It’s true. Six years ago, as new parents, my baby daughter was accidentally left in the car. And I am bravely coming out to speak about it, publicly, so that I might inspire some awareness and compassion. So now that I have your attention, I kindly ask that you put down your pitchfork, and promise not to hunt down and share my license plate information for the use of future shaming.
It’s important that I preface my incident with a little about my husband and me. We are college educated, hardworking, responsible people. And we love our children. We are as obsessed with their safety as any other parents. My neurosis extends as far as my children using organic mattresses and 100% cotton sleepwear, to prevent their exposure to flame retardants and off-gassing (yes, seriously). The point I am making is, we are far from negligent. We are, however, human. And we make mistakes.
In November of 2011, we happily welcomed our firstborn, and after 12 weeks of maternity leave, I returned to work outside the home in a full-time capacity. By the end of February, we were in as much of a groove as you can expect of a young family stumbling toward their new normal. My husband, an Army Airborne Combat Veteran, was attending classes at UCF later in life (as most who dedicate their youth to service) and was also working full time – leaving me to handle the logistics of getting our daughter to and from my Mother in Law’s house for childcare.
For whatever reason – I can’t even recall years later, I was unable to handle the morning drop off. We flipped our routine accordingly, and my husband was to be leaving early to drop our little one before his 8:30 AM class. The morning was business as usual, and after nursing her one last time, we parted ways, and my husband embarked on his commute. A commute which our daughter quickly fell asleep.
Operating on autopilot, he pulled into UCF, parked, and began his trek across campus toward his class. All the while our daughter slept silently in the backseat. Just before entering the lecture and getting settled he remembered. You can call it luck, instinct, or fairy dust, but I call it God’s grace. Not only had he remembered before too much time had passed, but it was also a cold 45 degrees out, as we were experiencing our last cold snap.
Thankfully, our story has a happy ending. However, it’s never far from my mind just how very different our outcome could’ve been. We just closed out February, and it’s warm folks! I have been thinking about our close call more than usual lately, and heartbreaking reports of hot car incidents are already popping up. I share this with you for a couple of reasons.
First, to inspire compassion. You guys, the last thing that someone who has made this mistake needs is your judgment. I’ve read the threads. “Not fit to be a parent,” “Monsters,” “If you need a reminder you shouldn’t be a parent,” “we should mass sterilize people who do this,” to things so nasty and hateful that I am not allowed to write them here on Orlando Moms Blog. Yes, it is gut-wrenching, as most accidents involving children are. And if anyone feels that pang more than another, it’s the parent and family of these accidents. They will carry it with them the rest of their life, and nothing you could say will change that.
Secondly, to share a few tips that we use in our family to prevent anything like this happening again:
1. Place keep an item that you need in the backseat. Purses, shoes, cell phones, keys, etc.
2. Keep an item of the baby’s in the front seat – a toy, article of clothing, bottle, etc. The item will help jog your memory that they are back there.
3. Be vigilant. If you know someone other than yourself will be transporting your children, check-in. It is as simple as a phone call, around the estimated arrival time, “Just checking in, did drop off go OK?”. Furthermore, you can have a system with care providers and have them call you if you don’t arrive on time to drop the child off.
4. Keep the car seat in the middle position, so it’s more visible vs. behind the driver seat.
5. Look before you lock. Get into the habit of always looking in the back seat before you lock.
Lastly, talk about hot car deaths in your family, and anyone who might ever transport your child. We need to be talking about this and creating support systems, not judgment.