Every summer, we hear the heart-wrenching stories on the news about another child left to die in a hot car. A small percentage happen out of malice, but I am here to talk about the true accidents. According to KidsAndCars.org, more than 1,000 children have died in hot cars in the U.S. since 1990. That’s an average of 38 kids every year; one every nine days. Before I became a mom and even when I had my first child I thought, ‘How is it possible for someone to forget their baby in the car? Even if they’re asleep or quiet, aren’t they constantly thinking about their kid anyways? Aren’t they going somewhere with or for that kid? How could anyone forget?!’
That was my mindset…until I forgot.
As summertime approaches and temperatures rise, I thought it would be a good time to tell my story as a reminder and cautionary tale to us parents about how easy it is to make life-altering mistakes, along with some prevention tips.
A few weeks after my second child was born, once I was able to start lifting and driving again, I resumed my job of taking my other kid to/from Mother’s Day Out. It was nearing 1pm when school was dismissing. I loaded up the baby in the carseat, let the dog take a ride with us (which was a rare occurrence) and headed to the daycare a mere five minutes from my house. After parking, I guess my mind switched to pre-baby habits and I hopped out, went inside and stood in line to check out my kid. It was when I got to the front of the line to sign out that it dawned on me that I had left my baby in the car.
A lot of things were in my favor that day, which resulted in my life continuing as planned:
- It was a quick stop.
- The rear window was cracked open for the dog.
- It was not sweltering hot yet (March or April in the South).
- Many people leave their “extra” kids in the car at daycare pickups/drop-offs (I was just never one of them).
- I actually remembered on my own shortly after leaving the car.
While my story was uneventful and no harm was done, what bothered me the most was that I completely forgot my new baby existed for those five minutes. I knew my dog was in there, but I think adding the unusual responsibility of him in the car affected my newer priorities. When my tired mind decided to remind me of my newest addition, my body jolted from the realization that I forgot. I hurriedly grabbed my preschooler and darted out to find my one-month-old warm, but peacefully sleeping as my dog looked on from the back of the SUV. That was the last time I brought our dog along until my kids got older.
Now when I see news stories of children dying in hot cars and it’s clear it was an accident, I truly feel for those parents and understand how easily it can happen. Our baby was a new addition to our life we weren’t used to having, I was not yet used to carrying a carseat in with me to get my other kid, I changed the normal daycare steps by adding a dog and I’m sure I was sleep-deprived. That one time of forgetting was the wake-up call I needed to never let it happen again.
There are many things you can do to help you remember there’s a child in the car. It seems impossible to forget until you do. If you are a new parent to your first child or your sixth, your mind is in a hundred places at all times.