With the thought of Madeleine McCann in my head I shut the door to the hotel room and walk out leaving my son alone for the evening.
Stupid. Irresponsible. Naive. Foolish. Thoughtless. Dangerous. Incomprehensible. Reprehensible?
Or Justified and defendable. Reasonable or at least supportable?
Madeleine was 3. Max is 8.
I left him on the 4th floor of a hotel on a recent overseas holiday.
We were at dinner across the road from the hotel. We were a few glasses of wine into the evening and the party was starting to take off. We were hanging out with people we hadn’t seen for years, catching up on old times. Max, jet-lagged, had to leave. He was exhausted, whinging, and needing to go to bed. The last thing I wanted to do was end the night so I asked him if he was prepared to go back to the room and stay there himself.
He said he was happy to lie in bed and watch TV and play on his iPad. He promised he would not open the door and he would call reception if he needed something. I thought that was reasonable. I said I would check on him every 30mins.
So I take him back to the hotel. I let the staff at reception know what is happening and where we are. No problem. Max is happy. The staff are happy. I am happy.
I take him to the room, tuck him into bed, hand him the iPad, remote control and a box of lollies. I double check he is happy and go back across the road, eager to pour myself another glass of vino.
As the glass touches my lips my wife says:
“I left him in the room –he’s fine” I smile back
I got ‘the look’. Most married men would know ‘the look’. I knew immediately I was in a lot of trouble. After a few harsh words, most of which I listed above, I scurried back to the hotel room. I was under instructions to get a babysitter and wait until she arrived.
I would like to tell you that when I got back to the room it was trashed, that Max was lying in bed with a cigarette hanging out his mouth and two girls lying in bed with him. Champagne bottles littering the floor. A scene reminiscent of The Hangover. But I can’t.
It was exactly the same scene as I left it 15mins earlier. Max was fine. Content watching TV. There was no drama. He looked at me bewildered as to why I was back so soon.
I told him I was arranging a babysitter. 30mins later she arrived and I left.
Admittedly I was a lot more comfortable with this arrangement than leaving him by himself. But as I left the room I questioned myself over this unknown ‘babysitter’, arranged by the hotel and with whom I had now entrusted my son. Who was this strange lady sitting in my hotel room?
So it got me thinking. Was my original arrangement so irresponsible?
We unconsciously leave our kids in dangerous situations all the time. Sometimes we don’t give it a second thought or we rationalise it as the most practical thing to do at that particular time.
Your baby finally fell asleep in the car as you approach the petrol station. Do you leave your sleeping baby in the car as you pay for petrol? Despite the stories of cars being hijacked while owners are inside?
Do you nip out to the shops leaving the kids watching TV because you forgot that one essential ingredient? There is no way you are putting 3 kids back in the car after you just got home. It is only going to take a ‘few’ minutes to get there and back. The kids will be fine. They never leave the couch when the TV is on. But could someone fall, slip, bang their head. Could they end up fighting each other. What if someone comes to the door? It only takes a second.
Do you supervise your children in the park? Do you chat to friends while doing so? Are you absorbed in Facebook while they play? Have you lost sight of them? Do you freak out when you realise you haven’t seen them for 10 minutes. Is that not more irresponsible than leaving a child in a secure hotel room? There are risks involved in both.
Do your children play outside on the street unsupervised. Do they visit neighbours’ homes to play with the kids down the street. How well do you know these neighbours?
They play in the swimming pool. We are there. But are we supervising? Reading a book, having a drink, chatting with others. On the phone. Watching a You Tube clip. It only takes a second.
We send them off on play dates. To parties. On sleepovers. One day we will let them walk home from school. We trust that they will have the initiative, the sense, the education to move away from threatening situations.
We sent Max by himself on a 4 hour plane journey from Melbourne to Perth. He loved it. He was nervous but really proud of himself once he completed the journey. It was a super cool thing to do. He bragged to his friends. He grew a lot from that trip, most importantly his self confidence.
Max is a typical 8 year old boy. Eager to earn more trust from his parents. Desperate to show that he can take on more responsibily. Keen to prove that he is capable and competent. That he can handle things.
I thought he could handle a few hours alone in a hotel room.
I know he is still just a little boy in the scheme of things. I know he has much to learn. This is his journey. And there are stepping stones.
But as his dad it is my responsibility to guide him. To help him learn and understand. To push his boundaries. To test his abilities and build his confidence. To help him learn to cope. I want him to have survival skills, street smarts and the wherewithall necessary to cope with whatever life throws at him.
Perhaps it was too much leaving him by himself in the hotel room, particularly if I was thinking of Madeleine McCann as I left. It was a judgement call that I did weigh up. There are other ways for him to prove his independence.
Then again perhaps my wife was being a bit too precious.
But is there such a thing when it comes to your kids?