Note: This post is a tiny bit of a departure from my usual funny stuff, but it's important and I needed to get it off my chest. If you want funny, how about this confession about how I faked my first period? You're welcome.
I once failed to notice a six-foot-tall naked woman rampaging through our neighborhood in full daylight, breaking into people's cars, yelling, unrolling my garden hose and winding it around every bush/tree/rock in our front yard. Complete with police helicopters circling overhead.
I was awake. Sitting at my computer, no doubt doing something relatively unimportant, while my very own yard looked like an episode of COPS. And yet - I somehow missed the whole debacle. I only heard about it from my stunned neighbors and, like, the six o'clock news. (In my defense, it was when we lived in Las Vegas, where that could pretty much be considered a normal afternoon.)
So yeah, I can be oblivious sometimes. And that might be a tiny bit of an understatement.
But when it comes to the safety and protection of my kids, it's a different matter entirely. I pride myself on being a vigilant, responsible mother, always keeping their needs at the forefront of my consciousness. Or, you know, so I thought.
Last summer, when my youngest son Corbin was barely a year old, we were having a cookout to celebrate my mom moving here. I decided it wouldn't be complete without some of the sweet corn Iowa is famous for, so I told my husband that Mom and I were going to run to the grocery store. He was busy preparing the grill while all four of the kids played in the yard.
"Take the baby with you," he suggested. "I don't think I can keep a good eye on everybody out here."
I loaded Corbin into his car seat and we headed to the store. On the way there, my mom and I laughed and joked - it was so nice to have her around on a regular basis. Usually when the two of us were together, it was just for a short visit, but now she was living right down the street.
We pulled up at Hy-Vee and went into the store, still laughing at something all the way across the parking lot. I fumbled with my phone to see what time it was. My mom rummaged in her purse for Chap-Stick. When we walked in, we made a beeline for the produce section right at the front - but were disappointed that their selection of sweet corn was really picked-over.
"This is Iowa in the summer!" I griped to Mom. "How can they not have good corn in stock? Let's go to another store."
So we walked out.
We got in the car.
I started driving.
After a few seconds, I heard my mother gasp. She had a horrified look on her face. And literally the instant I looked at her, the horrible realization dawned on me, too: we had left the baby in the car.
I seriously have trouble typing that phrase. My chest feels heavy and panicked when I think about it, even a year later (which is why I'm just now getting the courage to write it down). It's hard to admit that I FORGOT. MY BABY. IN THE CAR. Not only that, but so did my mom. If somebody had told me that two experienced, loving, protective mothers would make that critical mistake, I'd never have believed it - but somehow, that's exactly what happened. We were both preoccupied with our conversation. I wasn't used to having only one child with me; it was always either some or none. Corbin had been quiet as a church mouse the whole time, not making a single peep - not a babble or a fuss to remind us of his presence in the back seat. So we left him, in the summertime, in the hot car with the windows up. It was at least ninety degrees that day.
It was a miracle that we were only in the store for literally enough time to walk in, spend a few seconds checking out the corn, and walk out. A complete miracle. What if we had actually been shopping? What if their corn had been decent, and after carefully selecting the right ears, we had decided to wander to the other side of the store and get some ice cream ... and then some chips ... and then some barbecue sauce? A child's body temperature rises three to five times faster than an adult's. Not only that, but a car can reach one hundred twenty-five degrees in just minutes - even if the window is cracked.
My baby could have died. He would have died. On average, there are thirty-eight child deaths per year from being trapped in hot cars. I'm so thankful that Corbin wasn't part of that statistic, because he was certainly set up to be.
I'm writing this not as a confession of what a horrible mother I am, but as a statement that I'm actually a good mother (you know, for the most part) and this still happened despite it. It's a warning that this can happen to anyone. I'm going to say it again and put it in caps: THIS COULD HAPPEN TO ANYONE.
You don't have to be a negligent parent or grandparent or caregiver, or stoned or drunk or stupid - just being human is enough.
*All statistics from KidsandCars.org