A spate of recent tragedies has overwhelmed the average parent in Israel with a mixture of anguish and anger. The briefest of mistakes, so easy to make, but with calamitous results, has happened to not one, not two but three grief-stricken families when a child was inadvertently forgotten in the car. The visceral reactions of parents in Israel and around the world has spawned furious talkbacks and articles; people who cannot forgive those parents who have made this fatal error, and those who can empathize. As if those parents will ever forgive themselves… I am not so quick to indict; I understand too well…
I’ll never forget that one time that I took my daughter to a friend’s house, a few miles away. I did the drive countless times, but it is this one time that is seared into my memory.
It was nighttime, and my toddler son was still awake. I figured I would kill two birds with one stone by taking him along for the ride, since he would surely fall asleep in the car. I climbed into the car to strap him securely into his car seat. As we had a minivan at the time, we had his seat installed safely behind the driver, on the side of the minivan that didn’t have a door.
My daughter and I hopped into the front and we pulled away from the house. My son was asleep before we turned the first bend. The ten minute ride was just long enough to have a nice conversation with my daughter. I dropped her off, and put the music on louder, enjoying the tunes and my own thoughts of what I had yet to do that night, for the ten minute ride home.
Once I arrived, I went straight into the house, and got busy with cleaning up what was left from dinner. About a half hour later, I went to sit and relax for the first time that day. I mentally reviewed the whereabouts of my children, and my thoughts arrived at my precious toddler son. And I nearly stopped breathing. I immediately stood up, going over in a flash what happened when I returned home from taking my daughter. And I could not recall bringing my son in.
I ran outside like a bat out of hell, flying to the car, fumbling with the keys, not even able to see the car seat through the door, deep as it was inside the car. I wrenched open the car door, and with a visceral mixture of horror and joy discovered my beautiful, precious toddler, sleeping soundly as ever, not even remotely aware of his mother’s utter neglect and idiocy.
I scooped him out of his car seat and held him tight, breathing in his scent, kissing his head, and apologizing to him over, and over again, begging him to forgive me. He was oblivious to my pleas, and just continued snoozing soundly in my arms. I was wracked with guilt! Yet, he never held it against me…
How did this happen? I am a responsible, loving mother whose children mean more than life itself. I can list the excuses… it was late, he was so quiet, it was a time he would have been home in bed, I did not see him… but, even now as I read what I wrote, it falls flat and sounds ridiculous. And yet it happened. Thank goodness it was nighttime, so it wasn’t hot in the car. Thank G-d I remembered, suddenly, miraculously, a half hour later!
It is something that would NEVER happen to me. But it did. It can happen to anyone. But it shouldn’t. Get into the habit of checking the backseat of every car, whenever you exit. Take every precaution imaginable and then some. If, G-d forbid, it happens to anyone, do not judge. Believe me – they will be judging themselves, forever.