This is not easy for me to write but knowing I can help raise awareness, I know that I have to. This is also not easy for me to think about. I have never, ever, considered myself to be a perfect parent. I have made plenty of mistakes in my life to be well assured that I am fully capable of them. This well-intentioned imperfection is why I want to tell you my story.
Just a normally-abnormal day.
My older kids had jumped in the car with their aunt. She was in town visiting and they could not wait to ride with her. My toddler daughter was in the car with me. We pulled up to a family member’s house and parked across the street from each other. The kids and their aunt were jamming to music and dancing in the car. It was such a fun moment that I wanted to catch it on video so I turned my car off and jumped out to do so. It lasted about 30-45 seconds and then they all jumped out too. I ran over to make sure my kids didn’t run into the street in the midst of all their excitement. Once they were safe, we all ran inside. Just like that. Three adults, several kids. We all ran inside. My daughter, not yet two, was still in her rear-facing carseat, patiently waiting for me to take her out.
Not just plans. Divine Plans.
Once inside, we stood around for about five minutes talking about our next plans. Somewhere in those plans, by the hand of Grace, it was determined that i needed to run home. I grabbed my keys and headed to the car. When I got there, and this is the worst part of the story for me, only then did I realize my daughter was still inside. I threw the door open and jumped inside screaming through tears and grabbing her. She was crying too, but mostly because she was mad at me. I sat there holding her and sobbing. After some time, I pulled myself together, made the quick trip home and went back to join the family. When I walked inside, the first person I saw was my sister-in-law. I burst into tears and told her everything that happened. She understood the horror of it all, but she listened well, let me cry, and sat with me while I tried to recover.
She told me that day, “I wondered where she was, but I figured she was somewhere else in the house” and I have to imagine that could have been everyone’s thought. The truth is, I could comfort myself all day by noting that it was only May. It could have been even hotter. I could tell myself all day it was only about five minutes, surely someone would have noticed very quickly. I could assure myself that I would have noticed. But the most terrifying part of the whole story is that I didn’t notice. I only walked to the car because I needed to run home. So rather than comfort myself, all I can think is –
HOW LONG WOULD IT HAVE TAKEN FOR SOMEONE TO NOTICE?????
I can tell myself that all of these things make it ok. They make it “just a close call.” And we have close calls everyday, right? But my friends, this day haunts me. I do not buy into the idea that a good parent does not make dangerous or deadly mistakes. I buy into the idea that we do our very best. But the only thing we are perfect at is being human and humans make mistakes. One well intentioned but distracted moment could have changed my life forever. I was capable of mistakes before that day and I am capable today and tomorrow. So the only thing I know to do is listen to the inner voice that tells me when I should count my children, check on them, say a prayer for them …
So how do I prevent? I take a deep breath every time I think of this story. It terrifies me still how dangerous it was. It terrifies me how many people who love her – are OBSESSED with her- didn’t notice in that five minutes that she was missing. So first, I do everything I had already been doing. I teach my children how to get out of a car in an emergency. I teach them how to unlock doors, honk the horn, bang on windows and scream for help. I teach them to look out for each other. I call people who are transporting her for any reason and ensure they got her where they were going. Just like all the statistics claim, these things happen when the daily routine is distracted. I am keenly aware of distractions in our routine now and make an extra phone call or take an extra glance in the back seat.
Another thing I do, every day of my life as hard rule, when I strap her in the car seat I leave my keys in the back seat. I have to retrieve my keys to lock the car, to get in my house, to continue the routine … Everyday, I show her I love her by leaving my keys in the backseat. Every person has to decide what works for them, but in my car, my keys are the key to always remembering her.
Lastly, I write this. I already know what you’re thinking. Some of you are thinking, “yeah right, I could NEVER forget my child ANYWHERE. This lady is just too busy or distracted or has too many kids or not enough caution, etc., etc. … “ And let’s be honest, it will hurt my feelings a little. It will sting and I will want to defend how incredibly cautious and diligent I truly am. Not only as a parent, but as a person in general. It will hurt, but I will be ok, because the good thing is you cannot tell me anything I haven’t already told myself. I have already doubted every bit of my parenting and questioned every way that I could be different so that this never happens again.
But then there are those of you who will realize this really can happen to anyone. For those I will breathe a sigh of relief. At the end of the day, I write this for both of you. I can write this because I have processed, healed and forgiven myself for this mistake. I am more aware, even more than I was before, and I cannot fail to give you one more story, one more example, one more reminder, that this can happen. It does happen. And for me, it did happen.