The day started off well enough - the sun shining, it was a good day to walk around all the GP surgeries and children's centres in the area, distributing information on the new PANDAS support group. We had got around a few of the surgeries, before realising I had left the boy's shoes at home. So we popped back to get them.
We arrived back home to see the neighbour's large grey cat prowling around our front steps. As the proud owners of a much smaller kitten, I knew I would have to sneak in and close the door behind me to avoid potential cat-kitten friction. The boy was fast asleep in the buggy, so I decided not to bump him up our steep front steps but leave him on the pavement outside as I ran in for his shoes.
Shoes located, I ran back out about 30 seconds later. The boy still asleep and none-the-wiser. But as I was locking up the front door, I heard a lady cross the street towards us, waving what looked like a police ID badge. She didn't introduce herself (and I had never seen her before so no idea who she was or where she had come from) but she proceeded to give me a stern lecture about leaving my baby outside. "Do you realise how many people walked past, and could have taken him?" "But I just ran in to get his shoes and he was sleeping.." "That doesn't matter"... Etc etc.
She stared at me as if she was evaluating whether or not to take things further. Arrest me for child abandonment? Inform local social services of my neglectful parenting? I decided my best course was to act all grateful and apologetic "oh I am so sorry, thank you so much for looking out for him..." This did indeed work, as she eventually shook her head and walked away.
She left me completely taken aback, shaken to my core. What on earth just happened?!
As in all situations where someone takes you by surprise, I had plenty to say to her just two minutes later. "It's none of your business" "I trust my neighbours and my street" "I could see him the whole time from the window" "I'm not sorry and I would do the same thing again"... We live on a very sleepy residential street, where we know all the neighbours. We once went out for dinner, and forgot to even shut the front door, let alone lock it! The place was completely untouched, four hours later, despite leaving my handbag and iPad in full view.
Parenting involves constant evaluation of risks, and my judgement today was that it was better to leave my sleeping child on the street for less than a minute, rather than risk waking him up and ruining the rest of our afternoon. If this shocked or offended this particular woman (still no idea whether or not she was a policewoman), then I'm afraid that's her problem.
The more worrying aspect of all this was how it affected me. I was crying, shaking, speechless. I felt physically sick that someone would think I was neglecting my child. I get hardly any feedback in this parenting gig, so when that feedback is so negative, it's quite hard not to take it to heart. I had thought I had fully recovered from my mental illness, and that I was now a confident and assured parent. I have had to process a lot of guilt over the last 16 months - no mum can spend so long in psychiatric care without worrying how her child may be affected - but I thought I had come to terms with it all.
This episode has shown me just how vulnerable to attack I am.
What do you think? Would you have done the same, or would you never let your buggy out of your sight even for a second? Would you have taken it upon yourself to confront the mum in such a situation? I'd be interested in your views!