We've all heard the horrific story: a dad (or mom) drives to work, busy and harried, dashes into the office, and forgets the sleeping baby in the backseat. I read about it again this morning at this blog.
But let me tell you my story, now that I'm older. A few years ago (quite a few), I was meeting a close friend for lunch. We hadn't seen each other in quite a while, and we were both excited to chat at a restaurant for hours and catch up. Lots was going on in our lives. My kids were a little older; she had a newborn. I wanted to see her baby, and she wanted to hear my news. It was a beautiful, sunny, early-summer day.
I drove. I picked my friend up at her house, she loaded baby and carseat into the back, and off we went. The baby dozed. We pulled up to the restaurant, and because they didn't have a car lot, I parked up the street a bit, under a tree. We'd already enjoyed chatting non-stop in the car, and the conversation continued at a constant run (as it does with good friends) as we got out of the car, walked to the restaurant, got a table, and went to sit down.
As I said, my friend had a newborn, and she was still sore from delivery, and sitting was a little painful for her. This was not her first child. As we were arranging ourselves at the table, I remember mentioning that she should take the chair with the cushion. And instantly -- instantly -- we both realized that we'd left the baby in the car.
It's hard to express the emotions we had. I felt shock, fear, relief (that we'd remembered), embarrassment (as we exited so fast, and returned with a baby we didn't have before). It's one thing to do this alone, but because my friend and I both forgot the baby, we had to admit to each other that both of us were this weak. That I was capable of forgetting a baby. All of us are. You are.
The baby was fine, of course, but not because we were attentive. I'd parked in the shade, to keep the car cool for us. I'd had four children myself. How could either of us forget a baby??
But people do forget babies. And not because they don't love them. Not because they are negligent. Not because they are irresponsible, or unintelligent, or because the babies aren't absolutely, fundamentally important to them. People forget babies because people aren't perfect. None of us are. All of us are forgetful sometimes.
Since that day, I have had only compassion and real sorrow for parents whose children die this way. It is a most horrific, devastating event. I don't pretend to know how the courts should rule in such cases, but I do know this: no one can judge the forgetful parent in these cases more harshly that he or she already judges himself. I only tasted that guilt and self-loathing and utter, agonizing fear, for a moment, for a friend's child. I cannot imagine living with it.
Surely some inventor out there could come up with some device that would alert the driver when there's a baby left in the car. There must be a way to alleviate this tragedy in our society. It is causing such crushing pain. Let's not judge. Imagine yourself, remembering too late that your precious child is in that car. Compassion.