It’s a Friday, mid-day, and you are greedily wolfing down the cold, slobbery leftover mac and cheese your toddler fervently requested, and then promptly declined, but not before drooling on at least 2/3 of the plate like some kind of out of control Pavlovian test subject. You stand looking out your dining room window, lamenting your lack of self-control, watching the school kids across the street playing some sort of game that makes them all sound like broken tornado sirens, and then something strange catches your eye: A man, placing a package into the bushes that border the school, 30 feet from where the kids are playing. You watch him as he quickly but carefully arranges it so it is hidden from sight, and then looks around to make sure nobody is watching. He then jumps on his bike and rides off.
What do you do?
This happened to me last week, and proved to be quite the moral conundrum. Having moved from Providence, Rhode Island a year ago, I may be a little more sensitive to the whole innocuous-looking-package-left-in-public thing, as we were right there, shocked and grieving with Boston after the marathon bombings in 2013. But still, it was very difficult for me to decide what the correct course of action was. One part of me (the larger part), wanted to believe that this was nothing. That this man, who looked a little down on his luck, was just hiding something he fully intended on returning to get later on, and had no malicious intent. But the other part of me, perhaps the mother part, felt differently. Because what if? What if it wasn’t innocuous? What if something horrible happened, and I had watched it and done nothing? What if it was my kid, playing a stones throw away from a mystery box? Complicating things, I didn’t want to set off a chain of events that unnecessarily scared the bejesus out of the kids and teachers, all over a couple of containers of leftover Spring rolls salvaged from the dumpster of the neighborhood Thai joint.
I carefully considered my options. Do I call the police? Will they think it was me? Do I call the non-emergency line, and just sort of run it by them, or are they also going to think it was me? Should I call the school and tell them what I saw, or are they going to think it was me? Even more importantly, why do I have such a guilty conscience? Is it because I always take the cup that has just a little more coffee in it, after my husband brews it every morning? Or because one time I accidentally stole some mac and cheese from the deli after I ate it at the grocery store, like a wild animal, and forgot to pay?
Asking myself, “What would I want someone to do if it were my kid playing there?” provided all the guidance I needed to call the non-emergency line, and then promptly hang-up, heart racing and palms sweating because clearly I was a career criminal in a past life. I then considered googling, “What should I do if I think someone put a harmless looking package in the bushes by a school, but I can’t be sure so maybe I should call the police, right?” but worried I would get added to some bomb researching watch list. So I called the school, and in my most relaxed and calmish voice, I explained the situation to the very nice lady at the front desk, who thanked me, and urged me to call again if I ever saw anything strange.
Naturally, after the burden of sharing my probably-not-a-big-deal-but-maybe-it-is news was lifted from my shoulders, I pulled the blinds and hid out on the other side of my house for a few hours, just to really increase the odds of the school thinking I am a weirdo who has nothing better to do than watch the kids playing at recess. All I know about how it was handled is that a fire truck was dispatched (possibly among other first responder vehicles), and eventually the package was toted away by an employee of the school.
I hate that we live in a culture where the worst is assumed about everybody, and where neighbors turn into watchdogs, reporting any kind of normal abnormalness to the authorities. But geesh. It’s hard to imagine the alternative. I don’t want to raise my kid to be suspicious of everybody, and to always consider the worst possible scenario, but even more than that, I want my kid to be here to raise her.
And so I ask you, fellow readers of HMDHM, what would you do?