Most of us don’t want harm to come to our children. However, we live in a broken world where bad things do happen. When tragedies like children dying of hyperthermia in cars happen, it’s easier to quickly assume that the people who have accidentally left their children in the car are horrible and should have never had children. If we can somehow distance ourselves from these people, it helps us to feel secure that this could never happen to us. However, we all make mistakes and tragedies do happen, even to people who love their children and are usually responsible adults.
I’m horrified to say that the tragedy of losing a child in an overheated car almost happened to me. When I think of it, I still shake and feel terrified. On Father’s Day 2009, I went to my nephew’s baseball game with husband, my sister, my 6 year old and my 3 week old. While there, my dad called me and asked where I was. Through a miscommunication, I had thought he wasn’t going to be able to come over for lunch so I was surprised to hear he was at my house waiting for me. When I hung up the phone, my mind was racing -“What do I have at home that I can make for lunch? How messy is my living room? Did I manage to finish my dishes this morning?” I told my husband what happened and we decided he’d get a ride home from his parents and meet me at home shortly.
When we arrived home, we greeted my dad in the driveway and walked in the house. We sat for a few minutes and decided to order pizza for lunch. Shortly after, someone inquired “where’s Camryn” and my mind raced to remember. “Did she stay with her dad at the game? No, she came with us. Didn’t I bring her in the house? Oh no – she must be in the car!” I raced outside and when I opened the door, I realized she was screaming. I rushed her inside and held her tightly, trying to cool her down and calm her.
For weeks after that day, the incident was all I could think about. How could I forget her in the car? What if it had been a little longer? I’m a horrible mother. These were the thoughts that filled my mind. It no longer haunts me constantly but any time I hear of child deaths in a car, I am brought back to that day, those thoughts, those feeling of terror. And as I read comments on theses news articles of accidental deaths, I realize that I am one of those people labeled as a horrible person who should never have had children. It saddens me that instead of grieving with these families who are obviously distraught, we add to their pain with our harsh words.
As humans, we don’t like to think that bad things can happen to us. We create an image of people to whom these things happen (or who we say cause these things to happen). This is true of so many things, from the early days of autism being blamed on bad mothers to people saying “My child would never do that.” In doing so, we end up isolating people and causing people to retreat into their masks, afraid of what will happen if people see who they really are. As I type this, I am still hesitant to share. It is scary to be vulnerable and allow people to see my imperfections. But I hope that in doing so, others may be comforted that they are not alone. And I hope that some who are quick to judge will think twice.
Please see this article which includes information about the memory mechanisms in the brain that can cause these lapses and also includes tips as to how to prevent accidentally leaving your child in the car.
“Be kinder than necessary because everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.” – J. M. Barrie