Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Home Alone... When?

Sharing the headlines with the coal mine explosion, the state education budget, and the damage caused by the winter storms, is a story about two brothers, 9 and 5, who were left home alone while their father and stepmother took a five-day vacation to Las Vegas.

The boys' situation was discovered Monday night, when police were tipped off by the grandmother, who suspected the boys were left alone. The police found the gas fireplace on and the boys asleep in bed. They had been eating cold cereal and microwave dinners. The family lives in one of the upscale suburbs of the Bay Area.

The parents had told the boys not to answer the door or the telephone. The 5-y.o. is reported to be subject to seizures and mildly autistic. The parents gave them a cell phone number to call "in an emergency." The police, the grandmother, and Child Protection Services all called the number and got no answer. The parents later called CPS.

The parents are due in from Vegas today.

I don't have the whole story here. Last night the grandmother (I don't know whether she's the paternal or maternal grandmother) was interviewed. She reported her side of the discussion she had with the parents, which was, basically, they should spend New Year's with the family. The parents reply, again according to the grandmother, was along the lines of "We work hard. Don't we deserve a vacation?" The news report implied that the father and stepmother had married only recently.

DD#1 pointed out that the parents probably were stressed and needed a break, especially if the youngest son was autistic and had seizures.

This morning, the stepmother reportedly has said that she thought the grandmother was taking care of the kids.

So this kerfluffle is going to take a bit to sort out.

My questions to the parents:

  • If you thought grandma was taking care of the kids, wouldn't you make sure that either the kids were at grandma's or that grandma was at your house before you left?
  • If you have a child who has seizures, would you ever leave him alone with the 9-y.o.?
  • Wouldn't you call to check in with your kids on a regular basis?
  • Isn't it safer to leave your heater on instead of your gas fire?
  • If CPS, the police department, and your MIL call about your kids, wouldn't you call all of them immediately? And wouldn't you be on the next plane out? Even if it was just one of you? (Like the father?)
  • Why did they think the kids would be okay by themselves?
The first time Hubs and I left our children alone for the entire night was about 18 months ago. DD#1 and DD#2 were home alone for about four days while Hubs and sons were at Scout camp and I was in England. DD#1 was 17, almost 18 and DD#2 was 10, almost 11. They had my itinerary, phone numbers of all the local relatives and friends, Hubs cell phone number, and the emergency number at camp. Hubs also called them a couple of times to check up on them, as did various adults who were either coming home from camp early or going up to camp mid-week.

I don't remember leaving DS#1, who is three years older than DD#1, home alone overnight before then. However, our kids have been "latchkey" kids for about five years now. And we haven't hired a babysitter for days or evenings out since DS#1 was 12. (DD#2 was 2 and was on regular food. We also put her in disposable diapers for the evening.)

Because our house is rather small and everyone shares bedrooms (as well as the common areas), time alone is prized. Our kids love to stay home alone for a couple of hours, and, frankly, so do I. :) Fortunately, our neighborhood is rather safe and we have family friends who live and work in town. And there is that ultimate electronic leash, the cell phone, which I must leave on because whenever I happen to turn it off, someone calls and it's always important (NOT) and I hear about it when I get home.

In California, BTW, there is no legal minimum age for a child to be left home alone and for how long. Since most people I know have some kind of sense, I am rather glad the state hasn't taken away all of my ability to make decisions about my children. However, instances like the Vacation in Las Vegas parents certainly make it more likely that someone will scream "We have to do something!" And a politician will certainly agree.

What say the rest of you? Have you handled this issue? And how?