When my son was 8 weeks old, we drove to Texas from Virginia with everything we owned, a 4 year old niece and 3 animals to close on our house the day we arrived. After our exhausted journey from the closing to our hotel that day, we arrived to find our precious newborn had spent the 30 minute drive in his infant seat, UNBUCKLED.
We were… horrified… and full of guilt. It was a terrible mistake that, thankfully, ended well.
How could we forget something like this? What terrible parents we must be! The only ones in the entire world to ever let their child’s safety suffer due to our lack of concentration and vigilance.
But then my mom told me about that time she forgot my sister in the car while she went to grocery shop, and our friend told us about that time she drove all the way to work before she remembered her sleeping baby needed to be dropped off at daycare, and countless others let us in on their momentary lapses of parental focus and vigilance.
Did that make what we did okay? No. Did it make us feel more human? Yes.
I want you to know, I don’t judge you. You have 4 kids. You took them all with you. Maybe to give your wife a break. Maybe to get in some family bonding time. Maybe because you were solely responsible for them and had no choice. You took them ALL, even the 6 month old in her infant car seat, in to pick up the pizza. You were vigilant and thoughtful enough of a parent not to leave them in the car while you quickly ran in.
Why you accidentally left your baby in her car seat in the parking lot and drove off, only you know. But, I’m betting it had a lot more to do with stress you’re under, the noise and chaos of getting 3 other kids and pizza in your car so you could all get home in time for dinner, or exhaustion brought on by, well, parenting 4 kids than you being a negligent parent who should have your children taken away.
“Memory is a machine… and it is not flawless. Our conscious mind prioritizes things by importance, but on a cellular level, our memory does not. If you’re capable of forgetting your cellphone, you are potentially capable of forgetting your child.”
That’s a quote from David Diamond, professor of molecular physiology at the University of South Florida, a “memory expert.”
It’s taken from one of the most profound pieces of writing I’ve read as a parent- Fatal Distraction by Gene Weingarten. It won a Pulitzer Prize, and it is the heart-wrechingly awful account of parents who have forgotten their children… in their cars. Their endings were not happy.
It became clear to me after reading that that parents are not infallible, though, no doubt, many of us do everything in our power to be. Sure, there are parents who don’t try. There are parents who do more harm than good and don’t care.
But, I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt. The news said your family has no record of abuse, no reason to suspect neglect. Until someone proves that you were blatantly neglectful or high, I’m choosing to believe you’re one of the good ones.
Why did the 3 other kids not notice or say anything about the baby not being in the car? Why did nobody realize until you got home and your wife frantically phoned the pizza place?
Maybe they were busy playing their gaming devices. Maybe they were tired. Maybe they sat in the back of the car and took turns playing Punch Buggy. Maybe they were a handful at the pizza place and you told them you didn’t want to hear a single peep out of them the entire ride home… and they obeyed.
Who knows. That’s the point. Nobody knows what happened except you.
All I know is that this could have been me, or my husband, or so many other loving, caring, busy parents. It happens.
Does that make it okay? No. Are we human? Yes. It was a mistake.
And even if the unthinkable, God forbid, happened and your baby wan’t returned safely to you, even if it wasn’t a happy ending, it would have still been a mistake.
Luckily, that’s not your reality right now, though I’m sure those scenes will not stop playing out in your mind and in your wife’s mind. That, alone, is enough to deal with. No judgement here, and, despite the accusatory and judgemental comments on the news websites and in the story itself, I don’t think I’m alone in the way I feel.
A mother who’s really happy many of her worst parenting moments haven’t wound up on the evening news
P.S. I’m really glad your baby girl is okay.