Last Saturday morning, around 9am, when the sun had not properly risen, a Porirua mum went supermarket shopping. We do not know her age, her ethnicity, her marital status (if any), or her disposition.
All of New Zealand, and most of the Western world, knows what happened next.
Her baby was fast asleep in his carry cot. She had a choice: take the child inside with her or leave it resting in its cot. She did what tens of thousands of Kiwi parents do every year - she decided to let sleeping children lie.
But it was not a choice that wholly satisfied. So she scribbled a quick, legible note in large handwriting and placed it carefully at the bottom of the carry cot. It said that Mum was inside the supermarket and if there was an emergency, please call her cellphone number.
Minutes later, a passerby noticed both child and note. Their first thought, incredibly, was to take a photograph of the said child - and then contact the Dominion-Post, express their outrage, and send them the photo. In so doing, they entered a hell from which there can never be escape.
Did he contact the police? No.
Did he contact Child Youth and Family? No.
Did he phone the woman? No.
Instead he decided to play Prat of the Year.
Despite the best efforts of the media to perpetrate a beatup regarding the anonymous mum, my sympathies and support is entirely with her. She did no wrong. Because parenting - real parenting - is not a perfect art. There is no manual, there is no best practice, there is no getting it right all the time.
There is sleep deprivation, there is "God, I hope this works", there is frustration, there is anxiety and there is making it up as you go.
The truth is that parenting is the most complex, uneducated, irrational thing that I, or anyone else, has ever done.
And there are moments - and I've had plenty myself as a single dad - where I go . . . stuff what this looks like, this is my solution for now. And it usually works, as it did for that Porirua mother last Saturday.
I know especially what it's like because I remember what it's like to have a baby that won't sleep and that won't let you sleep. I remember the irritation and the occasional anger, too. I remember the finding-anything-that-works mentality - including getting in a car at 2am and using the rhythm of the journey to put them to sleep. I remember sometimes not taking my children out of the car for fear of waking them or deliberately choosing to let them sleep because that was their most urgent need.
The prat who took the photo, contacted the media and ignited international condemnation knows none of this. I suspect he never parented any child, even if he had them.
And to the tut-tut Plunket Society and all the other perfect people who condemned - verily, I say this unto you, I would love to let loose the same media scrutiny on you.
And when there is real child abuse - indeed it is our national stain and shame - and real negligence and neglect of our Kiwi kids, this just doesn't rate on any scale. Get a life.
- © Fairfax NZ News