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Moms Talk: The Case of the 3-Year-Old Criminal

The mother of a 3-year old Oklahoma boy was slapped with a hefty fine after her son attempted to go potty in his own front yard. Have we taken things too far in our society, trading vigilance for ridiculousness?

An Oklahoma woman will appear in court to fight a steep fine she received last week. The crime? Her 3-year-old son pulled down his pants to go potty in his own front yard in the town of Piedmont.

A cop, who sits at the end of the woman’s rural street every day, showed up just in time to see the youngster get ready to urinate. The boy, who was in the process of potty training, dutifully stopped his playing to take care of business so he wouldn’t wet his Pull-Up.

Though the boy’s property encompasses 2 1/2 acres and he wasn’t bothering a soul, the cop refused to budge on the $2,500 ticket, citing public urination. The story has sparked a firestorm of complaints from locals, who are appalled at the police officer’s actions.

Stories like this are just one of many that bring parents to wonder, “Just what can I and can’t I do these days?”

After all, there was the mother hauled off to jail for “neglect” after letting her young children ride their bikes around their safe suburban culd-e-sac while she watched from a lawn chair in her driveway.

Then there was the father who was arrested after a neighbor spied him spanking his son in his backyard and called the police.

And earlier this year, a father of a 4-year-old girl was arrested after his daughter drew a picture of a man with a gun during art time at school. The teacher grew concerned and called Social Services. A thorough investigation of the man’s home turned up only one weapon—a toy gun. The girl later said she was only trying to draw a picture of her dad getting the bad guys and monsters. Traumatized, she asked her father after the arrest, “Are you mad at me?”

While some actions, such as abuse, obviously warrant serious attention, other harmless ones leave some parents feeling as though they live under a microscope. Say one wrong thing, make one wrong move, have one disgruntled neighbor call you out and you could find yourself in hot water.  It seems we’ve come to a rock and a hard place in our society. Do we err on the side of “better safe than sorry”? Or have we become too easily offended? Just where is the balance between vigilance and ridiculousness?

When my now 11-year-old son was potty-training, he asked if it was OK to go potty outside in case he could not make it to the restroom while playing. Assuming he meant in our backyard, I agreed that it was OK under “emergency” circumstances.

A few weeks later, while at Disneyland, I looked back to see him stripping down to his underwear in front of the Dumbo ride. Appalled, I ran over and swiftly pulled up his pants. “What are you doing?” I hissed.

“You said I could go potty outside if it was a real emergency,” he replied innocently.

Apparently, my response needed further clarification. I am only thankful that there was not an armed official ready to cuff me and haul me away for my toddler son’s indiscretion.

While I am abundantly grateful for officials who protect the safety of our children, I am also concerned that there are those in our communities who sometimes take things too far, lurking in other people’s business instead of minding their own.

As a parent of four juggling carpool, homework, sports and housework, I often feel overwhelmed by the demands of daily life. It seems there is enough on our plates without having to worry that our parenting skills could be scrutinized by nosy folks who know virtually nothing about our character. Or worse yet, that our kids could get us in trouble with the law for making one innocent move.

Do you think we’ve come to live in a “microscope society,” where well-meaning neighborly vigilance has been replaced by unfair scrutiny? Do you have any of your own stories to share? And what of the little Oklahoma tyke? Did he do anything wrong?

Parents, what do you think?

Charles November 15, 2012 at 03:00 PM
These are some of those "less than 0.02% of the time" stories. (Cops writing big tickets for a kid going potty in his front yard, etc.) Very uncommon. Not in the top 69 things parents are concerned about.
Martin Henderson November 16, 2012 at 02:13 AM
Probably not one of the top things parents are concerned about, but the point is -- I think -- that parents shouldn't be concerned about it but ultimately these stories appear. There is very real time that is going to go into fighting this ticket; the hassle is not imagined. The real discussion here probably isn't about potty training, but about the spirit of the law. Do you think the Oklahoma case represented the spirit of the law?

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