In 24 hours, two children have been forgotten in two parked cars in the sweltering heat. In 24 hours, two children have baked to death.
The comments on Facebook reflect horror and shock:
What kind of parent leaves their kid in a car and forgets about them?
Let me tell you: Any kind of parent can forget their kid in a car.
And THIS parent almost did.
My son was ten days old, my daughter 18 months, and not even shooting espresso straight into my veins could lift the fog that lay over my brain like a cozy, soft blanket.
I was exhausted, like body slammed against the wall exhausted. I had tumbled headfirst into some sort of upside down universe where midnight was the new morning, where my son slept only in my arms and only when I bounced around mumbling a vaguely sanitized version of Snoop Dogg’s Lodi Dodi.
And my daughter was 18 months, and still breastfeeding along side her newborn brother — (people, it was a National Geographic nightmare) — and coping the way most 18 month olds cope when change is thrust on them:
She wasn’t sleeping, either.
I remember we got back from Coffee Bean, I had to pee, my daughter was crying, my cell phone was ringing, Howard Stern was bleeping his way through a monologue on the radio, and I forgot my son.
It was so easy not to remember the sleeping baby tucked in his rear-facing car seat. It was so easy not to remember that there wasn’t just a wriggling, writhing toddler in the car crying to be fed. It was so easy not to remember to check twice and lift my son from his car seat before locking up and walking into the house. If it weren’t for my breasts, heavy with milk, and prickling with the fire-ant crawl of the letdown reflex, I don’t know if I would have remembered the baby I had met only ten days before.
“There but for the Grace of God go I,” I said out loud when I remembered. “There but for the Grace of God go I,” I said out loud when I lifted my sleeping son from his car seat. “There but for the Grace of God go I,” I said out loud when he stirred against my shoulder, his tiny head nuzzled into my neck.
Let me tell you something: I am not a perfect mother, but dammit, I do my best. I love my kids. I love them with a ferocity that frightens me, and from the moment I found out I was pregnant with my firstborn, I have understood that being pregnant and giving birth to healthy babies is a blessing, and not something to be taken for granted. Ever.
And for the poor parents who forgot their babies for too long, and lost their babies, and who will never ever in a million years ever forgive themselves for what happened, they almost certainly tried their best, too.
But how easy it is to forget: All it takes is a sleepless night, or a change in the routine like Winter vacation or Summer break to throw everything into relief. All it takes is a ringing phone, and an angry boss yelling on the other line, or a friend in crisis who needs your help, or a mandatory work meeting, or a last minute errand. All it takes is autopilot taking over, when you drive through that brain fog from point A to point B and aren’t quite sure how you got there.
How many of us have done that?
We all have.
So how do we make sure this doesn’t happen?
After almost leaving my son in the car, I came up with the following solutions that would help me remember to never forget:
1. Put your purse or wallet and phone in the backseat: Because we always check for our phones when we finish driving. We always put our keys in our purse. We always make sure we have our wallets. And even though our children are infinitely more important than these items, when our routine is disrupted, we are less likely to forget the things we have trained ourselves to take for work, or to the grocery store.
2. Talk to your kid: When you’re tired, keep up a patter with the person in the backseat even if he or she is 10 days old and sound asleep. That way, you are sure to remember the little person tucked into the back seat.
3. Check yourself: Set an alarm on your phone with a reminder, or schedule a daily email blast.
4. Safety in numbers: Set up a system where you and a family member check in to confirm that all kids are present and accounted for at daycare, school, camp, wherever.
5. Strip. Seriously: If it’s winter, leave your jacket in the back. If it’s summer, leave a shoe. You won’t get far in the middle of December without your coat, and chances are you’ll take about step and a half with one shoe missing before you realize what you’ve done.
Please. Do something to remind yourself to never forget your children. We all think we’re not “that kind of parent.” We all think we have our $hit together. We all think we don’t need to remember not to forget our children in the back seat, because who would do that?
But I’ll bet you everything I own that the parents who did forget their children probably thought the same thing.