sad. I want to take Brandon home. What a cutie!

  16. That's incredibly scary! So someone could have walked off with Brandon, and she wouldn't have known it for AT LEAST 2.5 hours (probably longer than that, that's just when you "interrupted" her conversation). YIKES!!!!!!!!

  17. Unbelievable! This makes me so sad!

  18. that is truly despicable...yet, i'm sure that woman will never have her kid abducted. just because.

    i'm so sad for that boy.

  19. How sad is that! I think I would have told her that I was about to call the police b/c this little boy apparently doesn't have a parent that cares. What is wrong with people?? You are an amazing mom and you should be very proud of the mom you are!!

  20. What a shame. I bet Brandon's dreaming of you being his mommy! Poor little boy. I want to take him home with me!

  21. I would never let my Daughters out of my site like that. I would be worried that they would be stolen. This is just so troubling. Don't people realize that it is not a nice world? There are too many bad people that can and will do harm. Or nice people (not as thoughtful as you) they might have fed him something he was allergic to. I hope they read this blog and wake up.

  22. vetythe nuts mom9/21/07, 8:47 AM

    breaks my heart. just breaks my heart.