Imagine this: You’re walking along the lower East Village in New York City on a Friday night and you come upon a baby crying alone in a stroller outside the Dallas BBQ restaurant at 132 Second Avenue. What would you do? Call 911? Flag down a cop? Go into the restaurant and search for the parents?

Last Friday just such an incredible scenario happened in real life, in real time. Two friendly passerbys did all the above mentioned actions in an attempt to reunite the crying baby with her parents. Incredibly, the parents were inside the restaurant having dinner and aware of the plight of their baby. In fact, the parents had purposefully left their baby alone on the sidewalk while they ate.

When Parents Won’t Parent
The parents refused to leave their seats to bring their baby inside the restaurant to sit with them even though the wait staff tried to convince the couple to bring the baby inside in exchange for a bigger table and a place to put the stroller. The parents declined. One passersby called 911 and the NYPD arrested the couple for “endangering the welfare of a child.” The baby was immediately placed in foster care by the city’s Administration for Children’s Services.

The Excuse
What did the parents claim as their reason for leaving their baby unattended outside the restaurant? “Cultural differences.” The mother, a 30 year old actress from Copenhagen, said that in Denmark — where she was born — leaving children alone unattended in the street while the parents dine inside a restaurant is the norm. She was utterly astonished at the rabble caused by her actions last Friday evening. She claims it was a cultural faux pas, not a crime. I claim that the woman isn’t fit to be a parent if she doesn’t know the difference between Copenhagen and New York City.

Culture Clash?
The “culture clash” faux pas defense to the parent’s actions don’t wash because the 49 year old Brooklyn born father knew better. He also works for the Walt Disney company as a production assistant – an irony so rich as to make the mind race with pity and terror.

When Strangers Give a Damn
New York City can be a cold and unwelcoming place. Luckily, the folks who initially saw the crying child knew this, and they stepped into the cool void to become a warm and friendly face in a city of strangers for the distressed baby. When total strangers care more for a crying child than its parents do, that is more than a simple culture clash — it’s the definition of cruelty, abandonment and bad parenting.

Baby and the Bath Water?
The 14-month old girl was returned to her mother a few days later, but the story isn’t over. The mother ran to the Danish embassy in New York City to seek legal help in explaining her point-of-view. In the meantime, Children’s Services will make regular visits to the baby’s home to ensure she is getting proper care. There will also be a court hearing to determine the extent of the charges against the parents.

Lesson Learned
The lesson to be learned in this issue of the abandoned BBQ baby is this: We can’t use cultural differences to excuse social deviance. Leaving a baby unsupervised and unattended outside a restaurant while its parents dine inside is inexcusable in any language. Excusing the behavior “because the Danes do it” is no more a convincing argument than “I jumped off a bridge because Jimmy did it.”

Bringing it Home
New York City is a dangerous place, and instead of condemning the friendly folks who called 911 on behalf of the baby, the parents should be thanking them for taking a universal interest in the welfare of what appeared to be a discarded or misplaced child. The parent’s claim that “they were watching” their baby “from the window of the restaurant” doesn’t wash either, because one quick move by a kidnapper and that baby would be gone in the mist forever. Once these parents take responsibility for their actions and the ramifications of their acts upon their daughter, the sooner we all can get on with the daily business of living caring lives while looking out for each other as best we can.

It is in all our best interests to take an active interest in the lonely wails of every baby crying lonesome in the streets.