Monday, October 30, 2000


Yesterday, my daughter went to play at a schoolmate’s house. We don’t know the family. I’ve met the father briefly, when I dropped her off the first time she went to play there. I’ve never been in the house. I don’t know who else is there; my daughter mentioned a grandmother and a brother last time; the dad was home but the mom was at work. This time she mentioned a lady who was there talking to the dad. I don’t know anything about any of these people. But I sent my husband to drop our precious daughter off anyway. He left her at the door, picked her up two hours later. And we’ve heard virtually nothing about what went on in between.

By current parenting wisdom, this makes us awful parents. Don’t we know what a dangerous world it is? I hear of people who won’t let their kids play at other people’s houses period, or insist on going to the house, checking it out stem to stern, meeting everyone who might be there when their child is, checking child abuse registries to make sure the names don’t turn up, poring over America’s Most Wanted re-runs for familiar faces, and so on. Simply send your child unsupervised to a stranger’s home? Scandalous!

And I can see their point. The world’s a scary place. Yet I can’t quite bring myself to require reference checks of anyone who might make so bold as to invite my daughter over. I feel awkward just peeking through the doorway. Just introducing myself. Perhaps its weakness on my part to not be an avenging overprotective guardian angel who cares not what people think but only wants to ensure her offspring’s safety. Personally, though, I’m just so pleased for her to have friends, I’d hate to mess things up.

Then, too, I know that there are people ever so much less careful than I. In past years, my daughter has invited friends over whose parents are too busy to drive them, and so I have picked these children up and brought them home. These are parents who don’t know me and don’t know where I live. They probably don’t know my phone number either. Yet the kids run out the door and into my car, which may or may not have seatbelts or springs sticking out of the seats or a safe heating system, and off to somewhere. I don’t think I’ve ever sent my daughter off with strangers to a place I don’t know--though I did once let the parents of a camp friend take her to an amusement park a few hours away, and I really had only met them a few times. They brought her back.

In a perfect world, of course, all of my children’s friends would live on the same block, and I would know all their parents, and they would know me, and I would turn them loose and they would play in each other’s yards and everything would be open and safe and sweet. But there are no children on our block, and I really don’t know the neighbors anyway. School friends always seem to be driving distance. And so play dates are logistically tricky, and you take what you can get.

So far, we’ve been lucky. My daughter has visited her new friend twice without incident that I know of. I suggested maybe one time her friend could come to our house, so I could avoid two hours of hysterical worry. But no, my daughter informs me--her father doesn’t let her go to other people’s houses. So we know he’s a good dad. And what must he think of us?

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