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There But for the Grace of God Go We

There But for the Grace of God Go We

Thanks to social media, we are more or less aware of every tragedy, every freak accident, every disaster that takes place around the country and the world.

It happened again recently in Huntsville, so it seems so much more personal. I bet many of you, like myself, will have trouble sleeping thinking of the “what if” scenarios and trying to understand how something so horrible can happen. And what kind of parent could let it happen.

I was almost that parent in 2005.

A disruption in my morning routine was all it took. A frantic call from work during the usual morning commute to daycare, then the office. Except, in the swirl of work conversation I slipped into auto-pilot and forgot the daycare stop. (I was also pregnant with my second child but didn’t know it yet.) My only saving grace after arriving in my parking spot at work was turning to see the bucket car seat still in its base – an indication that my sleeping baby was still in the car.

Every time I think about it I literally feel like crying… what if we had a different car seat then? WHAT IF what if what if what if

For parents who think how can this happen? How could ANYONE be so irresponsible/distracted/stupid/forgetful/unfit/evil? I can only share my own story and ask others to share theirs. If you haven’t yet read the Pultizer Prize winning Washington Post story about the implications and consequences of these tragedies, you should, and read it all the way through. It provides many different perspectives from families who have been through this special type of hell.

No, it’s not OK or excusable, and no one is condoning the incident. Many people have the tendency to lash out in anger or fear – if they can lay blame and show that the parent did something wrong to cause this tragedy then it makes them feel like it can’t happen to them. The comments on local news outlets reflect that vitriol.

To me, only empathy and support is in order for this grieving family in our community. Because it could have easily been me, and it could have been you. There but for the grace of God go we, every day.

Instead, I ask you to share your own #CloseCall and strategies for keeping it happening to your family. Parenting can be lonely and isolating enough. Let’s come together to talk about ways to keep this from happening again. Maybe another mom or dad will be reading your comments and find a solution they can implement into their own routines. Instead of condemnation, I ask you for your stories and ideas.

[themify_box style=”lavender announcement rounded”]NOTE: Per our site comment policy on social media and our website, and the deeply emotional nature of this tragedy, we will delete any comments that are inappropriate to this discussion, or that attack other parents. There are other forums where you can post comments of that nature, but this is not one of them. That said, we welcome comments of story-sharing and support. [/themify_box]

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View Comments (24)
  • Thanks for sharing your story Stephenie. I see so many people out there saying how they could never do this but I think it could happen to anyone. I have multiple things that I do to help prevent this from happening to me… First whenever the kids are in the car I turn on kids music, this reminds me they are there. Second I put their daycare bags in the front seat with my lunch so that if I make it all the way to work I will notice the bags when I reach for my lunch. Third I call my mom everyday after I drop the boys off, usually just to check-in, if I don’t call she will call me to make sure everything is okay. Luckily, I haven’t gotten all the way to work without dropping them off before but I have passed the exit on the interstate before I realized it and had to turn around to go back.

    • These are GREAT strategies, HIllary, and easy to implement into a commute. The kid’s music one is a great reminder – because who doesn’t want to switch stations after they drop off the kids? 🙂
      Thank you so much for sharing them with other parents.

    • Thank you for the great idea of putting back packs with your purse in the front seat. I am going to start doing that Monday morning!!!

  • I don’t have a close call like this, but I still have a two year I never think “this can’t happen to me”…things happen, we are all human…and the crushing level of guilt and grief felt by the parents must be incredible. We did lose my son at Disney World once. My husband, older son, and MIL got off of a ride and asked where our younger son was…my husband and MIL looked around and immediately were panicked.
    Although this is not the same thing, the anguish and guilt they felt and the loss I felt just in those 2 hours, as the park was searched by the park staff and our family, was a feeling I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

    Praying for the family as they grieve the loss of their child.

  • It happened to me. My 3-year-old was left in the car one December after he fell asleep. With so many relatives visiting and piling in and out of the car, everyone thought someone else had brought him in. He wasn’t discovered missing until about 30-45 minutes later. If it had been summer, it could have been tragic.

    It was extremely traumatic to me, and even though there were other adults who were also looking out for the kids, I am the mom and I blamed myself.

    People shouldn’t judge. You never know what may happen to you tomorrow.

  • My heart aches for this family, I can see how it can happen and while the parent is at fault, they endure horrific consequences for their lapse. Routines can be so auto pilot and any little change or interruption can be absorbed without thought. I can imagine how it could take place with a working parent. I was a stay at home mom but recall a hurried time of coming home with groceries and getting them quickly into the house before getting the baby out after parking in the garage and closing the door. While it wasn’t that long, I recall stopping and remembering to go get the baby!!!! I cannot imagine the quilt and pain this person will carry with them for the remainder of their life and I, personally, wouldn’t say one disparaging word about them based on the present information.

  • My thoughts and prayers are with the family. There are some things we can do as parents as a gentle reminder. Listen to the kids favorite tunes until you drop them off, put bells or some type of noisemaker close to where the child’s feet would be, set a reminder on our phone “check on Lucy” to go along with the other 1000 reminders we set on our phones, etc.; maybe even a text from a family member close to the time you would be dropping the kids off. You know, just to ensure all is well. In my opinion it takes a village, make one of those villagers your “town crier”.

  • I was actually left in the car by my family when I was about 3 and a church member asked about why I wasn’t with my family which prompted them to ask “did you get her, did you, etc.” and realize every one thought the other person had gotten me out. It can happen to ANYONE. None of us are above this.

  • When I was 10 and my sister was a baby, I recall my mother accidently locking her in the car while it was running, and, if I am not mistaken, it was in the garage (although the garage door was open). This was 31 years ago, before keyless entries and such. I am sure my mom started the car, remembered something in the house and was going to pop back in for it. Out of habit, she hit the lock. I was playing in the yard, probably planning to hop in at the last minute for a grocery trip or some odd errand. I just remember my mother’s shear panic and I think the fire department came and fished the lock up. Obviously, this is not even remotely in the vicinity of forgetting a child in a hot car, but it is testimony that we function on auto drive. Parents of infants are TIRED. Gosh, my kids are almost 10 and many days I just drag. I forget many things in the course of a day, and I think we just have parents out there who are probably tired or stressed or just moving out of habit and this kind of tragic accident happens. I would love to see a system like the schools use used at daycares. My husband teaches and gets a robocall from school almost ever night. What if daycares set up robocalls to all parents/grands/etc that ever drop off kids to call them at say, 7:15 if drop offs are typically at 7. A text? Something so that the parent gets that reminder on the mobile piece could be a key to this. There has to be a way to prevent this from happening. I have cried all day just thinking about the pain this mother must feel. I cannot even put my head around it. I feel so much for her and hope we can do something as a society to help in the future.

  • Thank you for sharing. I cannot imagine the level of grief this family is experiencing. We should all try a bit harder to extend grace to others, especially in circumstances we don’t understand.

  • The best strategy I’ve ever heard and used myself was to put something vital in the back seat by the baby. Like your purse or a shoe. Honestly, the shoe is the best (especially if you are very tired) bc as silly as it sounds, you will never head into work or the store in one shoe. You may space out on getting your phone or your wallet or bag, but a shoe – no way. Low tech, simple and it WORKS. My thoughts are with this family. Not only did a child die, but a parent and an entire immediate and extended family must deal with the loss, the guilt, resentment….that is punishment enough.

  • Thank you for this article. The vitriol from people is so hard to read, because it could have been any one of us. It’s a mistake and this family has lost their child. I urge people to show compassion. Most of these incidents are not intentional. They’re simply not. We are all human and must lift each other up.

  • I will never lay blame, because it almost happened to me as well; I took my grandkids to school on and off, and also had my youngest grandson, less than a year old at the time, in the car with me. I was tired, waking up at 6:30 didn’t work for me, and not completely on my game. I pulled the car in front of the house instead of the carport, got out and went in. It might have been 5 minutes that I was inside, when I realized something was off. I had left my little one in the car. Thank God it wasn’t in the heat of the day yet. Thank God something pulled at me. Thank God for a lot of things. He was upset but okay. It can happen to anyone.

  • My husband and I always call the other parent by 9AM, dependent on who was dropping our boys off. We also put our computer bags between the car seats.

    A friend of my cousin texts a picture of the empty car seat to her husband after she drops their son off at daycare and vice versa; then they know if they don’t get a picture to call the other parent.

    Prayers and thoughts for the family and also for the community. May these parents find comfort someday, but also may the community come together for them to help them heal. We all need more compassion these days.

  • I once forgot to buckle my first born’s car seat. He was seven months old. I was unknowingly pregnant with our second child, had not slept longer than a two hour stretch in seven months, and was not 1oo% on my game. I remember it well because I was so shook up that I could do such a thing! What if someone wrecked into my car that day? Would everyone deem me an unfit mother because I made a mistake? Probably. Should they? No. We all make mistakes every single day. Thankfully they don’t always end in tragedy. God be with the parents who lost their child due to a tragic error. May God comfort them in their time of need.

  • Put the brief case, lunch, purse, phone, or whatever you will be taking in to work ,in the back seat. Clip a large object on your key chain, such as a clip on child’s toy. Put the diaper bag on the front seat. And this is for everyone, not just people with children, always look in the back seat when exiting and entering your vehicle. People have been known to break in and hide in the back floorboard

  • When I worked at a university research institute (Institute for Neurocognitive Science & Technology), we primarily studied what caused pilots to forget vital information and make potentially tragic mistakes. It’s amazing what intelligent, competent people can forget when they are distracted, tired, overwhelmed by information, etc. Similar research has led to smart cars that alert drivers when their eyes are away from the road, automatically brake when needed, and a host of features to make driving safer.

    The research made me realize that no one is above these kind of mistakes. All of our minds can become overwhelmed and temporarily forget crucial information. I wish a car or car seat manufacturer would fund research to prevent these kind of tragedies. All the suggestions mentioned on here have been great, but the technology exists to do more. I think we just need concerned manufacturers willing to invest in possible solutions.

  • I will NOT judge! There is no prison on earth worse than what this poor mom is going through right now. How many times have I sat at my desk after JUST having arrived at work and thought about the fact that I didn’t even remember driving myself there……too many times to count….:-/

  • As a mom, I’ve been there and thank God my distracted-ness never resulted in this tragedy (my kids are nearly grown now). I’ve wondered if something as simple as a ribbon or string tied to the steering wheel when a child is in the car could act as a reminder? Simple enough to keep in the car at all times, easy enough to tie/untie, not obstructive to the driver but maybe a pink/blue ribbon would be enough to remind a parent a child is still with us?

  • tie a ribbon from bottom of car seat to keychain or gear shift when baby is in the car. Sticky note on window of driver’s door that says BABY TO DAYCARE then remove when baby is dropped off. I once left our infant daughter in her car seat just inside our front door in the foyer and drove off with the three other kids. I had gone less than 1 block before being struck with that bowling ball to the gut feeling and she was fine, but gracious, I felt awful for days after that. I can’t imagine the unrelenting terror and sadness the parent has to live with after leaving his child in a hot car. It’s obviously a tragic accident, one so many of us have escaped somehow.

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