A neighbor once offered to take care of my baby when I went out. “Don’t worry,” she assured me. “His crying won’t bother me.” Since I don’t ignore crying babies whether they are mine or not, I didn’t agree to watch the neighbor’s baby the next couple of times she asked me. I might have enjoyed a reciprocal arrangement, but only if the neighbor shared my parenting style. And I didn’t want to provide daycare.
I am finding myself in a similar situation now. My four-year old and I pick up my first-grader, Y, from school each day. On the way home we enjoy a snack in the park, where Y unwinds and tells me about his day. Afterward, the kids play in the nearly empty playground; they’ve missed each other. I bring along a book or just soak in the “winter” weather.
The other day a boy in my son’s class, B, joined us on our walk home. When he realized we were going to the park, he stuck around. He stayed until we left half an hour later, and continued walking with us in the direction of our homes.
Y is not friendly with B, but I happened to meet his mother at the parent-teacher conference. She and her husband own a store, and she has another job besides. I asked her how B gets home, because I had once noticed him wandering around the neighborhood after school. She said that his older brother, who usually finishes school later, takes him home. She said something about B visiting the toy store sometimes.
When I got to school the next afternoon Y was standing with B, who informed me that he was coming to the park with us. I could hardly say no. At the park he told me about his very rich father, how thin cellphones like his are much better than the kind I have, and how his 12yo brother takes a taxi to the parents’ store to work there after school, leaving him alone and bored at home. He said that he has a housekey and lets himself in after school. I have no idea how much of this is accurate. He kept asking us when we were leaving the park, and when I said not yet, B left by himself. I didn’t want to walk home with him again. Y said that he saw B walk back toward the school, perhaps to meet his brother. If he has to wait for 45 minutes for his brother anyway, I can see why he might prefer the park to the schoolyard.
No one seems to wonder where he is during the hour after school lets out. The thin cellphone never rang. My husband said I should call the mother, but I don’t see the point. If he is supposed to be in the schoolyard during those 45 minutes, then she can tell him that he has to stay on school grounds. But if he’s supposed to walk home by himself, is it my place to tell her to make sure he goes straight home? Especially to an empty house? And what if he goes against her instructions?
It’s not B’s fault that he is
neglected on his own during the afternoon. He needs warmth and an adult presence. But he’s not an orphan, and I’m not a daycare provider. Our school, on the other hand, provides afterschool daycare. Y enjoys the company of B, who is a bit of a clown, but my four-year-old did not appreciate someone else taking Y’s attention. And I will cease to enjoy our time in the park if B attaches himself to us every day.
Tomorrow my daughter asked me to come straight home after school, because she will return early with a friend. Maybe if I don’t stop in the park for the next few days, B will forget about my family’s routine. I’m open to other suggestions.
Update: I told the school counselor that I had seen B wandering around the neighborhood after school. I suggested that he might be better off in the afterschool program. She seemed concerned and promised to look into it. I also mentioned that Y was much happier and she said, “I know.”