It doesn't matter how many times I read the words "baby dies in hot car." Every time, I get the same feeling, right in the center of my stomach, right below my belly button. My throat constricts, and tears prick at the corner of my eyes.
It's a feeling of horror, thinking about what kids like the 7-month-old who died in his father's pick-up truck in Sugar Land, Texas this week were feeling in those last moments. But it's fear too. Fear because of all the crimes against children, a young one forgotten in a car is the one most of us look at and say, "Oh God, that could have been me."
I could be the criminal.
I could be the monster.
Here are the sparse details of what happened in Texas this week: The dad took his older kids to school on Thursday morning. Then he went to a business conference. He returned home around 3:45 p.m. Sometime later, his wife called and asked how the kids were doing. That's when he rushed out to the truck, realizing his baby had been there all day.
Now let's read between the lines. I imagine a Dad rushing to get the kids to school, rushing to a conference. I imagine a Dad who was trying to do so many things for his family that he never managed to do any of them quite as well as he could.
Been there, haven't you? A few months ago my husband fell ill, really ill, to the point where he had to be rushed to the ER. But in the days before his hospital visit, he was so incapacitated that I acted as if a single parent. I took over the morning run to school in addition to my after-school duties. I fed. I bathed. I clothed. And I worked.
This is not to say I did anything extraordinary. It's my job, and my hat is off to all the single parents who juggle it all for much longer than a week. But when your schedule is changed, when you have extra duties piled on you, things fall through the cracks.
Most of us have never left a child in a hot car. But we all have that memory that haunts us. The tearful call from a hungry kindergartner whose lunch you forgot to pack, perhaps. The 11 p.m. dash to the pet store to buy a new goldfish because the last one succumbed to hunger while your kid was at camp.
It's a horror that there are babies dying in hot cars. But part of the horror is knowing that there is no one good way to make these tragedies go away.
What is that mistake that haunts you and makes you feel like you could have been this dad?
Image via gematrium/Flickr