When the Local Park and Police Mix

We happen to live in a city with lots of parks. Nice parks. We have options, and that’s good. We never lack in the twisty-slide department.

The closest one is our default park. It’s four blocks away, and we hit it up at least a few days a week. Sometimes, we’re the only ones there, so we have our choice of swings and slides. Other times, it crawls with kids and parents. On those days, Clint usually follows Roy around while I monitor access to Nico, who is a total celebrity around kids, probably because she’s small and friendly. As long as I’m by her side, she’s cool with her sudden popularity, absorbing gentle pats and dispensing the odd squeal-inciting lick.

The other night when we showed up, there was just one other parent and three kids, all on the swingset. As usual, Nico grabbed the spotlight right away, with the mom and her red-headed tween-aged boy fawning over her. We settled into the usual park routine. About 5 minutes go by, and the woman mentions that those other two kids there on the swingset? They’re not hers. “The parents dropped them off right before you guys got here, then drove away,” she says.


“They’re not yours?” Clint asked in disbelief. Negative, she confirmed. “How old are you?” he asked the eldest, a timid and pale child who was pushing his infant brother, sporting the most adorable mop of curly black hair. “Seven,” he quietly replied. I’d be surprised if he could lift the little one out of the swing.

The woman moved toward us, introduced herself and chattered away, spouting facts: They just left. She didn’t know what to do. This is wrong. People don’t do this. And then: What are you going to do?

I honestly looked for the “What Would You Do?” hidden cameras. “I’m calling the police,” Clint said, whipping out his phone.

“They’re in that house,” the boy offered, pointing to a gray two-story bordering the park. It was clearly a struggle for him to articulate the phrase.

Clint paused. We all kept glancing around in disbelief, trying to make sense of the situation. I outlined what I saw as the only options. 1) Knock on the door of the house. 2) Call the police. When I pictured either of the situations playing out, it involved drug dealers and guns, and that paralyzed me. I also tried to dredge up a logical situation for leaving the kids at the park. Something reasonable. Understandable. Something that would make calling the police a ridiculous and reactionary option. For the life of me, I could not think of one.

And then a car pulls up. Wait, not a car. A gleaming white SUV with spinning silver rims. A couple gets out of the back and rushes toward the kids, smiling. The woman’s jaw is clicking and grinding: Meth mouth, not a doubt in my mind. “Ooh, was he crying?” She cooed.

“No, he was fine. But do you think it’s a good idea to leave your kids alone in the park?” I asked.

“Our friend was just going to drive to the corner, but then he kept on going,” she said with a cheerful, over-the-top annoyance.

“What would make you think it’s ever a good idea to leave your kids here?” I persisted

She ignored me. As they walked briskly to the car with their two kids, Clint followed, got the license plate digits and called the police, who said they’d follow up.

I keep thinking about that poor 7-year old, knowing enough to try and cover for his parents. If he was left alone to push the wee one in the swing for 15 minutes while his parents bought drugs, imagine what else he’s had to do. Imagine what else he’s seen.

We will program the non-emergency police number into our phones. If it happens again, we will call it right away. Other than that, what more can we do? That is not a rhetorical question.

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  1. by Tara

    On July 11, 2011 at 9:32 pm

    No child deserves that. I would have called the police immediately. I also would have tried to block the vehicle. A foster home would at least be safer for those kids.

  2. by Natalie

    On July 11, 2011 at 9:34 pm

    I would also call Children and Family Services, based on what you saw, they may also do a home visit, and it’s documented if there’s any issues of neglect in the future.

  3. by Liz McLennan

    On July 11, 2011 at 9:57 pm

    This is so difficult. I think that, under the circumstances, you did all that you could safely have done – for your own family and for those children.

    The police will run the plate and will likely put a call in to CAS themselves – it’s what they do and we need to believe that “the good guys” will do what’s right.

    Chances are, that mother will never bring the children to THAT park again, now that she’s been confronted. But keeping an eye out for the kids is kind and right, too.

    Hugs to you, Mama and kudos for asking the question. I’m sorry that you’ll likely be haunted by those little faces for a long, long time.

  4. by Paula Schuck

    On July 11, 2011 at 10:09 pm

    I think you should call CAS or child and family services. If their home iscompromiaed by drugs or adults using drugs it will be unsafe for them. They need helpto be safe. Report it.

    Odds are strong she will do it again.

    Paula @

  5. by Eve

    On July 12, 2011 at 10:14 am

    So heartbreaking. Being outside of the situation, I would have called the police and made sure the children would be safe. In the moment, I would have done exactly what you did. Unfortunately, one of the consequences of pointing out bad parents bad parenting is that they often take it out on the child when they get home. I hope you see these children again, but in a way that allows you to know they are safe and cared for.

  6. by katie d.

    On July 13, 2011 at 9:36 am

    That made me tear up. No kid should ever have to endure that. Ever. EVER. I don’t know what I would have done in your situation, but good for you for standing up to the parents and taking down the info and calling police. I’m glad there are also parents like you and Clint in the world.

  7. by Berit Thorkelson

    On July 13, 2011 at 9:44 am

    Thanks, guys. Yes, totally and absolutely heartbreaking. I assume the police appropriately involve CFS in their promised “follow up.” Clint and I both keep saying, daily and unprompted, “We should have called the police immediately.” Hindsight being what it is.

  8. by Stefanie

    On July 13, 2011 at 2:03 pm

    Here’s another angle – how lucky were those children that the people in the park that day were caring about their welfare instead of thinking of a way to abduct them? In that regard, you’ve already done a good thing for them. If you call the cops when the parents are high, that could even make an icky situation worse – and who wants that?? The fact that you did report it is important – and we should all keep our eyes out for children who need help and be an advocate for them however we can. (and for those of us faith-driven people, pray for them!:)

  9. by Libby

    On July 14, 2011 at 8:39 am

    Nice job, Berit! I would have called the police too. As to blocking the car from leaving, NOT a good idea! While I guess I might want to do that (and may have before I had a child) it’s opening yourself, your child, and the children you are looking out for in immediate danger. The police work in tandem with child protection so assuming they find cause, they will bring them in. I just hope they find a reason! It is so heartbreaking when things like this happen. I will never forget when I found a toddler riding his big wheel down a very busy uptown street. I wanted to scoop him up and take him with me. I ended up calling the police and they told me I could under no circumstances take him anywhere or I would be the one in trouble…nevermind the fact that he was literally on the street! His brother finally rode by on his bike and pointed at a house down the street that was theirs. I am a pretty confrontational person when necessary (probably not a good thing but I just can’t help it in situations where I feel something is drastically wrong) but instincts won out and I didn’t march up to their house to unload my anger and astonishment. I just sat and played with the little boy in his dirty diaper and his tee shirt until his brother came and took him away. He obviously figured out trouble was coming. Saddest thing I have seen.

  10. by Molly Guthrey

    On July 14, 2011 at 9:26 am

    I probably would have just taken over pushing the baby and asked the 7-year-old if they were hungry. Maybe you’ll see them again at the park … it’s nice for kids to know “safe people” in their lives.

  11. by Bubbe

    On July 14, 2011 at 11:47 am

    I think you and Clint did the right thing. It’s very difficult to imagine that parents would do such a thing in this day and age. Back in the “olden days” we may have left kids to play on their own in the park (although not a baby with a 7-year-old). It was a different era and we didn’t have the same worries you have today. In a way, it’s like your story about the cardboard carseat… Different, simpler times. When I was young, we were without parental supervision sometimes all day long, playing outside in the summer. I feel bad that you all have so many new issues to deal with.

    I have 2 questions – Did you give the police the address of the house that the boy pointed to? Did you get a feel that the police would follow-up on your report and would they contact you?

  12. by Berit Thorkelson

    On July 14, 2011 at 1:47 pm

    Stef: I like your angle.

    Bubbe: They weren’t at the house. He was covering for them. They were in the vehicle that dropped them off. And the police did say they would follow up. Clint gave them our phone # for followup, if necessary.