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Mom Who Left Her Toddler Outside Restaurant Speaks Out

by Angelica Lai

Photograph by Twenty20

A case from 20 years ago is once again sparking an international debate about parenting styles and child safety.

In May 1997, then-30-year-old Anette Sørensen was grabbing a drink with then-49-year-old Exavier Wardlaw at the Dallas BBQ Restaurant in New York City. Sørensen had flown in from Copenhagen, Denmark, to introduce her 14-month-old to Wardlaw, the toddler's Brooklyn-based dad.

The Danish mom left her daughter, Liv, in a stroller outside the restaurant, while they chatted for about an hour. She said it was a common practice in Denmark, where parents might leave their babies bundled up and snoozing in strollers on sidewalks while they popped in for a quick bite or while they shopped. But she didn't realize it would cause such outrage in the U.S.

Sørensen told the New York Post that she was sitting by the window and watching Liv, who was covered with a blanket and sleeping calmly until someone called 911 and the cops showed up.

Diners and servers at the restaurant, though, had a different story, saying that the couple had ignored employees' request to bring the child inside. Two passersby also noticed the unattended toddler crying and approached the parents, who weren't willing to bring Liv inside. So one of the passersby called the police.

The parents were arrested on child-endangerment charges, which were eventually dropped. Sørensen said she spent 36 hours in jail and was separated from her daughter, who was taken by child welfare authorities and placed in foster care, for four days.

"I personally don't think there was any kind of criminal problem," Wardlaw's lawyer, David Kirsch, told the New York Times in 1997. "The police could have easily said, 'Why don't you take the child inside?'"

The outraged mom also filed a $20 million lawsuit against the city, claiming that the police officers had falsely arrested her. A federal jury rejected her claim in 1999 but did award her $66,000 in compensatory and punitive damages, including the police's failure to advise arrested foreigners of their right to assistance from their consulate.

Sørensen wrote about the case in her Danish novel, "A Worm in the Apple: The Pramcase of New York," and is now hoping to translate it to English through a Kickstarter campaign.

"We hope that an English edition of the novel will restart the debate on the novel’s themes, particularly the debate about trust versus fear, which is so deeply rooted in our cultural heritage," the site reads, "With an English translation ... we can reach out to a larger audience, to the readership in the country where the story actually took place."

The book cover is designed by Liv, who's now a 21-year-old studying design in Copenhagen.

Recently, parents in the U.S. have been put on blast for leaving their baby at the table while they grabbed food at a buffet, letting kids playing at parks near their homes alone, or having their babies sleep alone in hotel rooms.

Sorensen, who now lives in Hamburg, Germany, still defends her parenting approach and thinks her experience is even more relevant today.

“I always had a big longing for an apology,” the mom said in the Kickstarter video. “I probably never will get this apology.”

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