I noticed this sign when dropping Mister Bubby off for basketball camp this morning:

“Parents: For everyone’s safety, please keep all children under the age of 10 within arm’s length. Thank you.”

Really? All children UNDER 10? Within ARM’S LENGTH? Really?

Why don’t they just say what they mean? “Parents: Please don’t bring your children here. They make us nervous!”

Now, obviously, there are parents who just let their children run wild and you can’t just let children run wild. You also, apparently, can’t just put up a sign that says, “Parents: Please don’t let your children run wild.” You have to set the bar very high and hope that it leads to at least a small decrease in children running wild. I know that’s why that sign is there. But I can’t help myself. I must rail against these ridiculous signs asking me to do ridiculous things. “Keep all children under the age of 10 within arm’s length.” Good. Grief.

I’m reminded of an experience I had in the grocery store parking lot a few weeks ago. Girlfriend and I had just exited the grocery store and were at our car. I was putting the groceries in the back of the car when a man drove up to me and said, “Excuse me, ma’am, but I nearly had a heart attack. She [indicating Girlfriend] just darted in front of me. Thank goodness I had already stopped. [Emphasis mine] She ran right in front of my car.”

Well, I was a bit taken aback because–I’ll be honest with you–I’m usually aware of when my children are running out into traffic. Heaven knows they’ve done it before. I admit that I don’t keep my children on tethers. Not because I’m morally opposed to them, but I tried it once when Princess Zurg was still little, and it didn’t work for me; hence, I do not tether my children to my person. So often they get away from me. It’s disgraceful, I know, and my point is not to make excuses for myself. My point is that I’m usually aware that my children are getting away from me and doing something inappropriate, like running in front of a moving vehicle, even when I don’t manage to stop them. Impotence does not equal obliviousness. But I hadn’t noticed Girlfriend doing anything of the kind in the last few minutes (i.e., when this gentleman would have been having his almost-heart attack), so I was surprised to hear from him and didn’t really know what to say. “Sorry about your heart”? Usually I go for a nice card under these circumstances, but like I said, I was taken aback and therefore didn’t think to just get out my pen and sign the darn thing. I don’t remember my exact response, but it was probably just staring at him blankly, which may have been why he shrugged and said, “Anyway. For what it’s worth.”

“Thank you?” I said, as he drove away.

Now, as I said, my children are untethered and therefore do a lot of wacky things. Just because I didn’t notice this particular incident doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Girlfriend was most likely not within arm’s length, and she may very well have engaged in “darting” at some point. I don’t dispute how terrified this individual must have been to find a child suddenly in front of his car that had already stopped. [See above] But did it ever occur to him that maybe that’s why she was “darting” in front of his car? Because it was stopped? Because it was a parking lot and not the freeway, and that’s what you do when you’re in a parking lot, i.e. cross it, with the understanding that people are supposed to be driving very slowly and stopping for pedestrians, regardless of their size? I mean, she’s four. She’s impulsive and exuberant, yes, and also smarter than, say, a squirrel. And chances are, if she hadn’t “darted” first, I may very well have broadsided him with my shopping cart because I too am in the habit of crossing a parking lot while the crossing is good. If he can’t adjust his driving plan to accommodate us spontaneous types, maybe he shouldn’t be on the road. (Or at least not in parking lots.)

I don’t know what these two stories have to do with each other, except that I really spend an inordinate amount of time rationalizing my decisions to take my unshackled children out in public.*

* I’m not in any way implying that children need to be shackled in order to behave appropriately. Only that mine do.

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