Monday, March 09, 2009

When You Leave A Child In The Car

Because we're all about controversial subjects today on Lit Soup. I twittered the link to this article last night, but I think it deserves to get read more widely.

An article that must be read

It is an amazing, outstanding piece of journalism, and incredibly true. When I told Chris about it, he said, "Oh god, do you know how many times I forgot my viola when I was in high school? You'd kill me, if I forgot our baby."

And I would kill him. Which is why we will be getting some sort of sensor when we have kids, to remind us that the baby is in the car still. I know it can happen, so I will be prepared for it.


P. Bradley Robb said...

I thought kids were sensors.

Sarah Jensen said...

My husband had put our little boy in the car when i went to drop him off somewhere. He fell asleep by the time we pulled out of the driveway. When I got home, I'd totally forgot he was there.

Fortunately, not long later, my sis and I were counting kids and I remembered him. He was dripping with sweat, but still asleep. I wanted to cry, and he wasn't even in there very long.

This is sooooo scary.

Kathleen said...

Wow. I think my heart is breaking...

dhole said...

I came across this article earlier, by way of Making Light. And as you might imagine, I've been keeping a very close eye on my kid today.

I've also been trying to figure out why this is as horrifying as it is. I mean, yes, anything about kids dying is horrifying, but there's something else here. I think it's because it's unambiguously the parents' fault, and it's the sort of thing that all parents do at some level. You can't watch a kid 24 hours a day; you get lost in a book, or wrapped up in your thoughts, and the kid is, for better or worse, unattended.

And, most of the time, it works out fine. For values of "works out fine" which include "empty an entire thing of talcum powder all over the changing table," and suchlike. But that's part of growing up.

It's just. They're . . . they're so small, you know? And they trust you so completely. And, as parents are human, that trust isn't justified by their abilities. In terms of numbers, 15-25 deaths a year isn't much; somewhere over 25,000 kids under the age of 1 die in the US every year. But it's so stark a betrayal of that trust, so stark a demonstration of how misplaced that trust is.

Which is probably why these people are prosecuted. Not to act as a deterrent, not even as a punishment. It's more an institutional cry of "this can't happen to me -- I'm a good parent."

Which piles horror on horror. A child's trust in his parents is always excessive; parents will always fail their kids in one way or another -- it's unavoidable in any relationship. There's no way to displace that onto someone else, and put that guy on trial for all our sins.

Ah, well. After reading something like that, it's worth reminding myself that most kids survive their childhoods. There's no shaking the fear, but it can't rule, either.

wealhtheow said...

What an awful, awful thing to happen. Makes me thankful that back when we had both a baby and a car (the baby is six and a half now, and we have been car-free for several years), you couldn't even put her in her carseat without her starting to scream. I always sat in the back seat with her; it was impossible not to know she was in the car. I have dropped her off at daycare every workday morning for five and a half years -- but we've always gone by public transit, and even if by some concatenation of chances you, say, put the baby down and forgot to pick her up again, buses and subway trains have a built-in failsafe mechanism in the form of the driver and the other passengers. Say what you will about the inconvenience of shlepping kids around on the bus: here, clearly, is one big advantage.

I have that exact kind of memory malfunction on a regular basis. B"H I have never been in a situation that could have made the malfunction a fatal one.

Jarucia said...

Having only had children that weren't mine under my care for most of my life, it's hard to imagine doing this.

My livelihood would have been at stake in addition to the fact that I would likely have gone to jail since I wasn't the parent.

That being said, if I had my OWN kids, I guess I'd be as likely to do it as any parent might.

I've known A LOT of parents over the years and I've seen them forget some amazing things. Any parent who thinks they are incapable of something like this is totally wrong.

Routines are very powerful things, btw.

Shelli said...

poor parents - i cant imagine but I know what it is like when you are tired and on auto pilot.

acpaul said...

Living in Phoenix, we hear stories like this every summer. And it's so very sad, and so very preventable.

It happens so much more quickly here because of the heat. Even five minutes can be enough when it is 120 degrees outside and 140+ in a car with the windows rolled up.

David J. Williams said...

That's one of the saddest/scariest articles I've ever read. Jesus. But thanks for posting.

coneycat said...

I don't use the term "heart-rending" very often, but... that was heart-rending. And I don't even have children. I can't even try to imagine what those parents are feeling.

Joseph Lewis said...

I couldn't finish the article, I was becoming nauseated. As father, this is one of those nightmares I just can't begin to wrap my head around, and pray I never have to

ryan field said...

You have to wonder if this isn't a reflection on our society in general, in the sense that cell phones and other things tend to distract us in ways that didn't happen twenty years ago.

Jodi Meadows said...

This article broke my heart. I read it two nights ago when you first showed the link, and it's *still* haunting me. It's too, too sad.

shadoequin said...

I know someone who was very close to a tragedy like this. My heart broke just hearing about it - I can't imagine the pain of being closer to it. What I *could* imagine was a very simple bit of technology that could prevent it.

I wrote a lot of letters to car manufacturers and to politicians with my idea. I'm not a kook, but I did feel like I was tilting at windmills... still, if anything can be done - if this can help just one family - then it would be worth it.

Sarahlynn said...

Excellent response, dhole.

P. Bradley Robb: I thought kids were sensors.

Kids fall asleep in cars. Also, many parents get out of the car, shut the door, then open a back door to release the child. Why would the child say anything? The process (from the child's perspective) didn't break down until the doors were closed and the parent walked away.

And it's not just cell phones. I can get distracted by any one of a million distractions in my head (a bit of dialogue I'm working on, a mental to-do list).

The desire to blame-blame-blame drives me crazy. I went to the airport and left for a business trip once with the door to my house standing wide open. (Presumably, I meant to go back and shut it after putting my suitcase in the car, but my mind had already moved on to the next thing.) It happens.

And as the parent of two young children safely buckled in 5-point safety harness car seats (ages 2 and 5) I am always terrified that I'll make a similar mistake. That fear helps keep it from happening, I hope.