Life imitates fiction

By Legal Eagle

My daughter has red-gold curls, and a temper to match the hair colour. I was driving home the other day when she started to throw a tantrum in the back of the car. I really wished there was some kind of “cone of silence” which I could impose on her, so that I could still see her without having to listen to the yelling. Of course, her screaming made the baby scream too. If you can’t beat them, join them. I started to “mock-scream” as well, which made both children laugh and returned some sanity to the car.

What to do when the kids are screaming in the back of the car? As it happened, my tactic of joining them worked, but I was considering pulling over if they didn’t quieten down soon.

A New York lawyer has gone one step further, and left her squabbling daughters on the pavement after they were fighting in the back of the car.

Ms Primoff, who is married to another Ivy League-educated lawyer, reportedly let the 12-year-old back in when she caught up with the car.

The 10-year-old was allegedly abandoned on the pavement, where a good samaritan found her in tears, bought her an ice cream and flagged down a police car.

The police report describes the girl as upset and emotional. The girl “stated she had an argument with her sister in the car and as a result of the dispute Madlyn Primoff demanded both youths to exit the vehicle”, the police officer wrote. “The vehicle then fled west on Post Road and the youths were left alone.”

Ms Primoff has now been charged with child endangerment. As the linked article notes, it’s reminiscent of the fictional incident in Desperate Housewives where Lynette Scavo leaves her squabbling boys on the street to teach them a lesson, drives around the corner, and returns to find them gone.

I cannot imagine that I would ever drive off and leave my children on the street in a million years. Nonetheless, I do have a sneaking sympathy with the impulse. Sometimes screaming kids drive you a little bit crazy, particularly when you’re in an enclosed space and trying to concentrate on the road at the same time. Ms Primoff has been castigated as a “typical” working Mum, with no patience or time to concentrate on her kids, but I think it could just as easily happen to a stressed-out stay-at-home Mum too. I’m here to tell you that looking after kids full time is pretty darn stressful sometimes.

On the other hand, I do feel sorry for the poor kids too. My sister and I had some humdinging “car fights” – remember the one in the carpark of Red Rooster while Mum was picking up the take away, lil sis?  I can just imagine the girls’ horror and distress when their mother pulled out from the kerb and sped off. It really was a pretty horrible thing to do, even if the kids had pushed the mother to breaking point.


  1. lilacsigil
    Posted April 25, 2009 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    My grandmother actually did this to my brother and me, aged 7 and 5. We lived in a small country town, so it wasn’t actually far to walk home and we weren’t in any danger. In those circumstances, I have to say that we totally deserved it – but I would be horrified if someone did that on a busy road, far from home, or in a city.

  2. Posey
    Posted April 25, 2009 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    Ah families. My eldest brother (10 years older) several times wheeled me a couple of blocks away from home and abandoned me and the pram outside another house. Fortunately I don’t remember how this felt and I guess he was just a kid himself and we all know how evil they can be.Round the same time he himself frequently ran away from home dressed in his favourite cowboy suit. He’d tell the police who deposited him back home after being picked up amazingly long distances away that he’d been headed for “the wild west”.

    My mother once locked me out of the house (big Queenslander on stilts with wrap-around verandahs) in winter (ok I know Brisbane doesn’t really have them) at night for several hours when I was 10 because I’d said to her I wished I was an orphan like the nice PNG boarder from school who was staying with us over the school holidays. I was shocked at her fury at this (mainly) innocent, non-hostile remark and still remember my feelings of anxiety and abandonment. I do understand now, though, without myself having had children, the frustration and rage that drives mothers to do such things. For older people who are introverts, say, parenting must a lot of the time be one of the most excruciatingly difficult things to do. I’m fairly certain I decided at around age four I was never going to have children mainly because I could see how much my mother resented being a full-time carer for six kids.

  3. Posted April 25, 2009 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    I’ll second lilac’s comments too — my dad did this to me and two of my brothers (I’m from a big tribe too). We were blueing like nobody’s business in the back of the car on the road from Townsville to Ingham and he just deposited us on the side of the road and drove out of sight. We shat bricks because he had driven out of sight and did not bicker any more when he came back (I presume he just drove around the block).

    My father was not the world’s greatest dad but I’ve never seen this as an example of bad parenting. I’m pretty sure with all the bouncing around we were helping to create a traffic hazard.

  4. deano
    Posted April 25, 2009 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    My dad turned around to smack we three squabbling children, and ran into the car in front (in the days before seat belts, and before no smacking). Maybe leaving us on the side of the road would have been safer. And, Legal Eagle, I did the “join in the sceaming “thing with my kids, but it’s a stunt you can only pull once or twice because after that they ignore you!

  5. Greg James
    Posted April 25, 2009 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

    Nah, the midgets had it coming if you ask me.

    I betcha they think twice next time when mum gets that crazy look in her face!

  6. ceecee
    Posted April 25, 2009 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

    Just to return to the legal argument – is it not worth noting how ridiculous it is that the ONLY response she received was being charged with child endangerment?

    Why was she not instead put in touch with parenting support programs? This blame-the-mother attitude actually does nobody any good, and increases the stress in the household.

    What a disgrace. That’s what you get in societies who have dismantled the last dregs of a safety net – a whole lot of money spent punishing people instead of actually changing lives for the better.

  7. ceecee
    Posted April 25, 2009 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    And I’ve tried the joining in and screaming thing and both kids freaked out and screamed louder.

    The best advice for all you parents out there is just to stop the car and get out, and take a few deep breaths. The kids realise you’re serious, you’re not leaving them in danger and you remove yourself for the few seconds it takes to calm down.

  8. Posted April 26, 2009 at 5:17 am | Permalink

    I really have sympathy for Mums! I know I have driven mine to tipping point on more than a few occasions.

    And CeeCee, I agree. That is probably the most rational tactic!

  9. Posted April 26, 2009 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    Not sure about other countries, but in Australia if both children had been 12 years or older I don’t think any charges could be made over this simple act, since 12 years is the age at which parents are legally permitted to leave a child on their own.

    Had this happened in Oz, I assume any such charge could only be made in relation to the 10 year old, and even then it might be a stretch, since the 10 year old was left in the company of the older sibling.

    I think this is an awful waste of police and court resources. Better parents have done far worse things. The lady is no doubt a normal and loving parent and her spawn are no doubt normal and exasperating children.

    If only the police and the public showed such concern for children who are abused and are in danger.

  10. Posted April 28, 2009 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    Lilacsgil, you think dumping them in a city is the worst? My BIL’s mum dumped him and his brother by the side of the road just as the woman in the original story did.
    They hid in some long grass and freaked her right out when she returned for them. Little buggers.

  11. Posted April 28, 2009 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

    Where is Maxwell Smart’s “Cone of Silence” when you need it?

    Mind you, the distraction for driving can be considerable, and perhaps the responsible thing is to simply stop and say “I cannot drive safely with that level of noise, so just like I have to stop driving to listen to a mobile phone, I’ll have to stop here”, but perhaps that only works when the kids have the “are we there yet” drive working in your favor.

    I had to stop driving when my daughter was very young, and then driving usually calmed her down (or even… off to sleep …. yippee!). Glad I missed out on this problem.

  12. Posted April 28, 2009 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

    Oh… and this from xkcd is one approach to the screaming kids problem.

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