It could have been him

As I’m writing this today I’m still shaking internally with those awful thoughts of “what if….”

Yesterday I did something that could have killed my child.

On Saturday I was working and my husband had the kids, and as I walked into a patient’s room both of us stopped short at the same time as we listened to the news on her TV. The story was of yet another parent who had forgotten to drop their child off at daycare, and therefore had left their child in the car for the whole working day. The child had not survived the heat – apparently temperatures in that car had reached over 140 degrees farenheit, equivalent to 60 degrees celcius. I felt sick to my stomach.

The extra trauma that a parent/parents who this happens to (and I say “who this happens to” instead of “who do this”, because this isn’t something a parent even dreams of ever doing), is that hundreds of keyboard warrior trolls flood their newspage article pages with comments displaying vitriolic levels of hate and contempt for these parents. The comment things along these lines: “I can’t BELIEVE anyone could ever DO that” “I would NEVER do this” “I’m a GOOD parent, this happening shows that they are a BAD parent”. It makes me want to puke.

Maybe years ago I might have judged these parents a little, though I’ve never thought that attacking grieving parents with judgemental words would be acceptable. But I’m a realist – life is crazy, especially when you end up moving on from one kid to two, three or more, and you have a million things to remember as a parent. Once, when Maya was a baby, I left her in the car briefly by accident when we got home because Amelie instantly had a meltdown when we got inside the house. Thankfully it was winter/spring/autumn/nowhere near the one week of hot weather we get in the summer in England. I’d have been more concerned about her getting cold or hungry than ending up dead. That incident though has meant that I’m more open to the possibility of doing this by accident. The change of climate is a huge factor though – since we got to the USA I’ve been much more aware. I try to never leave the cars unlocked on the driveway unless all four windows are down, and I warn my kids about never playing in the cars unless I’m with them. It’s even more important for me to be careful because of having ECT-related memory problems.

Despite being aware, and despite trying to be careful, and despite having been a parent for 9.5 years, yesterday it still happened – I left Joe in the car (3.5yrs), in 100 degree farenheit/38 degree celcius weather, with all of the windows up. We had been at Peter’s dad’s house for the kids’ cousins’ birthday party. He and I had had an argument just before we both left the party, and we had both cars there as we hadn’t arrived together. I got all of the kids in the big car and drove home, which is basically right around the corner. The kids had been fighting in the car and I’d said that they could watch TV when we got home if they all agreed on which programme. They found something that they could agree on. I was distracted and exhausted. We got home, and I took all of the bags from the front seat inside (I always do that first as a throwback from when Joe was smaller and I needed to field him from ending up in the road the moment he got out). I heard the girls come past and thought I heard his voice with them. He’s at the age where he’s less dangerous so I no longer need to know his exact whereabouts at every moment, and apparently this has made me complacent. I listened to the TV go on as I started to sort through all of the swimming gear and I assumed that all three of them were watching. I started to make dinner, and do various little jobs which needed doing.

About 10 minutes later I was down in the basement doing washing, when I heard my eldest upstairs start to say “Joe’s sleeping….no Joe’s on his tablet….NO I THINK JOE’S IN THE CAR. MOM I THINK JOE’S IN THE CAR!!!!!!”. We both ran out there, to find all of the doors closed, and Joe crying, strapped in tightly to his car seat, with sweat pouring down his face. It had certainly been less than 15 minutes, the car was slightly in shade, it was 5.30pm instead of the middle of the day, and the car had been left with its windows down for the entire time at the party. It had also been in the shade for at least an hour before we left the other house, and had the windows down on our journey home. More importantly though, the external temperature gauge in the car still said 94 degrees farenheit (35 degrees celcius) temperature, and it was hotter inside that car. If all of the above factors cooling for down the car hadn’t been in play it would have been vastly hotter in there.

If it had been another 15mins that might have been it for Joe. If it had been another hour the “might” turns to a “probably”. We’ll never know. What I do know is that I held him for a long time sitting on the grass next to the car, trying to get him to drink, being grateful that my negligence hadn’t killed him. Also feeling incredibly thankful that my daughter is so passionate (to the extent of being slightly pathological) about safety, and that she is so aware of her little brother’s whereabouts – I wouldn’t necessarily expect that from a kid her age. As I put him to bed last night I thought that we could so easily have been like those parents in Texas. This morning I was being asked by my little boy to make different instrument noises during breakfast, and listening to him giggle at my dreadful attempts. They got up this morning to face another day preparing to bury their child, and trying to work out how they can live with the guilt of what happened to him.

If it could happen to me, it could happen to you. My leaving doors open as a visual reminder to make me remember to make sure that no-one was left in there failed dismally for many reasons. I didn’t check; the girls closed the door without letting him out (they don’t usually do this, in fact they usually free him from his car seat and climb out together on the drive); and there is a storage pod and our camper currently blocking the line of sight from the house to the car. My safety precautions were nowhere near enough. Amelie was so upset with herself for shutting the door, but I kept telling her that it wasn’t her fault. This was my responsibility. My child. My oversight. The more important thing for her to remember is that she possibly saved his life.

A generation ago this would have been a local tragedy. But because of modern media spreading these stories quickly across the globe, there is growing awareness of this risk. People are starting to create apps like this: http://www.kars4kids.org/safety-app/. If you don’t like or can’t afford high-tech, there are things you can easily do which are still extremely effective, like leaving your phone/wallet next to the baby’s car seats so that you can’t ever forget to take your littlest one(s) with you.

As much as I’m embarrassed to admit that I did this, I’m writing about it in the hope that our close call might make even one person take a little more care instead of assuming that this will never happen to them. However careful you are, if the circumstances are right, it could be you. Especially in hot climates you can’t be too careful. Judging parents in these situations just adds to the extraordinary suffering that they are already experiencing, and I expect that more people have these close calls than ever admit to it. In the meantime this mama is just grateful to still have my baby.

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~ by jennkeast on August 15, 2016.

2 Responses to “It could have been him”

  1. Oh honey try not to be too hard on yourself. As parents im sure we’ve all done something that could’ve had drastic consequences. Ive dropped jonah on his head (on concrete), nearly missed a huge abcess on darcys chin, locked jonah in a car with my keys in the car, dragged Darcy back off a road by the scuff of her coat and missed by an inch oh and let’s not forget when I just didn’t fasten jonah into his car seat – I mean how the fuck did I not fasten my child in!??!!! You are an awesome mummy but a human one. So pleased no harm done and he’s ok xx

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