In 2011, you were arrested after a stranger called the police when you left your son, then 4, in the car while you ran an errand. How did that influence your new book, Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fear [August 21, Flatiron Books]?
As soon as the case was resolved, I started work on an essay [for Salon]. Other women reached out, saying the same thing happened to them, and they wondered why couldn’t they take their eyes off their kids for a few minutes. I realized there was a bigger story here.
What do you think is at the root of this “age of fear”?
What we’re really doing is shaming women. In so many places, there aren’t specific laws addressing [endangerment], so a lot is left up to the discretion of the police. That allows for bias. A few months after my incident, I came across a case in the same town with an African American mom who ran into a gas station. She was charged with a felony. I was charged with a misdemeanor for basically the same thing.
Do dads get this heat?
I consider myself a B-minus mom. I think I would be considered an A-plus dad. A woman I interviewed who was almost arrested [for leaving her child alone] — her husband did exactly the same thing. The police said, “Just don’t do it again — we know how it is.” It’s a bullshit double standard.
What kind of women are your mom friends?
A lot of my friends aren’t parents. I find this culture of all-consuming motherhood so oppressive. Not that I don’t like to talk about my kids, but if I’m socializing, I don’t want to talk about Montessori versus Waldorf.
How do you parent today?
I’m friends with [Free-Range Kids author] Lenore Skenazy; I lean in that direction. My son [now 10] will take the bus by himself. He’s a special case because he has a better sense of direction than I do. I know people who’d say, “That’s crazy.” He loves it.