When my daughter, Molly, was in grade school, there was a bookstore in the shopping center where my business is located.
Hall Book Exchange was packed with every genre of reading material, including a wonderful children’s section. Molly could trade in her already-read books for credit toward more reading material. She treasured her little store credit slips and looked forward to her visits there.
By the time she was in third or fourth grade, she would travel the few doors down the sidewalk on her own, transact her trade-in business and shop for books. Myra Meade, the owner, approved the arrangement in advance. Molly was expected to behave appropriately and not dawdle. It was her first experience at shopping alone and she loved it.
Now take that situation to the extreme. A few weeks ago I read of a woman in Dothan, Ala., who was arrested and charged with six misdemeanor counts of endangering the welfare of a child after she left her two children at a Barnes & Noble bookstore by themselves for more than seven hours on three separate days.
Not seven hours total. Seven hours on each of three separate occasions. If convicted, she faces up to a year in jail for each of the six charges and up to a $6,000 fine per charge.
The children, a boy and a girl, were ages 11 and 7. According to store employees, each time they were dropped off at around 10 a.m. and picked up between 5 and 6 p.m. After the third occasion, authorities were notified.
Warrants were taken in July. The mom was arrested two weeks ago at a roadblock when police ran her license and saw warrants for her arrest. She was quoted as telling ABC News, “My children were home for the summer, not going to school, and one of the things they love to do, they love to read. They tell me all about the how the store has a children’s section and they can read the books and leave them there so I don’t have to buy them, which, frankly, I couldn’t afford to do.”
Excuse me, but isn’t that why we have libraries?
Out of curiosity, I checked the Hall County Library’s FAQs, one of which is “Can I leave my children here while I go run errands?” The answer was unequivocal: “No. Leaving children unattended who are under the age of 10 or who require supervision is prohibited.”
And the library isn’t day care. All day is too long for kids, no matter what their age.
OK, so the two children, who by all reports were well behaved and caused no problems in the store other than being there unsupervised, were left for entire work days while their mother said she was “running errands.” What errand take seven hours? That sounds more like a spa day to me.
The mom disputes the amount of time the children were in the store and claims a 16-year-old sibling was with them. Looks like it’s going to take a jury to sort this all out. Anyway you turn it, it’s a mess.
I have a play area in my shop. That Little Tikes plastic playhouse has paid for itself many times over in the more than 20 years that it has sat in the corner and given children something to do while their parents shop.
There are a few rules: Play in the playhouse, not on it. No one owns the playhouse; everyone is welcome. Otherwise you get little boys trying to block the door and form a chapter of the He-Man Woman Haters Club a la “Little Rascals.” And, most important of all, play nice or you have stay with your mother.
Now, my shop is certainly nowhere near the size of a Barnes & Noble, but even if it were I don’t think it would have taken me and my employees a total of 21 hours to realize there were children hanging around with no accompanying adult on the premises.
I wish I knew more about this story. It raises far more questions than it answers. Was this a case of a desperate single parent trying to find a safe place for her children while she worked? Or was it simply laissez-faire parenting of the worst kind? And, of course, the mother in me has to ask, what did they do about lunch?
I happen to feel if the information in the warrants proves true, that mother doesn’t need to go to jail. What she needs is a program similar to Hall County’s Family T.I.E.S. parenting classes.
And Barnes & Noble needs a policy like the sign I saw in a candy store in Columbus: “Unattended children will be given an espresso and a free puppy.”
Now that’s what I call a deterrent.
Teressa Glazer is a Gainesville businesswoman. Her column appears biweekly on Fridays and on gainesvilletimes.com.