Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Careful Mom

“Do you have any guns in the house?” the careful mom asked, as she stood in my doorway with her son.

This was not the typical get-to-know-you chat that starts a play date. I never met this mom before but when Ethan asked to play with his new classmate, a boy who recently transferred from another school, I thought it would be nice to invite him over on a Saturday and his mom would probably appreciate a friendly face in a new town.

“No, no guns,” I said, quizzically waiting for a punch line.

“How about pit bulls or other dangerous animals?” As if on cue, Pickle and Sweet Pea our two French Bulldogs trotted up to the door and the mom gave them a serious once-over.

“No, we have these two dopey dogs, and Frenchies are very friendly. Your son is more likely to be licked to death than bitten,” I joked but she did not look reassured.

“Do you or your husband smoke or do drugs?” At that point, I laughed out loud, startling her. My husband Shannon and I are not dope fiends or crack heads, but I imagined that if we were, would I really admit that to a woman I just met?

I felt sorry for Careful Mom, who didn’t know anyone and whose son had to make new friends in a new place. The desire to keep your child safe, especially when they are in the hands of another adult that you don’t know well, can be overwhelming. However, the “Twenty Questions” routine was a bit over zealous. She quickly departed with a lack of social interaction, but her son stayed for the afternoon so I guessed we passed inspection.

A few months later, I saw her dropping her son off in front of the school. I waved hello but she didn’t see me. Careful Mom was busy juggling her cell phone against her ear, while waving good-bye to her son, and then performing an illegal u-turn while other parents were dropping off their children on the same street. Obviously, the zealous child safety standards she displayed at my home did not extend to her own world or her driving.

Walking back to my car, I had another thought. Why did she need to ask me those questions in the first place? Questioning people I met about unattended weapons and drugs would never cross my mind, and the neighborhoods where I lived there were no vicious pit bulls lying in wait. The people I knew would care for my child with the same diligence that they would look after their own.

But not everyone comes from the same background or has the same security in their friends and family. Perhaps Careful Mom comes from a world where children are exposed to imminent dangers, or the adults caring for them would rather light up than feed their kids or change their diapers. It was a world I never wanted to see, and now that I gave it more thought, was likely the reason she moved here with her son.