‘What a Horrible Mother:’ How a Call From a ‘Good Samaritan’ Derailed These Mothers’ Lives
The cases against all three women remain open (names and some identifying details have been changed). The details, as they have been described to me, are harrowing and strange. Strange enough that three years ago, I might not have believed them. Back then, I was aware that children died after being forgotten or becoming trapped in hot cars, but these were rare and tragic instances that seemed more a matter of horrible forgetfulness than anything criminal. The idea that strangers might be watching for any suggestion of what they deemed to be neglect, and prepared to involve the authorities and provide stern, hurtful commentary on top of it, seemed absurd, an over-the-top parody mashup of modern parenting techniques and the East German Stasi.
Then it happened to me.
At the end of a trip home to see my parents, I let my then-4-year-old son wait by himself in a car while I ran into a store. He needed headphones to watch a video on our flight home. Someone filmed me leaving him, going into the store, coming out, and driving off, and promptly called the police. Ultimately I was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor - a charge most people associate with buying beer for underage teenagers - and, with the aid of lawyers I was only able to afford through family generosity, arranged to perform 100 hours of community service and take parenting lessons. In return, the county prosecutor decided not to pursue the matter any further.