MONIQUE BATSON — As summer nears, consider steps to prevent hot car deaths
Published 12:24 am Friday, April 29, 2022
I was scrolling through my Facebook timeline recently when I came across a post that, in part, read: “Just heard a public service announcement commercial on AM radio about not leaving or forgetting your child in the backseat of a hot car during the summer.￼￼ They actually said place something important in the backseat by your child so you’ll remember to get it out. I don’t know of anything more important than your child but for some parents they should stick their cell phone in the backseat because they care about their phone more than their child!”
And, of course, it was followed by dozens of comments calling such people unworthy of being parents.
As someone who once left their child at home by mistake, they were hard to read.
It’s not a secret or something I’m ashamed of — anymore, that is. I wrote a blog post about it 12 years ago that sparked a two-year series of weekly columns about parenting. And clearly not perfect parenting. I, instead, wrote about the mistakes made as I learned how to be a mother. I wrote the anti-guide to parenting, if you will.
The aforementioned day was in 2007 and my youngest child was 2 months old. As I’ve said many times in the past, I raised my two step children from a young age. What I don’t think mentioned is the custody hearing happened while pregnant with the fourth child, and I went from having one full-time child to four within nine months. I traded a VW Beetle in for a minivan. And all of a sudden I went from someone who had barely learned how to change a diaper to someone responsible for breakfast, dressing kids, getting one to school, bringing three to daycare and getting myself to work every weekday.
On this particular day, we were running late. And, I’m sure it goes without saying that a mother of a 2-month-old baby doesn’t sleep much.
I buckled him in his infant carrier while the oldest looked for his backpack. I took the middle two outside to the van and buckled them into their car seats. As I was finishing, the oldest came outside, and it was obvious he hadn’t brushed his hair. We hurried back so I could help, and then rushed outside.
When we got in the van, I realized I had no cell phone. I certainly didn’t care more about it than my children, but immediately plugging it into the charger was a routine I’d been in for years. Buckling in an infant carrier was not. I had only been cleared to drive a few weeks prior.
However, because I had heard the horror stories of parents accidentally leaving their children in vehicles, I always put the youngest child behind the passenger seat so I could see them more-easily than if they were hidden behind me.
That’s how I noticed I had forgotten my 2-month-old.
We were about 10 minutes from home when I checked the right-side window to merge lanes and saw the empty base to my son’s car seat.
I tried to keep my composure and avoid scaring the other three as we turned around to get home as fast as possible through two school zones. But they knew what was happening and spent the entire trip back saying things like “he’s probably screaming” and “I bet he’s scared.” They were children; they speak their minds. But every word pushed the knife I already felt in my stomach.
When we got home, I ran in the house and found my son sleeping soundly in his car seat next to my cell phone. And for the next five years, I would arrive at work, go outside 10 minutes later to check my vehicle, and almost always email the daycare owner just to check on them. Once you realize how susceptible you are to making such a mistake, it sticks with you.
I wasn’t a bad mom or an unfit mom. I was just a tired new mom.
Since 1998, more than 900 children have died from being left in a hot vehicle, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
And while I too have heard commercials such as the one I saw on Facebook, I’ve heard them less as something “important” and more as something unmistakable. For instance, if you take off one shoe and set it in your child’s seat, you’re likely going to notice it when you arrive at work.
Summer is coming quickly, and Texas heat is brutal. If you have young children, consider putting a shoe or your purse next to your child’s car seat.
It’s easy to pass judgment and think you could never be “that” parent — until you are.
Monique Batson is the Port Arthur Newsmedia editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.