It’s happening again. Last week – it happened two times in the DC area within days. Last month, 7 kids died in 4 different states within two weeks. It’s a totally preventable, horrific and unnecessary death when parents or caregivers forget a child is in the backseat of a car and the child dies after being left in the heat in a car. It happens every single year, unfortunately.
Several years ago, Gene Weingarten wrote a chilling and incredibly thorough piece on this issue of Kids and Cars in the Washington Post magazine. If you didn’t read it then, I’d encourage you to read it now.
It is a long read and it is a really difficult read. I distinctly remember it took me almost a week because I had to break it up into sections. What he does very well is examine all sides of the issue – in particular the perspective that is so difficult for many of us to accept – HOW CAN THIS BE? Look, if you read my below piece that I wrote back in July 2011, you’ll realize very quickly that I am incredibly firm in my belief that it is neglect on the part of whomever has left this child in the car. Despite those feelings, it’s still important to get a perspective on how the brain functions, how it actually is possible to forget a child. Weingarten’s piece will give you that perspective. The psychologist he interviews pointedly notes that if you’re capable of forgetting your cell phone, you’re capable of forgetting your child.
After re-reading that portion of the interview, I couldn’t help but wonder, if that same sound bite would prove true today. Back in 2009, we weren’t as addicted to our phones as we are now — they weren’t quite so smart — so is it still true?
The other perspective you’ll get from reading the piece is the horrific way a child dies when they are left inside a hot vehicle. One child pulled all her hair out in that process.
That is what I think about when I’m criticized for being judgmental of the parents who forget their kids in the back of the car. How about the kid?
Yet a few months ago, my husband came home one day and said to me “Now I think I can see how someone could forget their kid in the backseat of the car.”
Our youngest had taken to falling asleep in the car, something neither of our kids had really ever done before and we’d moved her up to a booster seat from her convertible car seat. In our Jeep, the way the seats are and the height of the new bigger kid car seat, suddenly it meant that unless you turned the rear view mirror down to deliberately see her – you could no longer see her when looking in that mirror. In that moment – I knew he was right – for the first time – I could actually realize with my own two eyes how something this horrific could happen.
Even so, I still firmly believe it’s neglect and it’s a crime.
Want to know what else I think? I think that every time a child dies from being left in a hot car, every single one of us needs to slow down and take stock of our own lives. Parsing out the instances where it was a parent deliberately leaving the child, each case shares one common trait – a change in routine, a busy hectic schedule, a tired parent, pulled in too many directions: a recipe for disaster.
No matter your feelings, no matter where you fall on the spectrum of blame, anger and neglect – we all need to slow down and think about it for a few minutes.
If you want to read more – I’m including the piece I posted back in July 2011 when this was a hot topic in the DC area because of the Virginia mother who left her child in the car. If you read all the way to the end, you’ll appreciate the reminder that it was written a few years ago because I toss in a Casey Anthony reference. Forget about her?
Every summer stories break that a parent changes his or her routine, forgets to take the child to daycare, instead goes to work and leaves their own child unattended in a hot scorching car for 7 or 8 hours, only to ultimately find the child dead at the end of the work day. It’s a horrible story. It’s a story that no one is comfortable with. But what shocks me every time is how forgiving the public is of these parents who fail to remember their own kid in the back seat of a car all day long.
In Sunday’s Washington Post there was an oped written by Molly Roberts on the recent case of the veterinarian from Virginia who left her child unattended for 7 hours last month and the child died. Sunday’s piece, “A Baby is dead. Was it a crime?”, initially infuriated me. Roberts clearly is very uncomfortable with accusing a seemingly loving mother, a smart educated mother, a mother who is maybe – on paper – like Roberts: smart, focused, driven, successful. Roberts, in her piece, is unwilling to admit that this mother is guilty of neglect even though she concedes it is neglectful to forget a child in a car because we can’t prove that this woman INTENDED to neglect her child.
Ok – so along the path of keeping our children safe – we’re supposed to look kindly on neglect cases where the parent didn’t actually MEAN to inflict any harm on the child. And in this case, the ultimate worst kind of harm, the death of a child. What does the child say about this? How do we protect the innocent if we allow for neglect when it wasn’t intended?
I think what this story, and the shockingly endless stories like this, is really about is this: we can RELATE to this form of neglect. We are all running around, harried, stretched too thin, with schedules too busy and jam-packed. Our minds are racing, our brains overcrowded with to-do lists and deadlines. We can RELATE to how easy it might be to change-up our schedule and forget something, even something as beloved as our child.
So we don’t feel comfortable prosecuting these grieving parents. We can’t relate to drug-addicted moms who didn’t mean to leave their pipes lying around for the kid to pick up and use. We can’t relate to parents who drive drunk with their kids in the back of the car. We can’t relate to parents who leave loaded guns in their homes and the child finds it and uses it. But we CAN relate to busy, over-worked and stressed out parents. So we don’t want to hold them accountable in the court system because it hits close to home.
I’ll be honest: I don’t relate to it and I find it neglectful. I think they should be prosecuted, no matter the profound level of pain and trauma they feel for their horrible mistake. Am I a perfect parent who never makes mistakes? Of course not. But who goes 7 or 8 hours without thinking of their child? How is this possible? I don’t care how busy your day is and what life-saving miracles you might be performing at work – forgetting a child and leaving them to suffer a horrible experience in the back of a hot car is neglect.
Whether we are comfortable saying it, whether we can relate to how it could happen or not – if a child ends up dead – someone should be accountable for it. Unless, apparently, you live in the state of Florida and your name is Casey Anthony.
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