Fatal Distraction

A mama writing friend posted a link to an article in the Washington Post on her Facebook page earlier this week. I was intrigued by the title and tagline, Fatal Distraction: Forgetting a child in the back seat of a hot, parked car is a horrifying, inexcusable mistake. But is it a crime? I clicked on it and while it made my heart ache and my stomach hurt, I read the whole thing. Somehow I felt like I had to read it.

It was about the death of a baby last year. The baby died in his father’s car after the father forgot that he hadn’t dropped his son off at daycare. The child suffered from hyperthermia after hours in the car on a hot day. The father realized this terrible error eight hours later as he was walking to his car and saw people standing around it.

The thought of this happening is horrifying. Actually, it’s beyond horrifying. I can’t imagine the pain that father feels and will always feel. I remember when I first heard that it had happened; I tried to convince myself that it could never happen to me. To my husband. To our friends.

A clinical psychologist, Mr. Hickling, who was interviewed for the article, affirmed that my reaction was normal:

Humans have a fundamental need to create and maintain a narrative for their lives in which the universe is not implacable and heartless, that terrible things do not happen at random, and that catastrophe can be avoided if you are vigilant and responsible.

Indeed, part of what compelled me to read the article was my hope that I’d find some reason that this could never happen to me. I tried to think of every way I would be vigilant to avoid this or any other catastrophe. Should we consider posting a checklist in our van — item number one: have we removed the children from their seats?

I was surprised to read that this was not the first accident of its type. Far from it. In fact, it happens in the United States 15 – 25 times a year. Whoa. That this happens is testimony that we (modern parents) can be so distracted. Many times the distraction is related to being a good parent – being exhausted after a sleepless night with a baby or working long hours at a job to provide for one’s family. No one sets out to forget their child.

A professor of molecular physiology and a memory expert said, “If you can forget your cell phone, you can forget your child.” Apparently there’s something in how a stressed out mind functions that makes this true. Now, if that doesn’t stop and make me think, I’m not sure what will. I forget my cell phone at least once a week.

It’s a real call to slow down…and breathe. To be present. To ask for help if we need it. And, it’s a reminder to be grateful for a nearly-five-year-old who asks if he can unbuckle the minute we park the van. And to be grateful for a 16-month-old baby who has recently taken to screeching as his favorite mode of communicating. And though I don’t think we would ever forget, I know that amidst the hustle and bustle, they will always remind us that they are there. And for that, I am so very thankful.

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2 Responses to Fatal Distraction

  1. Stephanie says:

    Such a scary possibility that something like this can happen! I admit that I’ve forgotton to buckle each of my kids into their carseats once…it’s mortifying to think about what could have happened. A reminder that we all need to slow down and live our lives in the moment we are in, not even in the next moment to come. Thanks, Liz!

  2. Sarah says:

    Somehow, I missed this post! Oh, those faulty human brains. I ended up writing an article about kids and cars for our town’s parenting newsletter. The thing I’ve seized on to worry about/try to do something about, is backover accidents. Those are terrifyingly common, and I was shocked to learn how much of a blind spot there is even behind our little Honda Civic. Oh brother.

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