I’ve written before about how every summer I dread the story.
And how it invariably comes, even though I always hold out hope that maybe this will be one of the rare years when it doesn’t.
But I live in Arizona, where the intense heat and long summers make it more than likely that one morning, when I snap the rubber band off my newspaper or turn on the television news, there it will be. Again.
And my stomach will turn, and my heart will ache. Again.
Bad parenting isn’t always the reason
Some normally doting parent will get out of the car and will, because he or she is distracted, or in a rush, or out of routine, or just not thinking, leave a child behind.
In hardly any time at all, the little body’s temperature will skyrocket, and the child will die, still strapped safely in the car seat.
The story is the same, or close enough, every time; only the name of the child changes.
They are sweet names. Maya, Adryan, Camille and Quentan. Sara, Ryan and Jordan. And the children range from just weeks old to toddlers.
Their parents are of all ages, all ethnicities, rich and poor, well-educated and not. It happens at different times of day and at different places, often in their own driveways.
Sometimes, kids — usually the older ones, maybe 3, 4, 10 — climb into cars to play and inadvertently close themselves inside. They succumb to the heat even while frantic parents search for them in the house and backyard pool.
Other times, you hear about the few beyond-bad parents who leave kids in hot cars while they run into a store or — may lightning strike them down — a bar for a few drinks.
But most often, the children simply are forgotten by normally rock-solid, attentive and loving parents, with devastating results. Most often, someone just made a horrifying mistake.
I worried I might make a mistake
When I became a first-time mom, I worried I could make that mistake, too.
My son was just a month old in 1999 when 9-month-old Benjamin Shelton was found dead in his father’s parked car at NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. His father, a flight test engineer at NASA, a rocket scientist, for Pete’s sake, forgot to drop him off at day care.
If he could screw this up, I thought, so could I.
I worried equally about my son accidentally drowning in our backyard pool, but there were things I could do to reduce that risk: I had a backdoor with a deadbolt up high, an alarm and a regulation-high, wrought-iron fence with a self-closing gate between him and the water.
But I was the only thing that stood between my boy and heatstroke. And some days, after three successive nights of sleeping only an hour and a half between feedings, I worried that maybe he couldn’t count on just me.
I started putting my purse next to his car seat in the backseat whenever he was in it.
I know, I know — it seems terrible to say that a woman might forget her baby, but not her purse. But I’ve been carrying a purse since I was 13, and carrying around a baby was new.
Just for good measure, I would lay a blue blanket across my lap while driving, so I would have to move it when I got out of the car. I hung a picture of Sawyer from the rearview mirror.
And because he was in a rear-facing car seat, I tied a small mirror to the backseat headrest and tilted it down at my son, so I could see him in the mirror.
Was I being over the top? Maybe.
Humans make mistakes all the time
But I’m human.
And humans make mistakes all the time — parents, especially. (Ask our kids.) And especially sleep-deprived, overwhelmed-with-love-and-worry and new-to-the-routine parents.
Fortunately, most of the mistakes are harmless. A too-warm bottle. A talcum-powder explosion. A disposable diaper put on backward. (Why isn’t Elmo on the front, where there’s a chance the kid might actually get to look at him?)
But a few, like forgetting a baby in a hot car, are deadly.
I dread the stories, every year.
Over the weekend, there were two in two days in Phoenix.
One-year-old Josiah Riggins died Saturday after being left in car at church by his dad. Just 24 hours earlier, 7-month-old Zane Endress died after being left in a car by his grandparents in northeast Phoenix.
My stomach turns and my heart aches. Again and again.