Happy July. In Seattle that usually means that summer is soon to arrive. For the rest of the US, I know, it has already begun. Ever since last week though, I have thought about July differently. I was midway through this post last Friday when I was forced to abandon it. Overwhelmed by the article I read, I wrote about sighing. I’ve now taken a big sigh… But this information has not left me. Today, we enter July, the month out of the year in which more US children die after being left (and trapped) in hot cars, than any other. Windows up and forgotten, these children die of hyperthermia and overheating. They overheat, cry for help, and are left unheard. It’s unthinkable, really. 18 children have already died this year, 8 of them in the first two weeks of June. Unfortunately, now that two weeks has passed, this statistic has likely changed.
This utterly alarming trend has caught the attention of safety experts. And mine. We all need to create systems in our life to prevent this from happening. Make a system to check the back seat of your car every single time you walk away from it. Kids in it or not.
You can read right over this stuff feeling like it’s irrelevant.
You’re thinking, this will never happen to me. No way would I forget my kid in the car. Before you convince yourself, read this 2010 Pultizer Prize winning article by Gene Weingarten published in March, 2009. It has changed my life; It is the most devastating article I’ve read all year. I’m not overstating this. The handful of others that I have had read this say the very same. Share it with anyone who will ever drive a child in a car seat or booster seat, anywhere.
What was so staggering about his article was the fact that this could happen to any of us. The problem of children being left in sweltering cars has increased since we have mandated that young children sit in the back seat for safety. The problem of forgetting a child in the car crosses state, racial, socioeconomic, and education lines. This can happen to any of us.
The article made me shutter because as I ramp up the list of my responsibilities, I become more and more overwhelmed by life’s moment-to-moment tasks. And I’m certainly more forgetful. For example, in the last month in our home we’ve:
- Left half empty milk sippy cups in the car for days at a time. We call them dead milk bottles for a reason…
- Left the keys to our house hanging in the keyhole in the front door. (Don’t get any wise ideas; we’ve learned our lesson)
- Left the keys on the roof of the car.
- Missed a haircut appointment. Plain and simple, got distracted by the day and forgot to go.
I know, this is a little, “Good grief, Mama Doc, get it together.” But really, these seemingly silly examples of forgetfulness in the world of overwhelming-rearing-child-working-full time illustrate a point. We’re all running around at a pace not necessarily ideal for constant thoughtfulness. As the article mentions, stress may really change the way our brain works.
We’re all distracted. Not just when we’re driving or trying to make dinner, while talking on the phone, but when we’re weaving through our simple tasks of daily life. Between my iphone-e-mail-text messages-patients to see- patients to call back-friend’s birthday reminder-alarm to pay the phone-early morning meeting-and the need to remember that F likes milk in the green cup and O likes milk in the purple, many things are getting forgotten.
God forbid it leads to a devastating mistake.
Tips To Avoid The Unthinkable—Ways To Avoid Leaving Your Baby Or Child In A Hot Car:
- Every time you get out of the car, learn to check the backseat. Somehow, make it one of those things you do without thinking. Start today. Walk back to the car if you don’t do it the first time when you walk away. Make it a route task like putting on your seat belt.
- Consider buying an alarm like NASA engineers created to help you. Here’s one. I don’t endorse this per se, because I’ve never used it, but rather link to it as an example of what technology is out there.
- Share this story by Gene Weingarten with your friends and family. Talking about this story will help affirm its message.
Great idea to make it a habit to check the backseat everytime… I already do something like this to confirm my kids are buckled into their carseats. In my haste to get going, there have been a couple of times I almost started the car without buckling in my preschooler. Luckily, she reminded me, but it’s not her responsibility, it’s mine. So I make it a habit every single time I get into my seat to look back and confirm everyone is buckled in and I remember to say it outloud. The other day my preschooler asked me why I always say “is everyone buckled in safe and tight?” when I should know that I just did it. And I explained to her that it’s my safety routine to make sure I never forget.
Oh my gosh, what a heart-wrenching article. Thank you so much for sharing it, even though I am sitting here trying to keep it together and type through the tears for those parents that had this happen to them. I am going right now to tell my husband to ALWAYS check for our child before he gets out of the car. It could happen to anyone and I never thought that.
Thank you so much for this important article. No one ever thinks this could happen. Sadly when something like this does happen, people assume the parents are huge losers who need a license for kids and make horrible comments. Unfortunately, I know of two people (friends of friends in different states) that this happened to. Both wonderful people, fabulous parents. In both cases, they were out of their regular routine, busy/harried, drove straight to work, one might have been on a phone call, and for the rest of the day just went about their day assuming the child was at daycare. I can’t even imagine the horror. People are so quick to judge and think this would never happen to them but these are both wonderful people whose lives are forever changed. Distraction is like a misfire in the brain. How many times have you missed your exit b/c you were talking to someone in the car. Last night I left the fridge open for 2 hours and I never have done that. While those are minor things, the smallest distraction can cause a major thing like these car incidents. This can also happen when kids are allowed to play in cars and play hide and seek and then get stuck. I’ve heard of people recommending (especially when out of your regular routine, such as dad is dropping off instead of mom) to place your laptop or purse in the back every time for something else to check before you get out. I’m glad you’re talking about it even though it’s awful as it really can happen to regular, nice people.
Deb Kapsner says
Wow. This is powerful, and so sad. I am glad that you and some of the guilt- and grief-stricken parents in the article are working to drive awareness. I hope everyone shares your post or Gene Weingarten’s article with some moms. Post it to Facebook, right now. Spread the word to generate awareness and hopefully a new routine when we park–look before you leave.
Oprah aired a similar story a year or so ago. I was working for a large tech company then, had a toddler and a 5 month old. i certainly felt overwhelmed by stress, emotion, and lack of sleep. It doesn’t take much to distract you. For example, I never talked on my phone. But I almost always checked my email before leaving the house. Mentally, I was preparing for that meeting, writing that document. I didn’t drive my baby all the way to work too often, but I drove past my babysitter’s house enough times to notice!
Practically, I couldn’t stop checking email at home. So, I got in the habit of talking to my children when they’re in the car. If we’re not chatting, we’re playing children’s music or I-Spy or the baby is hearing my voice for just 7 more minutes. Child-rearing certainly contributes to one’s stress, but being present and mindful of your kids, even in your mundane commute, can reduce that stress.
For our family, we decided that we didn’t want to be that busy anymore. My husband and I both took turns being at home. I made that arrangement permanent. There’s something to say for simplifying one’s life to tackle the disease (stress) and not just the symptom (memory lapse).
Very powerful article, should be required reading for all new parents after the birth of their baby as well as given out at the one year well-child check-up. Something so horrid can happen so easily…..
I just cringe every time I see/hear someone say “That would never happen to me!” or “I would never do that!” What a naive thing to say. Most of the time when we read about a child left in the car, it was a mistake. One parent thought the other had brought the child into the house, or the morning routine was switched up, or the parent was sleep-deprived with a new baby, etc.
A couple of weeks ago I was driving to day care and work, and was almost at work when I realized that I’d forgotten to stop at day care. (They’re only a mile apart, but I had turned off the highway exit toward work instead of toward day care.) I was shaken up when I realized it.
Do I *think* I would have gotten all the way to work, gotten out of the car, walked past the back door, and forgotten about my toddler? No, I don’t think so, but I also didn’t think I’d forget to turn off the ramp toward day care. I now put my bag in the back seat, underneath my toddler’s rear-facing car seat, so that I can ensure that I won’t forget her.
Natasha Burgert, MD says
Powerful, and nauseating. All parents can relate, all parents should pause.
One tip I have heard is to keep your purse/phone/wallet/work bag, something you always leave the car with, in the backseat; then you will always turn around to check.
Thanks for sharing.
This just happened to my granddaughter. Thank goodness she was okay and will be okay. If it can happen to my son-in-law it can happen to anyone. Please, anyone with children, take precautions to prevent it happening to you.