Leave your judgments at the end of this next statement and read on with an open mind. I left my two-year-old buckled in her carseat and sleeping in my hot car, mid-summer, for thirty minutes.
I inadvertently decided to leave her there, assuming she was safe and happy while I unloaded groceries. The first precaution I took to ensure she’d have a good nap was to turn the car off, then restart it with the remote start. The car’s A/C was cooling the car, while my other two children were carrying things to the kitchen. Since they were doing such a good job, I stayed in the kitchen putting the groceries away. Knowing how to shut the trunk and outside car doors, my eight-year-old son informed me that “All the groceries [were] in!”
It was at this moment that I begun relishing the calm and fixed my two oldest children their lunches.
These tasks took about 15 minutes in total. My estimation is that the car had been automatically shut off for five minutes. Thinking that I had already laid my sleeping two-year-old down in her crib for her nap, I sat at the dining room table with my older children to chat while they ate. Judging by the amount of time it took for my two oldest to finish their sandwiches and fruit, I think approximately another 10 or so minutes passed.
Just as they were cleaning up their dishes, I screamed.
You could have heard my cry from miles away when I remembered my sleeping child left in the car. I was paralyzed for seconds at the thought of finding her dead. She’s safe now, thankfully. She was sweaty and unscathed, playing and laughing within minutes. I believe angels were protecting her.
I’m writing this post both to raise awareness and find resolve.
I was not on drugs. I was not over-stressed. It was negligence and a bad parenting moment. While not many know about this accident, I found — in telling a few confidants what had transpired — that others had a story to share about leaving their child in the car by accident.
Below are some tips to help prevent this accident from happening to other children:
Do not choose to leave you child in the car for any reason.
It does not matter if they are sleeping or otherwise content. Even if you are just running in for a quick errand, take your child(ren) — no matter their age — with you. It could cost them their lives and it is not worth it. (Slightly off topic, but still a safety issue: mobile children can easily knock a car out of gear, causing it to roll while they are still inside. This happened to my son while in the care of a grandparent; he knocked a work van out of park and into neutral, and it rolled down the driveway before the grandparent could jump in and apply the brakes.)
Teach your children how to safely exit the car should they find themselves locked in.
This only works for children who can unbuckle themselves and have enough coordination to pull a lock and door handle. I taught my kids how to unbuckle themselves at a very young age. Were there a few times in which while driving I’d hear a “click” and find they were practicing while the car was in motion? Yes. Take that as a teaching motion as well.
Don’t make excuses.
Excuses for being in a hurry: on your cell phone, mind preoccupied elsewhere, etc. Not all children become concerned (or are vocal enough) when mom steps out of the car; you might not even hear them cry! Know that this type of accident can happen to anyone.
Leave one shoe off.
I have read that some choose to leave a shoe in the backseat of their car. That is a physical reminder that something is amiss should you step out of your car with only one shoe on. But still, refer to point #1: make it a habit to check every time you leave your car that all of your children are safely leaving with you.
But what if the worst happens?
What if you get out of the car, your child stays in, and they are not able to get out or they are sleeping? Heat exhaustion can turn to heat stroke. The child’s internal temperature can reach 105F degrees or higher, prior to a heatstroke. Look for early signs of heat exhaustion, which include increased thirst, weakness, fainting, muscle cramps, nausea and vomiting, irritability, headache, increased sweating, cool or clammy skin. (Information from KidsHealth.)
DO NOT be afraid to call a health professional just because you made a mistake. A pediatrician you trust will put the child’s well-being first. Mistakes do happen, but be smart about fixing them.
Every 10 days a child dies from vehicular heatstroke in the US alone. Since 1998, there have been 575 such deaths. 73% of those deaths were children under the age of 2.
This video outlines how one decision can save a child’s life.