Children's book author Kari Anne Roy was recently visited by the Austin police and Texas Child Protective Services for allowing her son Isaac, age 6, to do the unthinkable: play outside, up her street, unsupervised.
He'd been out there for about 10 minutes, when Roy's doorbell rang. She opened it to find her son — and a woman she didn't know. As Roy wrote on her blog, Haiku Mama, last week, the mystery woman asked: "Is this your son?"
"I nodded," she wrote, "still trying to figure out what was happening.
"'He said this was his house. I brought him home.' She was wearing dark glasses. I couldn't see her eyes, couldn't gauge her expression.
"'Yes. He was all the way down there, with no adult.' She motioned to a park bench about 150 yards from my house. A bench that is visible from my front porch. A bench where he had been playing with my 8-year-old daughter, and where he decided to stay and play when she brought our dog home from the walk they'd gone on.
"'You brought him home ... from playing outside?' I continued to be baffled.
"And then the woman smiled condescendingly, explained that he was OUTSIDE. And he was ALONE. And she was RETURNING HIM SAFELY. To stay INSIDE. With an ADULT. I thanked her for her concern, quickly shut the door and tried to figure out what just happened."
What happened? The usual. A busybody saw that rarest of sights — a child playing outside without a security detail — and wanted to teach his parents a lesson. Roy might not have given the incident a whole lot more thought, except that shortly afterward, her doorbell rang again.
This time, it was a policewoman. "She wanted to know if my son had been lost and how long he'd been gone," Roy told me by phone. She also took Roy's ID and the names of her kids.
That night, Isaac cried when he went to bed and couldn't immediately fall asleep. "He thought someone was going to call the police because it was past bedtime and he was still awake."
As it turns out, he was almost right. About a week later, an investigator from Child Protective Services came to the house and interrogated each of Roy's three children separately, without their parents, about their upbringing.
"She asked my 12-year-old if he had ever done drugs or alcohol. She asked my 8-year-old daughter if she had ever seen movies with people's private parts, so my daughter, who didn't know that things like that exist, does now," Roy said. "Thank you, CPS."
It was only last week, about a month after it all began, that the case was officially closed. That's when Roy felt safe enough to write about it. But safe is a relative term. In her last conversation with the CPS investigator, who actually seemed to be on her side, Roy asked, "What do I do now?"
Replied the investigator, "You just don't let them play outside."
There you have it. You are free to raise your children as you like, except if you want to actually give them a childhood. Fail to incarcerate your child and you could face incarceration yourself.