Kids & Hot Cars

“Good mothers don’t do this,”  wept a mother during a police interview after she realized she’d left her daughter in a hot car for 8 hours one August. I saw her on Oprah this week.

Every summer we hear about parents who leave their kids in a hot car all day and they die from heat stroke.

Every summer I am riddled with questions and am mystified by this story. Having previously worked in the auto industry, it was also a heated topic of discussion at my office as these stories broke each summer. Everyone has really strong opinions on this one.

I am just confused. I find that the people who don’t yet have children seem to have really strong black & white convictions that this is an absurd and totally avoidable scenario and the guilty parent should be sent to jail for killing a child.

I definitely don’t see it that clearly but I’m not without judgment.  This spring the Washington Post had a really long Magazine story about this very issue, featuring several parents who had all suffered the loss of a young child at their own hands by leaving them in a hot car.  I cried several times while reading it.

For me, the most chilling point made in the piece was made by a shrink who said that if you have ever left your cell phone at home, then you are capable of leaving your child in a car. It’s how your mind works.

But here’s my first question – how do you go an entire work day without checking on your child? This is the part that I just can’t get past. I had a routine of checking in twice a day. Is that psycho? Is that too much? I have no idea. It’s what I did because I enjoyed hearing an update on DD1’s day, how her day was at school, whatever it was she was up too. Sometimes I missed a call from our nanny and wouldn’t return it until prior to leaving for the day, but the point is – I knew she was alive and kicking.

So here you go – this is the main question I have on this issue that I just cannot get past. How do you not check on your kids during the work day? I do not believe that anyone is too busy to do this. No one. Don’t kid yourselves into thinking your work is that important, right? Now would this avoid the death of a child? I’m not sure. Would they still be alive 4 hours into being left in a hot car? I have no idea. So is this a worthwhile question? Who knows. But this is my blog, so it’s my main question.

Moving on – what does this say about our society? At what point do we stop and take stock of our lives – not just the parents who have suffered this horrendous loss – but all of us – and really digest that this is happening? And repeatedly.  What does it say specifically about parenthood and how much parents are juggling that their mind can shut off and they can leave a beloved child in a car to die?  This scenario spreads across race and class lines – from pediatricians to electricians – moms and dads. At what point do we all stop with the madness and cut a few things out of our life to help avoid this scenario – to stop being stretched too thin?

I just can’t let it go. I don’t understand how you can forget your child is in your car. I feel like as a parent who has felt stretched far too thin, I can say this. Maybe my kids are just loud. But I just don’t get it. Yet it’s happening – so what do we need to change about our lives? Do people put unrealistic pressure on themselves to be this perfect parent? Because if that’s the case, then they’re idiots. Isn’t doing our best, enough? And just being satisfied with your best might help cut some things out? I just don’t know. I’m brainstorming here because the idea of a child suffering a horrible death in a hot car for 8 hours warrants some serious brainstorming.

And then what about the parent who did this? Do they deserve to go to jail? Again, I’ve heard many childless friends speak very clearly that they have killed a child and should pay their dues. I’d argue that having to live the rest of their life knowing what they’ve done is punishment enough. My mom also thinks they should go to jail and well, she has 4 kids. I just don’t know.  I definitely don’t see it clearly but like I said before, I am not able to suspend all of my judgment of these parents. I have issues with it.

It’s a horrible horrible reality. And it seems that if we all took a step back and really took stock of our whole lives, maybe there wouldn’t be this sensation of being stretched too thin. Maybe our best is good enough. Perfection is absurd. I definitely am sure on that one.

2 Responses to Kids & Hot Cars
  1. punditdad
    June 26, 2009 | 3:27 pm

    I read about the lady who left her kid in the car for 8 hours, she was so busy with her errands and work! I agree that people need to examine what is important in our lives and use that lady as an example. That lady is obviously in her own circle of hell so jail time where our taxes go to feed and house her seems largely unnecessary don’t you think?

    I view this as akin to drunk driving, making a deadly mistake because you didn’t think rationally about the situation and it caused deadly results.

  2. MrsinMay
    June 26, 2009 | 9:22 pm

    OK, I have to say- as someone who is not a mother but hopes to be someday, I am TERRIFIED of this! While I can be put together while traveling mulitple cities/countries with a high powered CEO, being steps a head every time, my dirty secret – or maybe obvious to many, is that I am EXTREMELY absentminded and that I had to work really hard to put those trips together and prepare myself and the trip for anything that can happen. But in everyday life, I have left my cell phone in every location possible (roof of car, dressing room, bathroom, pool, everywhere), I also spent half tween years as a latch key kid locking myself out of the house. I read these stories and 70% of the time my heart goes out thinking this was nothing more than someone being absentminded like me but then there is about 30% that makes me think pure negligence. Either way, scary stuff.

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