Judgement Doesn’t Make You Fail-Proof – On Babies Left In Hot Cars

Every year, every. single. summer. my heart aches a deep, sharp, searing pain for the children who are lost to a tragic accident that takes way too many. Usually by mid-May, news outlets have reported at least a handful of babies/toddler/children left or trapped in hot cars. Dead. By the time summer is in full swing, it’s too frequent to bear. This year is no exception.

I know this tragedy strikes me in a particularly vulnerable place because I’m certain it could happen to me. It takes one lapse of judgement, one day of non-routine, one morning of chaos and exhaustion. I don’t ever allow myself to think I’m above this. I don’t ever allow myself to think “I’m too good of a parent to let that happen to my babies.”

And that, I feel… I hope? Is my best defense against it. The way my stomach drops every time I even think of it, the way I live in fear of that one slip in memory on a warm day- I keep that emotion raw. I acknowledge it. I acknowledge that most of the parents who have been on the other side of this tragic mistake were just like me- loving, caring, human.

I take precautions. I keep my bag in the back of the car. I keep Lowell’s Orbit infant seat rotated to the side when he’s not in it. I make sure to always leave a door open to the car when there’s a child in it, even if I’m just stepping away for a moment to unlock the front door to the house for the older kids to walk in before I retrieve the napping baby.

It never feels like enough, though. I know a large part of this intense fear stems from my anxiety, but I won’t excuse myself for wanting to take all the extra steps I can. Except, what else can I do?

I’ve seen devices, like this Childminder SoftClip System. I spoke with the company at a conference in May. I have to say, it looks like a great system since it doesn’t require the caretaker to have a smartphone or turn anything on or off, but it’s battery operated, and obviously not fail-proof.

Recently, I learned of the Babeep, which is a random, audible reminder to check the back seat anytime you turn the car off. Seems like it could definitely be one extra step for parents who don’t tune out things like beeps and other noises, and who aren’t on their phone when they arrive at their destination. Again, not fail-proof.

That’s the thing, right? That nothing is fail-proof. Nothing, not the warning systems or the reminders on our phones, and certainly not our brains, are fail-proof.

Every year around this time, as the reports trickle in, and the news feeds fill with opinions and shock, the comments that “that parent is a monster” and “I would NEVER forget my baby in the car,” I’m compelled to share the link to the most profound piece of writing I’ve read since becoming a mother-

Fatal Distraction, by Gene Weingarten, published by the Washington Post.

I first shared it back in 2010, and what I said then still holds true, so I’ll end with it.

THIS article, this heartbreakingdestroying story of so many parent’s grief and guilt, this tragic tale of loss and forgetfulness, is worth every single minute it will take you to read it from beginning to end. And do not skip from one point to the next. No, all these stories deserve to be heard and all these cautionary tales need to be told.

It is graphic, and it is so sad you will want to close your browser and be done with it all, to stick your fingers in your ears (or cover your eyes) and say “La, la, la…. not to me… never happen to me… puppies and rainbows and kittens!” But DON’T. It’s so easy to sit here and say, “I would NEVER forget my baby in the car,” but judgement doesn’t make you immune to accidents and temporary lapses in memory.

  • Lauren - EXACTLY. I’m a great mom but I accidentally left my baby in the car once. I remembered after a few minutes and he was fine but it was pretty much the worst day of my life. I was driving a different vehicle and my older child wasn’t with me. I was in a hurry, he was sleeping. When I got back to the vehicle he was crying, probably from being alone rather than being warm- he was a bit warm but not sweaty. I cooled him off, nursed him, and called the paramedics to check him. Since that day, I have made sure that I have systems in place to prevent it happening again. You feel like the worst parent in the world but it does happen to the best of us. Nobody is perfect, and vilifying parents who make honest mistakes doesn’t accomplish anything. A parent whose child dies because they accidentally left them in the car is going to relive that moment in their heads everyday for the rest of their lives without anyone’s sanctimonious judgment.ReplyCancel

    • Jill - Oh man. I’m so, so glad he’s okay! And I agree with you that the parents who lose children this way will suffer so greatly from their own private hell that there’s really no need for anyone to judge them. The parents who are tried for murder for this (the ones who it’s proven really only accidentally forgot them and weren’t drunk or high), I just… oh my heart. I don’t understand the need to put them through more torture. Of course, I want to weep for the children who die because of these mistakes, but that’s what they are- MISTAKES. Thanks so much for sharing your story. I think the most important thing to come from this conversation is the realization and acknowledgement that this really could happen to ANYONE. That’s the only way we’re going to keep it fresh in our minds and not get comfortable. It’s important to live in fear of this happening, in my opinion.ReplyCancel

  • Asa - I am conflicted about this. The “holier than thou” judgment is certainly in bad taste but on the other hand, he KILLED his kid. As parents, we are responsible for our kid’s welfare. That’s what being a parent means. He should be held responsible for his actions. Does that mean murder charges? I don’t know. Part of me thinks he does deserve to be tried for murder. Could this have happened to me? Maybe. We all have our forgetful moments, but it seems we should not excuse this sort of behavior. And I know you’re not doing that, but I think this is forgetfulness to the point of negligence.ReplyCancel

    • Lexi - The issue though is that it’s not *behavior*. Behavior implies that it can be encouraged, conditioned, learned, unleared, and that it is habitual in some way. It’s not. We can’t teach these parents not to leave their babies in the car, because the hadn’t learned to do that in the first place. It is an accident.

      Could this have happened to you? Yes. Yes. It could happen to anyone. Bad things happen. No one can be hyper vigilant all the time. it’s not possible. Our brains can’t process every possible danger to our children.

      If it could, children wouldn’t have accidents.ReplyCancel

  • jennifer - I left my 3rd baby in the car once. Luckily it was on a cold day in San Francisco, but it was a good 10-20 minutes. I didn’t even remember, someone asked me where she was.

    I also asked my daughter to dress up like a hipster, so I guess I’m not that great of a mom anyway.

    http://oururbanplayground.com/2014/06/30-signs-your-kid-is-turning-into-a-hipster/

    xoxo Jill, this is a good post and a topic that needs to be discussed from the standpoint of the parent shaming. Let’s find solutions rather than beat each other up.

    JenReplyCancel

  • Julie - One of my worst fears! I do believe it can happen to anyone. With my first I remember walking back out to my car just to make sure I had taken him to daycare, when even I knew I had, I just had to check. I have a note on my computer at my desk just to make me think about it. I also put all bags in the front with me. If the school bag is still there I know I’ve forgotten something.ReplyCancel

  • Stephanie - I agree 100%. There have been two or three times that my son has had to ask me where we are going because even though I was in my daily routine – same car, same route, same kids – I just spaced out and started driving right to work instead of going to daycare. The kids were quiet that morning and I was just sort of dazed, I guess. Thank goodness my 3 year old pays attention and knew we missed our turn. It made me stop and think about all the kids that have died in a hot car, and that I could be one of those parents. If my 3 year old hadn’t been with me that day, could I have gotten to work and left my baby in the car? Maybe. I hope not, but maybe. It’s awful to think about.

    We also accidentally locked our son in the car on a HOT day when he was about 18 months. Our Trailblazer was SUPPOSED to have a safety feature where if your keys are inside, the doors will not lock. But something happened and the keys were inside and my husband and I both closed our doors and when I went to open the back, everything was locked. Our phones were also inside. Thank goodness for a Good Samaritan with a cell phone so we could call the fire department to come help us. He was hot and crying, probably more from being alone, than being hot, but it was still HOT. Probably 90 degrees outside or so. It didn’t take long for the firemen to free him, but it was scary and I felt so bad.ReplyCancel

    • Jean - I accidentally locked my son in the car as well on a hot day. I was 7 months pregnant with twins & we had gone to watch my husband in a fire department parade. Thankfully I parked under a tree so it was shaded and there was a lovely woman that called the police for me. They couldn’t unlock the door and my son was crying and upset & didn’t understand what was going on & couldn’t unlock it either (he was 2) Called a locksmith who refused payment and he was out in less than 30 min. Scary for sure.ReplyCancel

      • MIke Thomas - Why not BREAK THE DAMN WINDOW!! Your child is in there crying and hot…you can replace a window, but you cannot replace a CHILD!!!!!!!!!!ReplyCancel

        • Jill - Uhhhh… because that would send glass flying at the baby’s face.

        • Jacqui - Exactly. And don’t break the window right next to the child, duh. Break one away from child so they don’t get glass all over them.

  • Christine - It’s horrifying to even think about. Thankfully I have never left my child in the car but I can totally see how it can happen. Stress, lack of sleep, a change in routine, none of us are immune to it. When I returned to work after my maternity leave, on more than one occasion, I started to drive my route to work and suddenly realized that I didn’t drop the baby off at daycare and had to turn back. Like I said, it’s horrifying to even think about.ReplyCancel

  • Kristen - This subject has been heavy on my heart for the last week. The incident involving the 22-month-old in Atlanta that I am sure has made National news by now (I don’t know, I have done my best to stay away from the news since this happened – I can’t bear to see it) hits close to home as the family involved is a family that I care very deeply about. My husband and I drove nearly 2 hours to sit with this family as they grieve the loss of their sweet, sweet son and grandson. The grandmother of the child, doing her best to hold back tears, told us how they saw the comments that people made about the tragedy, calling judgment upon the father for his mistake… those comments have made this tragedy even more of a nightmare than it already is.

    I think the fact that it can happen to any of us, as long as all the holes in our swiss cheese as that one article explained it line up, is what makes people so harsh to judge. We’re in denial that it could happen even though deep down we know that this happens to regular people, not awful parents, not criminals. But we want to treat them like criminals even though it will do nothing to stop this from happening. Trying someone for murder for an accident is not going to keep it from happening.

    And we can’t forget the mother on the other side of this as well. She’s already lost her baby. Why are people so intent on ripping her husband from her forever, too?

    I’m sorry, I’m rambling… like I said, this hits close to home. I wish there was a fail-proof method of keeping this from happening. Thank you for your non-judgmental viewpoint. It’s refreshing.ReplyCancel

    • Sarah - Know that there are people out there praying for them. It breaks my heart to see this family torn to pieces by the media. Even more so those who started hateful rumors. When the truth comes out I hope many of them realize their error in quick judgement. Unfortunately not one of them will admit they were wrong. Tell them that many are thinking of them (with love & prayers) and to stay away from the vultures.ReplyCancel

  • Ceri - WOW, just wow. I read the story you linked to and wow. The only think I have to say is that while Child Minder Soft Clip system sounds like a great idea, it is an after market product. They say crash tested, but that could mean they threw it against a wall. There is no way they tested it with every seat out there. Its not recommended to use after market products. I would suggest another method something along the lines of what this kid came up with here: http://www.ezbabysaver.com/ReplyCancel

  • sam-c - thank you for posting this article and post. that article really is heartbreaking. I didn’t finish it (literally had trouble seeing the screen through the tears, and baby’s nap time ended). I mentioned it to my husband too, (who is the primary carpooler, work from home one) as his schedule is getting busier. and we just couldn’t believe how tragic that would be. It would be the one time where I hope a stranger would notice and get all up in my business.ReplyCancel

  • Lily - I read this article a few days ago while my baby girl napped next to me. I literally had a hard time breathing through parts of it. This is my biggest fear, especially since we have a consistently irregular schedule. And I don’t know if my fear of this (and other harms to my child) are just being a concerned parent or boarding on PPA. Regardless, this is one of the most well-written, humanizing, heartbreaking pieces I have read in a long time.
    I posted it to my wall on FB and only two people acknowledged it in any way. The pervasiveness of denial that it could happen to us is no joke.ReplyCancel

  • Mindy - The SAME DAY you post this, someone on my Facebook posts this:

    http://www.wkrn.com/story/22872890/local-boy-invents-device-to-stop-children-being-left-in-hot-cars

    What a cheap, innovative invention by a kid. I don’t know how practical it is for consistent use, but it would be hard to ignore, that’s for sure.ReplyCancel

  • Kim - check this out! http://bit.ly/1dGSoGG

    No batteries needed, and you can make one yourself.ReplyCancel

  • Joe Dorsey - Hope it is not inappropriate to post this here but I am an amateur inventor and just trying to be part of the solution. I’m just now launching my device called the Backseat Baby Alarm. It works in any type of vehicle, installation is peel and stick, it does not connect to the car seat so it will not void the warranty, and is pretty inexpensive. The website of the same name, http://www.backseatbabyalarm,com has a demo video and further information if it is something you would like to know more about.ReplyCancel

  • Shelly - I have been posting this link on just about every news story on Facebook that I see on this subject. People seem to think they are so above something like this. They are so against the idea of having some sort of reminder. One news story suggests driving without your shoes and the comments people are leaving are so judgemental and harsh. Why are people so against stopping these tragic accidents with a simple device or shoe for that matter?ReplyCancel

  • Hermom - I live in a really, really hot area of the country…and my husband I switch off drop off and pick up on a very regular basis. I decided to put a pillow in my daughter’s car seat any time she is not in it–keeps the buckles cooler and gives me something to check every time I get out of the car.
    My husband recently confessed that he forgot her in the car a few months back, but knew he had forgotten something as he walked into the store–said he freaked when he realized it was her.

    I can’t imagine myself saying “I’m absolutely not mad at him” if something had happened to her though–that isn’t a normal reaction from a mom.ReplyCancel

  • Baby Rabies | Kids Left In Hot Cars- Some Facts - […] my audience. The horrifying thought of kids dying in hot vehicles was at the top of my list because I genuinely believe it’s something that can happen to anyone, and the only way to prevent it from happening is to consciously take steps to prevent […]ReplyCancel

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