Sunday, August 3, 2008

Scary Stuff

Here in Texas it is hot. Have you heard me talk about this? Check it out here. Anyway, it's getting worse. The temp today was up to 107 here in DFW. Tomorrow the heat index is supposed to go over 110. I am hotter than .... than.... hell, it's too hot to make jokes.

Some very sad news is that there have been two deaths recently here in DFW when young children have been left in a vehicle in these high temps. You can see the stories here and here. It makes a parent say, How in the world did that happen? Didn't the thought of your child ever enter your mind? I try to believe that I shouldn't judge until I've walked a mile in their shoes. Now I guess I can say that I have.

Today I went to Walgreens with SE (8 years old), JL (5 years old), MP (10 months old), and my mom (many years old). They had awesome deals on school supplies so I went to check them out. We got inside and I picked up a Walgreens circular. I began to look for the highlighters I wanted (only 9 cents!) and realized I'd probably need a cart because I'd be getting a few other things too. I went to get a cart and pulled out the seat. I set my Diet Coke in the seat and that action, pulling the cart out and setting the plastic seat down in place, triggered my brain: WHERE WAS THE BABY???? It took me about half a second to realize that NO ONE BROUGHT HER INTO THE STORE. I nearly fainted. I yelled Oh My God! and ran out into the parking lot. SE said, "What is it, mom?" but I didn't answer her. I just shot out into the parking lot without checking for passing cars. I ran to the van and before I could open the door I heard her screaming. I hit the unlock button on my key fob and slid open the side door. Thank God, the car was barely even stuffy. I think it helped that we had cranked the AC the whole ride over to the store, so some leftover cool air was still hanging around in the van. When MP saw me, she immediately stopped crying and smiled. She just wanted to get out. I unlatched her and carried her inside, tail between my legs, and said a quick thank you to the Lord.

My mind did the whole what if? game. What if I had forgotten her for longer than the 90 seconds I had been in the store? What if I hadn't decided to get a cart? What if I had stopped to ask someone about those stupid highlighters? What if someone had seen or heard the baby in the van and had called the police on me?

I wondered, every time I heard the story of the Med school research analyst dad and pediatrician mom whose baby daughter died after they left her in her carseat in the heat for three hours. It happened in St. Louis in 2007. I always thought that the people who left their child in a hot car were basically people who were stupid, or irresponsible, or simply not adept enough to be a good parent. But who would be a better parent than a PEDIATRICIAN? So my whole theory about irresponsible dolts and their suffering children went out the window. It seems that folks can forget a baby in a hot vehicle as easily as they forget their coffee cup on top of the car as they are driving away:

(from The awful truth, experts say, is that the stressed-out brain can bury a thought — something as trite as a coffee cup or crucial as a baby — and go on autopilot. While researchers once thought the different parts of the brain worked in conjunction with each other, they now realize that different portions dominate at different times. "The value of the item is not only not relevant in these competing memory systems," says memory expert David Diamond, an associate psychology professor at the University of South Florida who also works at a Veterans Affairs hospital. "But, in fact, we can be more complacent because we tell ourselves, 'There's no way I would forget my child.'" Harvard University professor Daniel Shachter, a leading brain researcher, says memory is very "cue dependent." "And in these cases, the cue is often missing," he says. "When we go on automatic, it's very possible for us to ignore or forget about seemingly important things." Like a baby.

Many cases involved what might be called community pillars: dentists and nurses; ministers and college professors; a concert violinist; a member of a county social services board; a NASA engineer. And it is undisputed that none — or almost none — intended to harm these children."When you look at overall who this is happening to, it's some very, very, very good parents — might I say, doting parents," says Janette Fennell, founder and president of Kids and Cars, a nonprofit group that tracks child deaths and injuries in and around automobiles. "But no one thinks it's going to happen to them. I think people are lying if they say that there wasn't one situation in raising their child that, `There but for the grace of God go I.'"

I feel that I was spared this tragedy by the grace of God. I guess I just don't know if I'm an irresponsible, inept, dolt of a parent, or simply a person on autopilot with too many thoughts to handle at one time. Granted, I *did* think about her almost immediately as I was in the store. But that doesn't lessen the fact that I forgot her in the first place. I can hardly forgive myself. I can't even imagine how those other families feel after leaving their child to suffer what must have been a painful, scary, horrible death.

So, if you think it could never happen to you, well maybe you are right. Hopefully it never will. But maybe you could try to remember if your child has ever ran away from you in the department store and hid within a round clothing rack. Try to recall if you have ever left your child playing at home and gotten distracted by an important phone call. Think back to the last time you took a shower and believed the house to be secure, only to get out of the shower to find one or more children outside, front door ajar, step stool near to the door (for tiny hands to reach padlocks). If any of these situations sound familiar, welcome to my club. How about instead of bashing each other for our parenting mistakes, we could all support one another by recognizing how easily those mistakes could become our own.

Like I said, I pray you never have to feel what I felt today: fear mixed with relief, and sadness mixed in with joy. And when it comes to the mistakes of other parents, we will be a bigger impact to one another if we give support and encouragement without judgment or contempt. We all love our children and that's a common thread that can tie us all together.


dadthedude said...

Hey Txmama!

First, you as SO, SO right about the heat. It's what.. 1:20 am right now and it's still 90 outside.

I've been putting off changing the filters in the air conditioner in the attic for weeks because I don't think I can make it back down in time before succumbing to heat exhaustion.

About your post... I certainly hope you aren't beating yourself up too bad about it. I think we've all done it, most wouldn't admit it. Thank God you were triggered to remember. I've left my yougest son in the van in the garage once. Pulled in and thought he was awake.. opened the side door to the van and walked into the house thinking he was coming in behind me. Several minutes later I walked by the garage door and happened to look out - he was asleep in the van and drenched in sweat.

Look on the bright side. At least you didn't go to Wal-Mart and had to park 1.5 miles from the door...

p.s. - don't tell my wife about the van deal. I opted to leave that part out ;)

Angie @ KEEP BELIEVING said...

Yup. I don't judge anymore, either. I have never done it, but I have seen it happen to a couple of people I thought were the most maternal, nurturing people I know and the last people I thought would ever do it. Everyone was fine, but the what-if game STILL plays out in their minds.

I remember judging one friend of mind once for finding her son at the bottom of the pool within minutes of being at the pool (he was fine, too) and telling you about it asking how that could happen. You said, "I'll tell you exactly how it could happen. You are carting two or more kids in the pool. One is asking for goggles. You turn to get something out of the bag. You are reaching for floaties and before you know it, you turn around after two seconds and your child is being pulled out by a lifeguard." Oh. I stopped judging after that.


Motherhood for Dummies said...

We have not had the heat this summer. It has been the coldest summer here in Alaska in history.

Bridgett said...

Oh, that's terrifying. That's the sort of thing that would keep me up at night for the next, oh, 19 years worrying about the what-ifs. When that baby died here in St. Louis last summer, I had to turn off the TV and radio for a week before the media stopped talking about it. I just couldn't think about it anymore. Makes me want to never leave the house.

My grandparents once left my uncle at a rest area on vacation. They had 8 kids piled in a station wagon and left Rick behind....

Lisa@verybusymomwith4 said...

That is scary! And it just goes to show it can happen to anyone. Good post and even better reminder ;)

Sabrina said...

I think everyone has done this in some capacity or the other. When I was a new mom, returning to work from maternity leave, I made it all the way to work at 6;30 in the am, pulled into to park and realized my baby was in the backseat.>> I forgot to stop at daycare. Needless to say, I do not work mornings anylonger, because at this point in time, I believe I would forget to brush my hair and worse yet forget deodorant.

Ms. Tami said...

I play the what if game even if I haven't done something like that. I know people think I'm a little nutty because if my little ones are not in a buggy I'm constantly looking to my left, right and behind me. Then when my nerves can't take it anymore I throw them in the buggy.

I know I would have felt the same way you did had I left a lil one in the van! I think if we as parents make a mistake and don't feel that little twinge in our hearts we should be worried!

I forgot to give the boys forks one night at dinner and felt bad! LOL

Anonymous said...

Excellent post!!
No parent is perfect.
Giving a tsk, tsk in public is only to put out the image that we are above making mistakes. And you are so right...parenthood is a difficult journey that would be so much easier if we judged less and encouraged more.
I'm right there with ya.

I have some tales to tell....

I admire your honesty, TM!