To My Dear Sons:
This is a sad post, but timely. First, because it is during the Three Weeks, a time when Jews traditionally focus on the loss of our Holy Temple, and how that terrible event has precipitated every tragedy since then. Second, because the tragic losses of children due to moments of carelessness have been in the news here in Israel lately (a swimming pool drowning; a fall from a height; a baby forgotten in a car seat). Perhaps because we are a small country, perhaps because the majority of us see each other as family, each such death hits us very, very hard.
Of course, the shocking tragedy of a child with unguarded access to a backyard swimming pool or being forgotten in a car seat elicits comment. A frequent comment I read is “How could they forget their baby like that? What kind of people do that?”
I’ll tell you what kind of people: People just like me, just like you.
Years ago, there was a similar tragedy on a military post at which we were stationed. A young mother went into her twin babies’ bedroom one bright, sunny morning to find that one of the twins had somehow tangled the Venetian blind cord around its neck in the night…
When we heard the story the next day at a scheduled women’s tea, not one woman said anything against that mother. We all became very introspective… and went home and cut off all of the cords on our Venetian blinds. Every mother realized she had never before seen that cord as a threat, and that she had somehow “missed the bullet” that had struck her hapless neighbor. (Today, Venetian blinds are opened and closed with the aid of a long plastic stick, an alteration that has probably saved countless lives.)
If we set aside our horror and our unfortunate tendency to judge in order to distance ourselves from the “bad parent,” we can see how indeed such a thing could happen. He thought she took the baby in to the caregiver, she thought he did; she rarely takes the baby to the store with her, and when he fell asleep and was quiet, she simply forgot she had him with her; everybody thought the baby was with grandma… It’s not so hard to remember times in our parental histories when we, too, just missed the bullet. And if you are too young a parent to have such stories, give yourself time. No one is “on the job” 100% of the time, no matter how precious your child is to you.
I am absolutely certain that most of the parents who find themselves in the hollow pit of such a tragedy are normal, loving parents, whose lives have been utterly crushed by one fateful and tragic error. If only cars came with a device — much like the “idiot bell” when the car door is left open, or the automatic shut-off for forgotten car lights — that would tell us when there is still weight in the car seat!
My favorite comment during this very painful time was a recommendation to place one’s purse and cell phone near the car seat. Not, G-d forbid, because people love their phones and their money more than their babies. (Yes, I read that snarky assumption, too.) But because we are conditioned to reach for those items before we go into the store, or before we return to the house.
If such a simple act can save the life of your child, my grandchild, I hope you and I will incorporate it into our habits.
Along with the strong commitment not to be the ones to judge, lest we give the world reason, G-d forbid, to judge us.
May we be blessed to see our children grow up in good health and safety, and to meet the children of their children.