Leaving the dollar store today, I saw a minivan parked up against the curb, with no one in sight except a toddler in a car seat in the back. This is something you notice a lot more when you're a parent with young children - you hesitate near the car, peer inside, and then usually a harassed-looking mother, standing within about 15 feet, will lean out of the gas station/convenience store/phone booth and call out "I'm right here, don't worry."
This time, nobody was around. I waited for a minute and went inside to the cashier (staying within sight of the vehicle) and asked her if there was any security staff. "No," she said, taken aback, "but there's mall security - why do you need it?" Just as I was explaining the situation, a woman came through the other cash register, left the store, and got into the van. "Oh," the cashier said excusingly, "she only came in here to return something." (That makes it okay, then.)
I left the store and, by coincidence, followed the minivan through the parking lot to the grocery store at the end of the mall. The van pulled into a space, and I parked a couple of rows away, deciding to leave a note on the windshield when they went into the store, telling her that I had seen her leave the child alone, and that she was lucky I didn't call the cops.
As I rummaged for a pen she got out of the car, gestured towards Thrifty Foods and said something to the child, then to my utter shock she left the child in the backseat, and walked into the store.
"OH HELL NO." I said loudly to myself. I went over to the van, and as I approached I could hear the child crying her eyes out.
Before the mother came back out, I had time to stand there dumbfounded, accost a passer-by for her mobile phone, call Mr HSB to get the non-emergency police number (no answer at my house), call 911 and give all the information, then wait for several minutes longer, listening to the little girl sobbing for her mother.
She came out of the store after 7 or 8 minutes...by now I was in a towering rage and I let her have it with both barrels. "I suggest you wait for the police to get here - I've called 911 about the toddler you left in your van."
"You heard me. You might as well wait for the police since they're on their way."
"How dare you! You don't know anything about me!"
"I know one thing about you - you left a toddler alone in a vehicle. How old is that child?"
"She's three! And she's fine!" And then again, "You don't know anything about me! You don't know what kind of person I am!"
"I know exactly what kind of person you are. You are the kind of person who leaves her child alone in a car twice in one afternoon - I followed you here from the dollar store and you did the same thing there."
"How dare you!" she gasps.
"Do you know how long it takes someone to steal a car? Thirty seconds. You were in that store for more than FIVE MINUTES." (I'm nearly shouting now.)
"It was locked!" (She's shouting right back at me.)
"Tell it to the police. You left that child in the car, which is both ILLEGAL and WRONG, and you KNOW it's wrong: that's why you're so mad."
"Do YOU even have any children?" she asks me, as though she thinks that if I had, I wouldn't mind what she has just done.
"Yes I do," I replied coolly, "I have two. And they are supervised at all times."
I thought she was going to punch me for that one.
She gets the child out of the car, so I stop talking. She's holding the little girl now, and we stand there for a few minutes waiting for the cops. The daughter says, "Why are we standing here?"
"Because this lady thinks....thinks I'm mean to you."
I don't say anything - it's not my place to make a mom look bad in front of her child...not that this chick needs my help looking bad.
"I'm calling my husband," she suddenly says. She puts the child back into the vehicle and climbs into the driver's seat. "Hi, it's me.....I was at the store and I left Nora* in the car for thirty seconds and I come out and this lady is screaming at me that she's called the cops.........I don't know!........no, just a lady in the parking lot........now the cops are coming and this is ALL YOUR FAULT IF I HADN'T HAD TO COME DOWN HERE FOR YOUR STUPID TAPE NONE OF THIS WOULD HAVE HAPPENED!!!!" (She's in the car sobbing and I am standing at the rear bumper, watching for the cruiser, arms crossed, the picture of "WHEREVER THERE'S INJUSTICE, I'LL BE THERE!", trying not to have inappropriate laughter at this 'tape' remark.)
She hangs up, gets out of the car and comes up to me, tear-stained but defiant. "My husband says I should go home so I'm leaving. If the cops want to talk to me they can come to my house."
"Sure," I say politely.
"I'm sure you have my license plate number," she says scornfully.
"Yep," I reply.
And off she goes.
Here's where it gets interesting. I stood there in that parking lot, waiting, for nearly an hour. Not a sign of a police cruiser anywhere (though an ambulance came to the parking lot - and the attendants went in and came out with bagels and Pom, and a fire truck came by on its way to the salmon barbecue fundraiser in the next block).
Finally I marched into the grocery store, politely requested the phone book, and got the girl to dial the non-emergency police number. By this time all my anger was completely displaced onto the RCMP. Here's what I said when they answered.
"Hi. I can hardly hear you, by the way. Look, I phoned 911 nearly an hour ago about a toddler left alone in a vehicle in the parking lot of Thrifty Foods. The mom came out, I had words with her, and she has left, and I am still standing here waiting for you. Are you coming, or what?"
"Oh, uh, yes, uh, hang on a second...Yes, the car assigned to you got held up with another situation, but he's on his way now."
"So, I should stay here and talk to him? Because I have been here for an hour. If I had called the SPCA about a dog in a car, they'd have been here in fifteen minutes." (You should have seen the faces on the people in the nearby lineups, listening to this conversation.)
"Uh........yes he's on his way now."
"Good. Thank you."
He did show up, eventually, and heard the whole story. I told him, "She might tell you I was screaming at her, but I wasn't. She asked me if I had children and I said yes, I had two, and that they were always supervised....I think that was a little inflammatory. But I wasn't screaming."
"No, that's okay," he said, shaking his head, "I'LL scream at her. I'm going to call the Ministry and we'll go to her house."
"Yeah, put the fear of God into her," I said, "hopefully she'll be scared to do it again."
He did apologise for keeping me waiting - citing "limited resources", if you can believe it - and I think he was taken aback when I said "Yes, I understand you have other situations I'm not aware of, that you have to prioritise. I am concerned, though, because there was a child involved and it did take you an hour to get here."
I was fairly polite and respectful, though - aware, as I am, that cheeking the police can get you into serious trouble.
As loth as I am to be the instrument of someone's family drama, I am even more loth to stand by while this kind of crap goes on. As a parent of young children, you DO see this stuff - you see little two year old dudes wandering around WalMart trying to find their mums, or a little guy burning around the aisles of the grocery store, laughing like a maniac all by himself. But you usually see, or hear, a parent rushing around calling "Austin! AuSTIN!" And, if you're like me, you follow the kid around, at a non-threatening distance, until he gets reunited with his parent.
Leaving a toddler alone in a car, with one window three inches down, for nearly ten minutes, outside two stores......that is not happening.
* I changed all the names and locations.