The Meitiv children outside the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. (Family Photo)
Columnist

The thing that struck me about the family photo of the so-called “free-range kids” was that one of the kids was leaning against an Alexander Calder statue outside the National Gallery of Art.

My mother always told me that you’re not supposed to touch works of art. To me, taking a photo of your kid touching the art implies that you’re somehow proud of that fact.

But I suppose that by pointing that out, I risk being seen as an uptight, smothering father, the kind who hovers around his children and tells them not to paw the masterpiece, not to speak during the concert, to sit still during the story time, to quit kicking their feet against the chair in front of them, to not play on the escalator. To some, that might make me a helicopter parent.

My kids are grown now, but I wasn’t a helicopter parent. Nor was I an attachment parent, a parenting school that I had never heard of until a friend told me he and his wife never left their kids with a babysitter. “We’re attachment parents,” he said.

We didn’t practice “family bed,” either.

In other words, My Lovely Wife and I never saw our parenting as a codified philosophy that required adherence to certain tenets. We never thought parenting required that our daughters carry a laminated card spelling out our manifesto, a card like the one the Meitiv children — ages 10 and age 6 — had forgotten to carry last month when they walked a mile home from a Silver Spring park. “I am not lost,” the card reads. “I am a free-range kid.”

A concerned citizen called the police, who picked the children up. That set in motion visits by Montgomery County Child Protective Services and has attracted exactly the sort of attention you’d expect — the sort of attention I suspect the Meitivs are delighted by, since it allows them to pontificate on their free-range, cage-free, organic child-rearing philosophy and makes anyone who disagrees with it look like a meanie.

The law in Maryland is that children younger than 8 must be left with a reliable person who is at least 13 years old. The law covers dwellings, enclosures and vehicles, so it’s unclear whether the Meitivs were violating it.

Personally, I think 10 is too young to be responsible for a 6-year-old as you both walk down a busy street like Georgia Avenue.

I feel for CPS. When they fail to take a kid from a parent and the parent ends up killing the kid, everyone leaps on CPS. Then when they respond to a concerned citizen who sees something worrying, everyone leaps on them for being too heavy-handed.

And about that concerned citizen: A common lament is that the village that it takes to raise a child is too busy these days. No one wants to get involved. Well, someone did. The authorities started the process of looking into it — which is exactly what they’re supposed to do — and now they’re getting grief.

Here’s the kind of concerned citizen I’m going to be: If I see a kid walk up to a Calder sculpture and put his hand against it, I’m going to say, “Hey, don’t do that,” whether his parents are there or not.

Twitter: @johnkelly

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.