It Could Happen to You

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


  1. I recently posted about this on my Facebook page and Twitter, and received the LOWEST number of responses ever. It's such an important topic, and experts believe the only way to reduce the likelihood of this happening is by raising awareness about well done on sharing!

  2. I left my baby in the car too. I feel terrible even saying that. She was around 6 weeks and we were just starting to take her out into the unwashed world. I brought her to my older daughter's dance class. I wasn't used to bringing her places. My older daughter hopped out of the car and we began walking through the parking lot to dance. We ran into another parent and began walking in with her and her daughter. We made friendly conversation as we walked through the parking lot and she asked the usual "How's the baby?" It literally felt like my heart stopped beating. What if I hadn't run into that other mother? What if we had been 30 seconds earlier or later and no one had said anything. In our case it was a cold winter day. It still horrifies me to think about.

  3. Eeeekkkk!! We ALL forgot my youngest (at the time) in the truck once, and it was for longer than a minute. Thank GOD it was in the late fall, and cool outside. He was buckled into his car seat, which he couldn't unbuckle himself, in the back row of the Suburban. We got to my sister's house, and all piled out and went in. No one unbuckled him. No one realized he hadn't gotten out and wasn't playing with the kids. He was probably in there for 30 minutes. He was not happy when we went and got him, and I felt horrible. Like, I've never EVER felt that horrible before. It can happen to anyone.

  4. How scary! I seriously panic at least once a week that I left the baby at home because for the most part he is always so quiet in the car. Terrifies me!

    I'm happy to have found a fellow 'Iowa Blogger'!! I'm from SE Iowa. You can find my blog at Looking forward to that famous Iowa Sweet Corn in another month or so!

  5. Just yesterday I read an article in Parents magazine (June 2014 issue) about this! It just really pulled at my heartstrings. Mainly because other parents are so judgmental of parents that have had this happen, but I can see just how easily it COULD happen. The Parents article stated that hot-car deaths have happened in nearly every state, eleven months out of the year, because like you said--cars heat up fast and babies' bodies heat up three to five times faster than ours. They also mentioned that nearly every case (as with your situation) has occurred when there is a change in the regular routine. Another interesting point was that it often happens with rear-facing car seats (you can't see the baby) and when the baby is asleep or quiet. I really found this interesting--there has been a big increase in hot-car deaths since 1992 because that was when car seats were moved to the back seats. So, we've lowered deaths from air bags, but increased deaths from over-heating. Parents offered some tips for prevention: Put something (a toy, etc.) in the front seat to remind you of the baby when you get out; put something of yours (purse, phone, etc.) in the back seat so you see the baby when you get out; put the car seat in middle of the back seat so you're more likely to see it; get in the habit of always checking the back seat when you get out; talk about hot-car deaths with anyone that drives your child; and set up a system with your caregiver--If I haven't dropped baby off at day car by X o'clock, then call me! On a 70 degree day, a car heats to 89 degrees in just ten minutes! Sorry to go on and on, it just really struck a chord with me and I wanted to share what I had just read. Thanks so much for sharing your experience, Rita. And absolutely no judgment here.

  6. When my son was two and a half my oldest daughter 16 at the time said she was taking him to rent a movie. She loaded him up in his seat and left. A few minutes later she's back in the house, and I'm on the phone. She waits patiently for me to finish, as I've taught them. When I asked her why she was back she calmly informs me that my son is locked in her car with the keys!!!!! It's 100° outside!!!! I have never ran so fast in my life!! He was crying and sweating profusely! I called 911, the fire and police came and were able to get him out quickly. He was OK just very hot and scared. It was heart wrenching too watch him stuck in there all strapped in and not able too get out. I tried to break the window but it just made him hysterical so I stopped and waited for the rescuers.
    So I know how easily this can happen. I'm so glad your son is ok. :-)

  7. Thanks for sharing. I am so paranoid about this as a new mom.

  8. Extremely scary! I locked my oldest in the car when he was just 6 months old, during the hot summer. I thought I halts keys in my hand but as the door was closing I realized I didn't. I couldn't move fast enough to stop the site from closing. We didn't have those remote control locks. It was my first week at a new job. Very terrifying. The firefighters saved the day.

  9. I agree, our society has become fast-paced crazy and it causes this to happen, to good people, to great people, to wonderful parents, and it is scary as heck! Thank goodness he was okay. I locked Dallas (accidentally) in the car when he was just about two, in the summer, in the south, it was horrible waiting on help to arrive, just a couple minutes but absolutely horrible!

  10. So scary! Glad he's okay. And along with everyone else, I have my own version of the accidental lock-in. When my ex-husband came with the spare set of keys I think he came around the bend on 2 wheels..... Yes, scary. Yes, it can happen to ANYONE! Either the accidental lock-in OR the leave-behind.
    Besides what you can do for yourself to remember, always glance at the cars parked next to you should they have car seats in them. Hey, ya never know!

  11. How frightful! I'm so panicked about this sort of thing. As soon as I had babies, I started the habit of bucking my baby in and then leaving my purse next to the baby car seat. That way, I would always have to open the back door to get my purse. How sad is that? I worried I could forget my baby but knew I'd remember my purse.

  12. Thank you for sharing this - it could happen to any one of us, and it's good for us to know that!

  13. It still makes me ill to think about this, and I still have nightmares about it! You and I are both good, conscientious mothers and I used to be judgmental when I heard of things like this. Not any more! With the weather getting hot, I'm glad you were able to finally write about this, and I hope it saves some lives!

  14. Recently came across this article....makes for interesting discussion...

  15. Yoiks!! incidentally,i moseyed on over and read your period post... and then promptly had this show up on my facebook....

    I admit i thought of your story the whole time.


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