I’ve been thinking about the concept of universal child care ever since a chance encounter with a mother I’ll refer to as Suzy and her youngster whom I’ll call Blake.
A quote from Sen. Elizabeth Warren lingers in my mind. “Not just the children of the wealthy, not just the children of the well-connected, but every one of our children is entitled to good child care,” she said. And now I wondered if Suzy, who to my knowledge had never in her life asked for a handout, saw it that way.
As I pulled out of our driveway headed to work I was startled to see Blake sitting by the side of the road. The baby had a delightful smile, big brown eyes, and an expression of complete trust. However, Blake was unable to speak.
Standing in the road, motioning at passing cars to slow down and steer clear, I wondered what to do. I phoned a local nonprofit. A kind woman asked if there was any sign of blood, which there was not. Then she made a remark that was surprisingly perceptive: “Does the baby by any chance have a brown coat with white spots?”
Well, yes! Apparently the authorities were aware of Blake’s situation.
The woman on the phone went on to say that this pattern is all too common. Busy mothers, with overwhelming burdens, often drop off their babies in a safe spot. Usually the youngster is too weak to keep up with the mother as she goes through her busy day. The mother will return at dusk to pick up the baby.
For the rest of the day my wife Amy kept an eye on Blake, who wisely moved onto the driveway closer to our house. At about 3:30, Amy texted a photo showing that Suzy had returned and all was apparently well. Still concerned, I rushed home.
Suzy was just leaving our driveway as I pulled in, with Blake now back on the side of the street, perilously close to passing cars. I found a few orange traffic cones and I placed them on the pavement in such a way that motorists would have to steer well to the left of the baby.
At 5:15 another mother, with two youngsters at her side, came up our street, apparently having finished their day’s chores. They looked at Blake but then scurried off. Where was Suzy?
By 7:30 I had completed preparations to bring Blake into our garage for the night. Just then, Suzy returned. Blake bounded over, seemed to kiss her face, and off they went.
I was briefly proud of myself for providing the care that a busy mother like Suzy clearly required. Then I realized it wasn’t me, it was nature - a system that values day care so much it ensures that many creatures are instinctively able to arrange it.
Clearly there’s more to this than I realized - for people as well as for the family of deer in my front yard.
Peter Funt is a writer and speaker.