With the beginning of summer and the heat it brings I am reading a fresh round of articles about the accidental deaths of children left forgotten in a car. It is often a combination of a parent or other caretaker running on autopilot and not recognizing a change in their daily routine and forging forward in the rote existence of our overbooked and over-distracted lives.
How can someone forget they left a baby in a car? We, as a population, are just too damned busy. That’s how. I know. I’ve done it. My experience is no different than anyone else who has found themselves overwhelmed and distracted with the stuff life throws at us.
For me it was one morning during a completely overwhelming time in my life. I was entrusted custody of my 5 month old grandson who was recovering from physical abuse by his biological father. My daughter, the baby’s mom, was not allowed to be alone with her baby, while she got counseling and her head on straight. I had just recently started a new job. MY kid couldn’t be alone with HER kid and I had to take care of BOTH of them - Mom, Grandmom, chief, cook and bottle washer, literally.
It was supposed to be ‘empty nest’ time. It was anything but empty with the steady stream of therapists, social workers and numerous doctor appointments.
On that day, I was just about to leave to go to work and drop off the baby to his new day care provider when my husband asked me to make an additional stop and pick up some building material he needed for a home repair he was doing on his day off from work. The baby was already loaded in his car seat, I was tired, irritated at the state of my current life situation, already late for work and not the least interested in dragging my morning on to do one more errand for anyone, but I did. I was so distracted and angry at the imposition of running the errand I drove directly to the store for my husband’s request, instead of going to daycare first to drop off the baby.
As I was about to slam my car door the baby made a noise.
I forgot he was in the car.
I forgot to drop him off first, at daycare.
My first reaction was shock and panic. I felt like I was going to throw up.
Suppose he didn’t make that noise? It was July, early in the morning and warm but not too hot yet. But nonetheless, what would have happened had I been stuck in the store for an hour? I gathered him up, finished my errand and took him to daycare. Instead of going to work I went home. I did throw up and cried for most of the day. All I kept saying was I now know how people leave kids in cars by accident.
We are just too damned busy.
I was fortunate. That baby let me know he was still with me. I can honestly say that if I had returned to the car and found that I left him there, especially with what he had already suffered in his short life, I would have lost my mind. It didn’t matter that he had come to no further harm. I left a baby in a car and didn’t realize it. Me, a seasoned mom, a ‘veteran’ mommy, his grandmother, forgot that a baby was in the car.
I cannot say it enough. We are just too damned busy trying to cram errands and tasks into an unreasonable short block of time.
Even these years later I see it in parents today. There’s a constant mantra of things ‘to do’; “I have go here, I have to go there. I have to do this, I have to do that. I have to...”. Our lives have become driven by filling the day with tasks and events with not a moment wasted until we fall into bed. It’s exhausting and not natural.
My heart breaks every time I hear of another tragedy of a child dying after accidentally being left forgotten in a car. The loss must be compounded with an eternal burden of guilt and relentless imagining “what if” and “If only I’d…”
While I was genuinely overwhelmed at that time, my own life felt like it was spinning out of control, I put a child in jeopardy because I was having a hissy fit.
I was blessed that my guardian angel tapped me on my shoulder and said, “while you’re having that hissy fit, you forgot something in the car.”
How can someone forget and leave a baby in a car? Unfortunately, I understand.