I have dozens of childhood memories that include me and my siblings waiting in the car for our parents. Most notably, I remember us waiting at the bank and my little brother, probably preschool age, backing the car into an adjacent lot. The story is told in jest now, and my mother was most definitely a helicopter parent of her time. That’s just how it was.
But it’s 2013 and we use car seats and bike helmets and you can’t leave your kids in the car anymore. There is no “running in” anywhere and even going to the bank to deposit a check is a full blown ordeal.
I ran errands one day last week and pulled my two kids in and out of the car no less than 15 times before noon. It was 80 degrees outside and I was taking our cat to the groomer. Here I am holding a 20-pound infant who is diving out of my arms with a cat carrier in one hand and attempting to wrangle a bolting preschooler with the other. Add the diaper bag and I’m a walking circus. Once I finally got everyone loaded into the car I realized that I forgot the checkbook and the grooming salon ONLY TAKES CHECKS.
I contemplated leaving my kids in the car while I ran back up to our apartment. The car was parked in the driveway in a shady area. I would only be a second. The windows were down.
Then I pictured myself falling up the stairs and twisting my ankle. Or being stopped by a neighbor who wanted to chat. Answering a phone call. My mind flashed to any number of things that could keep me from getting back to my car full of the most precious people in the world to me.
So I schlepped them all back inside.
Jeremy Martin-Weber recently shared a heart-wrenching story of accidentally leaving his baby in the car. He admits to judging parents whose gruesome stories he’d heard in the past. “These people, these parents, deserved it. They didn’t care…They were distracted. They forgot…I stuffed THEM in a car to slowly bake to death,” and then, he relates, “I’m one of them. The neglectful parents. I was just lucky.”
He did something that was out of their usual routine which resulted in his baby being left in the car for 20 minutes. And what he writes is painfully true: “In parenting failure isn’t an option. It’s a reality.”
Any of us could be that parent. Now more than ever parents are multitasking, smart-phoning, job-sharing. Using a nanny one day and taking their kid to work with them the next. Forgetting your checkbook is not the same as forgetting your child.
This past May was the deadliest since 2000 for heatstroke deaths in children. Every year about 38 children die from hyperthermia. Of the 559 child vehicular heatstroke deaths since 1998, 52% were due to a child forgotten in a car and 87% of those deaths were to children under the age of 3.
Children’s bodies heat up three to five times faster than our bodies do. Even with the windows rolled down on a mild day a car can reach internal temperatures of 120 degrees in eight minutes.
Other than infants and children accidentally left in the car by their caregivers, the second largest group of deaths is due to toddlers/preschoolers climbing into a hot car to play. The outcome is unimaginable.
Safe Kids USA encourages parents to reduce the number of deaths from heatstroke by remembering to ACT (avoid heatstroke by never leaving your child alone in the car, create reminders, take action).
In addition, here are some of my tips:
1. Set up a family plan to always check your back seats. Reinforce this plan on days when there are changes in your routine (switch in caregiver or drop off day), weekends or vacations. Remind caretakers as well.
2. Make a buddy system with your children to check for all kids when loading and unloading.
3. Teach children not to play or climb in cars.
4. Dress children appropriately in light, loose clothing when riding in the car to keep them cool.
5. Check metal clasps on seatbelts and car seats before putting your child in the car as these get hot.
Let’s be even more mindful of our precious cargo because the extra few minutes it takes to check the back seat or schlep children inside means never having to be that parent who is running to the car pleading with God that their baby is alive.
More information on heatstroke can be found here:
Note: Summer is also a great time to check that your car seats are tightly and properly installed in your vehicle as winter clothing can loosen the harness and seats periodically shift at the belt path. Check harness height and weight limits to be sure your children are always riding safely.
Tamara is a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician