I used to have them regularly, these nightmares of finding my child drowned.
That’s dark and morbid and hardly the kind of pleasantness I prefer writing about, but it was something that truly tormented me for a time. My youngest son was terrifyingly fearless as a toddler. He never feared heights or small spaces, darkness or isolation. He would hide from us for long periods of time in dark, solitary places where no adult would be brave enough to go, then giggle up at us when we had finally reached our wits’ end and, thank God, would stumble across him.
He was also an escape artist. And he was fast! I had never seen toddler legs carry a little body at such speed, and he seemed to live for those rare moments when my husband or I would neglect to close the front door behind us and he could zip out the storm door and go dashing up the street.
Our street is quiet, so it was never cars that worried me so much as THE POND. Knowing how fast my little boy could run, and knowing his fascination with water, I lived in fear of what might happen if he reached the retention pond at the end of our cul-de-sac. Thankfully, by the time he was 4 or 5, that same fearlessness that left me in a panic much of the time had led him to learn to swim like a fish. At least that set my mind at ease a little. A little.
But I wonder, too, if some of my fears hearkened back to an event that torments me to this day with the reality of what might have happened, but, thank God, did not.
It didn’t involve water, but a locked van on a hot summer day, and my baby boy was just a few days old.
I had a few errands to run. My husband had my middle two children, and I took with me my oldest daughter, who was eight at the time, and my brand new baby boy. It was July and it was HOT and our first stop was a quick run-in at the local library.
I don’t even know how it happened. We needed to run a few things inside and I parked and got out and my daughter even crawled over the baby’s car seat to exit the van, and neither one of us thought one thing about the baby who was fast asleep behind me.
Thank God, THANK GOD we were inside of that library for just a matter of minutes. We dropped off our items and by some miracle I decided not to look around, which is rare for me on any visit to the library. My daughter and I started back across the parking lot and about halfway there, it dawned on me.
Jesus! Oh, Jesus, I left the baby! And I can’t begin to describe the kind of fear that gripped my heart as I ran the rest of the way to my van.
I doubt we were gone a full 5 minutes, but we are talking about a vehicle sitting in FULL SUN on an incredibly hot day with temps at 90 degrees. In conditions like that, the temperatures within a closed vehicle can rise 15 degrees in just 10 minutes. And, to my experience at least, infant car seats tend to overheat babies to begin with!
The truth is, I had left my baby in a potential oven. I had done it truly, totally by accident, but I had done exactly what so many other poor, despairing parents have done: I forgot my baby in a locked vehicle on a hot summer day.
Fortunately for me, very little time passed before I realized my mistake, but many more parents have not been so fortunate and have lost precious babies because of their own forgetfulness.
This has been nearly 8 years ago and I still remember the terror that filled me and the kind of sinking despair that gripped my soul at the thought of what I had done and what might have happened as a result.
So why do I even bring this up? For a couple of reasons actually.
For one, I think most of us have to admit that there are more distractions in our lives now than ever before. Our lives are busier, more scheduled, and more hectic. While we now have a whole host of tools available to help simplify our lives, sometimes it seems they only complicate it with new forms of diversion. We are so in-tune and in-touch with the rest of the world that we are sometimes aloof from the things nearest and dearest to us.
Sometimes, honestly, we’re just too busy. Our minds are pulled in too many directions. Our days are cram-packed with more events and obligations and commitments than the human mind was ever designed to process and properly categorize. Sometimes, much of the time, we need to set some things aside so we have the proper mind to focus on what really matters most, especially in those seasons of life where there are tiny little people whose very lives are dependent upon our full attention.
Sometimes we don’t really need that overtime. Sometimes the committee chair needs to go to someone else. Sometimes the extracurricular activities have to be reasonably trimmed.
It’s also important to recognize that human beings are not infallible. We are all mistake-prone, which even means we are not above making grave, tragic, heartrending mistakes from which there is no recourse.
We can act like we’re above such things, ripping these parents to shreds for what they desperately wish they could change and cannot, or we can thank God we’ve been spared the kind of guilt and pain ONE tragically neglectful decision could place upon a mom or dad for the rest of their lives.
“How does somebody just forget their child like that?!”
“That dad is an idiot! They should lock him up and throw away the key!”
“I bet there was neglect there anyway. They probably did it on purpose.”
“I know I could never forget my child!”
I wish I could say that no mom or dad could ever be so cruel as to do something like this intentionally, but, sadly, you know I can’t do that. I’ve heard the news stories of people who knowingly left children in hot cars while they did stupid things like hang out with a boyfriend or gamble at a casino.
But I just can’t join in with the presumptuous notion that no good parent could possibly make such a mistake. Because I did it. In a moment of hasty inattention on a hot summer day I made a choice that could have had tragic consequences. I was just fortunate enough to realize it before it was too late.
My point? We need to pay better attention. We need to pare down the activities and tune out the devices that consume us. We also need to encourage technologies that could help prevent tragedies like these from ever happening.
And while I hope I never hear another news story about a mom or dad who forgets their child in a car seat, I know it’s likely to happen again. When it does, I will thank God my own mistake never ended in such a nightmare and I will bathe that poor mom or dad in my prayers. I can only imagine the kind of grief and regret they suffer.
Because I knew just a moment’s horror at what might have been. And that terrible moment is more than enough for me.
(Did you know there’s an app for that? Check out Kars 4 Kids to learn about a simple app that helps prevent tragedies like these. Also visit the Kid Safe Foundation for tips to help ensure you never forget the most precious cargo in your vehicle.)
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