Chuck E. CheeseJust days after a 3-year-old was left behind by her parents at a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant in Maryland, along comes another case. This time it happened in Texas when 5-year-old Azana Jackson was left at her own birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. Her mother -- who notably has nine other children -- didn't realize she was missing until the next day.

First of all, WTF is it with that place? I know it's an overstimulating sensory explosion that numbs the mind, but still it's unbelievable that twice in one week, it's been the scene for such similar, frightening incidents. They are shocking and leave other parents wagging fingers with mouths agape, shouting, "How could they?"

While I gasped as well when I read these stories, I did so in part because I know it could easily be my story everyone is judging. You see, just last week I accidentally left my 3-year-old daughter on a playground.

It was Friday afternoon, and I had an hour to kill between the time I picked her up at school and the time I picked my son and his two friends up. We had plans to go get frozen yogurt, then head to the park with two other families. So she and I went to the school playground to wait. I chatted with moms as she happily played with the other children.

Then the boys came out with all of their 8-year-old, Friday energy. I rounded them up and kept them in line in the parking lot and out of the way of oncoming cars. I made sure backpacks made it in the minivan, seatbelts were getting buckled, and got them settled. Then I looked at my daughter’s car seat. She wasn’t in it.

Never have I run so quickly in my life as I did back to that playground, across the parking lot, my heart racing. She was fine, and another mother I knew was standing there. “I wondered where you were going without her,” she said as tears streamed down my face, and I scooped up my sweet baby.

Now I never left the parking lot, and if I’d have left her anywhere, she was in the safest place she could have been, where plenty of other parents know her and would have looked out for her. Also, there's NO way I wouldn't have realized she was missing within minutes, much less overnight. BUT STILL. I shudder and tear up when think about it.

I’m not in any way excusing these parents or myself; I’m just saying I can see how things like this happen, even though last week I probably would have told you it would never happen to me.

HOW could it have happened? I can give you a whole explanation as to how on Wednesdays I pick up the same group of boys without my daughter, so my brain was in Wednesday mode. Or the fact that I had a lot on mind, or that I was ridiculously tired after my husband had been traveling all week. None of those are excuses, but they are reasons things like this can happen to otherwise pretty good, conscientious parents.

Maybe the parents in these Chuck E. Cheese incidents are unfit and should be chastised for their actions; maybe I should be chastised too. I, however, believe that for the most part, we’re all doing the best we can, and sometimes, unfortunately we can and do make mistakes; and that we do a better job than anyone else at beating ourselves when we do.

Have you ever left your child somewhere? Can you see how it can happen?


Image via melissaclark/Flickr