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Babies Die and We Judge

In this weekend's Post magazine, Gene Weingarten takes us into the worlds of children forgotten by parents, children left to die in the back seats of their hot cars by mistake.

As you'd expect, the parents' world is a harrowing one. These parents suffered severe memory lapses of a type that one memory expert says can happen fairly easily. "Memory is a machine," he told Weingarten, "and it is not flawless. ... If you're capable of forgetting your cellphone, you are potentially capable of forgetting your child."

It's easy -- possibly even usual -- for parents to stand in judgment of one another. We see a child acting up at the grocery store and assume his parent is not doing his job. We hear of a child dying in the back seat of a car and we presume that said parent wasn't putting his or her child first. Just take a look at this comment on a blog about this topic in August:

"People need to tune in to their families. We're all so obsessed with our over-committed lives that we become bad parents. Yes - BAD PARENTS. How you can be driving and not remember who is in the car I'll never get. Time with your kids, even in the care, should be interactive and of quality. Children are a choice - live up to them if you choose them." -- Susan

Or many of the hundreds of comments on Weingarten's story, in which -- even after reading the article -- a few folks are still sure about where to place blame:

"After reading this article, I still don't understand how you forget your child in the car. I was a single parent going through a rough relationship, no child support, a job where my supervisor makes the "C" word look like a compliment, a layoff, the baby sitter switching days and always calling that she's sick, shall I go on, and I NEVER forgot my baby was in the car. I may have taken him to the wrong babysitter because of the schedule change, but I did not forget he was in the car. What's with these parents?" -- moussavi
Why are the children ... put in danger because the parent is so self absorbed in their own little world? While I might have pity for these individuals nevertheless what they did was a crime. ... If I'm driving a car and am not paying attention and hit a pedestrian and kill that person I'm guilty of manslaughter. Having a baby is not having a new toy it is having a responsibility. I have never understood why we are mandated to have driver's licenses, we are forced to have marriage licenses but no one teaches people how to become a parent before a child is born. -- dre7861
"Is it a crime? You're darn right it is. What the h*ll could be so important that you'd forget that your baby or toddler was in the car? I don't feel the least bit sorry for parents who leave their children to bake to death in the back seat of car; I'll reserve my sympathy for the poor babies who die in this horrible way." -- Bob22003

Judging each others' parenting is something we see time and again on this blog and on pretty much every parenting site I've read, whether it's about how we discipline our kids or how we handle them on airplanes. Breastfeeding or not? Private school or public? Chores and responsibilities. The list could go on and on.

So, what is it that makes any of us think we know enough inside other people's houses to fully judge? Why is it that we fight each other rather than forming a community to help each other? If a wife can forgive her husband for forgetting their child in a car, why can't the rest of us?

Gene Weingarten will be live at noon today to talk about his story Fatal Distraction.

By Stacey Garfinkle |  March 9, 2009; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Relationships
Previous: Dora the Explorer No More? | Next: What Kind of Parent Are You?

Comments


The point from Weingarten's story that I found interesting (and that changed my mind on the culpability of some of the parents discussed) was that, in their minds, many of the parents who "forget" their kids honestly think they've dropped the child off at the babysitters/daycare/school. Something happens in their routine that makes them forget that the dropoff didn't happen, and they twig only when they get a call from the child's caretakers. I think I can understand that -- we all drive on autopilot sometimes and forget exactly what we've done/where we've been. And I cannot imagine the horror of discovering that my absentmindedness had cost me my child. How could jailing such a parent accomplish anything?

Posted by: newsahm | March 9, 2009 8:37 AM | Report abuse

I guess the other side of the question is; if your babysitter forgot your child in the car, would you forgive them? Would you choose not to prosecute them?

Posted by: moxiemom1 | March 9, 2009 8:53 AM | Report abuse

I feel terrible for the parents in the article. Although I have never had the misfortune to forget one of my kids in the car (probably because I'm totally neurotic about that after reading about other cases) I've done other dumb things that could have hurt my kids... like forgetting to put away a bottle of medicine, and my 3-year old decided it would be interesting to drink half of it... (fortunately it turned out to be a medicine that isn't harmful- thank you poison control center for answering my frantic call!)

Posted by: bubba777 | March 9, 2009 8:57 AM | Report abuse

Yes, we as a society should and have an obligation to judge. An unnatural death has occurred. This must be investigated and adjudicated. Society has empowered district attorneys, grand juries and trial juries for this purpose. Individuals are held responsible every day for their actions or inactions. Think about the financial responsibility one has for causing an auto accident. Should we excuse an individual for death he or she caused by accident? As to the question of guilt and punishment, I would leave that to the jury and judge who have heard all the relevant facts.

I don't necessarily think that jail would serve society in a case like this. I do know that society would not be properly served if only a perfunctory investigation and no consideration for legal action is undertaken.

Posted by: Fred_F | March 9, 2009 9:14 AM | Report abuse

I think people want to believe that only "bad parents" can make these types of mistakes, because then we can feel safe . . . we are not "bad parents" so this cannot happen to us. I don't believe this happens only to "bad parents." I like the idea of getting people talking about this. It makes people paranoid and this will, hopefully, not happen as much. I don't think prosecution in most instances is appropriate. There is no intent. Negligence yes, intent no.

Posted by: MomTo2Kids | March 9, 2009 9:17 AM | Report abuse

I too feel very sorry for the children AND the parents. To judge them is not our place. In the end, there will be only one judge and that is God. Our judgement does absolutely nothing to change the situation and it certainly does not bring the child back.

I have tried to put myself in the shoes of these parents who lose their darling child and I cannot even imagine their pain. I will not add to it by sitting in judgement. After all, it could happen to any one of us - yes all you out there who say it won't ever happen.

You may not forget your child in a car, but you too may have a lapse in judgement that costs you your darling child for any number of "accidents" because you didn't think far enough ahead to prevent a disaster - a gun left out or where it could be obtained, medicine not secured, a burning candle, not watching them around the fireplace, a dog attack, drowning, not restraining them properly in the car, leaving them with a caretaker who didn't take care, etc.

This subject matter should be only discussed as to make aware everyone that we must be more diligent about our children -- NOT ONE OF US IS IMMUNE!!!

Posted by: tecatesdream | March 9, 2009 9:22 AM | Report abuse

I once drove off with my guitar on top of my car (guitar no more) I'd put it up there as I'd buckled the baby's car seat in. What if I'd done things the other way around? So far the only thing that keeps my children safe is my absolute terror about making this kind of mistake.

Posted by: annenh | March 9, 2009 9:48 AM | Report abuse

The car is like an office/home for many people. There are instances of Police Officers putting their guns on top of their cruisers and driving off. People leave all kinds of things in and on top of cars without even realizing it. What strikes me is the "perfect storm" scenario discussed, uncontrollable for the most part.

Before anyone jumps on my case, I tend to agree with Fred_F's assessment. Invesitagations are warranted and the disparity of whether charges are filed are a reality of the judicial system.

I was really surprised at the GW article, it was very different from his usual writings.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | March 9, 2009 10:05 AM | Report abuse

Tough Subject and one I feel kind of wishy washy on. How can one judge a harried parent that has to fit so much in one day. Then you look at time. Was it just a few minutes or all day? Should how long the child is left alone have anything to do with it? Of course every minute a child is in a 90 degree or more car, the worse off for the kid.

Punishment, yes. Jail time? I don't think so. Maybe Community service in the pediatric section of a hospital. The parent will grieve for their mistake for the rest of their lives!

Posted by: CALSGR8 | March 9, 2009 10:15 AM | Report abuse

The commenter who asked "if the babysitter did it, would you forgive" raises the key point. If the child were left in the car by anyone other than the parent, would that person be prosecuted, would a teenager be forgiven for living a hectic life of school, sports etc.? Children are not the property of their parents--they are not a half gallon of ice cream forgotten in the back seat or the guitar left on roof of the car. They are human beings and their lives have been taken by gross negligence at the very least. Think about the very simple, oh so simple, cure for this needless loss of life---LOOK IN THE BACK SEAT WHEN YOU GET OUT OF THE CAR. If you as a parent did that every single time you got out of the car, made it a habit, you could prevent this happening and it would take you less than 20 seconds extra in your oh so busy day. Is that 20 seconds too much to ask???

Posted by: susaninAustin | March 9, 2009 10:17 AM | Report abuse

After reading Gene's article, I became so thankful that OrganicKid is almost 11, and far too vocal (and tall!) to be left in the car! I never thought I'd be they type of person to forget a child in the car (and I never did). But the article made me think...I've left a gallon of milk because it wasn't in a grocer bag. I've left my purse in the car for hours, in plain view, because I had my cash card and driver's license in my pocket, and didn't need it. I've left coffee cups on the roof. I've grabbed the two library books off the front seat to return, but forgot about the two in the back. I understand what happens to these parents. I know I used to read articles about infants dying in locked cars, and would immediately jump to terrible conclusions about their fitness as a parent. I will no longer judge them because they're suffering so much by judging themselves. I've forgotten things too often myself to believe these are bad parents.

cheekymonkey, Gene's Magazine articles (as opposed to his weekly column) are quite a bit different from his column style. Check out his article about Savoonga, a remote US island in the Bering Sea. It's amazing. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/04/26/AR2005042601144.html

Posted by: OrganicGal1 | March 9, 2009 10:22 AM | Report abuse

I was one of those people, who while I did not think jail was the answer for the parents, did judge them a little bit. But then after reading the story and realizing that it could just be a "perfect storm" of events that all lead to something like that happening, I realized that you know what? I've forgotten plenty of things, so it's really not beyond belief that I could do that. That makes me hope that they have some sort of sensor system on car seats before I have a child. Sometimes we all need a little reminder.

Similar story though- at my first doctor checkup my mom who was used to running in and out in the later days of her pregnancy left me in my carseat on the counter of the check out desk. Completely forgot. When she finally did realize- HOURS later I might add, when my dad called to ask how the appt went which triggered her memory- and ran back frantic the nurses who were playing with me informed her that it happened all the time.

Almost everyone has a story like that, so it would make sense that as much time as we spend in cars now that would just be one more place to forget.

Posted by: kallieh | March 9, 2009 10:32 AM | Report abuse

Susaninaustin, I think Fred_F's comments answer your questions. If this happened with a babysitter I would expect the same process. Since I doubt (but one never knows) there is intent in either scenario (parent or babysitter), it must be investigated and prosecuted (if applicable) despite the wishes of the parents. People are investigated and prosecuted on a whole host of crimes, as in child abuse cases. The welfare of children is not just a parental responsibility, especially if there is evidence of abuse or neglect.

The act of forgiveness Moxie brought up is an entirely different discussion.

BTW, I think your comments on "just look in the back seat" a simplistic at best. It makes me wonder if you read the article. The point on accident vs incident was very compelling, neither word describes the event.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | March 9, 2009 10:34 AM | Report abuse

This is far too real a threat for me, because I've always been absentminded; if I can forget my coat on a 20-degree day in February and not even notice that it's cold, then why would I think I couldn't forget a baby? The first few months, I lived in terror of forgetting her; luckily, by the time I moved past that into that autopilot-kind of a routine, she had started babbling, and pretty much never stopped.

The problem is the whole autopilot thing. Being absentminded, I have needed to develop and rely on that routine to get me through the things I need to do. Which is why changes are difficult -- like the first few months with baby #2 (the quiet one), or when we changed schools, etc. Any change from the routine requires a visual cue -- the calendar reminder to leave early for the summer camp bus, the sticky note on the front seat that says "Target" and "Safeway." The problem is, kids in the back seat don't provide that same visual cue. I've driven right by my daughter's school in the morning, because I normally do pickup -- not even 3 minutes on the road, and I was already executing my normal routine. Of course, she's 7, and instantly said, "mom!" (with that long-suffering, how-can-you-be-so-stupid tone) -- but there was that flash, that oh thank God this didn't happen 6 years ago moment.

Posted by: laura33 | March 9, 2009 10:38 AM | Report abuse

Wow! That story brought me to tears.

In times of stress, the first thing to go is my memory. I thought it was something peculiar to me. I am glad to hear that others have the same problem. Now obviously, the kind of forgetfulness they are talking about here has extreme consequences and that does not make me glad.

I am not really in a position where I have to worry about forgetting the kids in the car and I am starting to be thankful for that. Based on how my own mind works under stress, I can completely understand how a baby can be forgotten. I have forgotten many a thing or thought that I had done something and didn't actually do it. Luckily for me, my forgetfulness has never had extreme consequences.

I have a tremendous amount of sympathy for the parent. I can not imagine the pain they must be in from their moment of forgetfulness. And I will refrain from judging. I don't know when my own memory will fail and cause damage in some way to my loved ones. I might never leave one of my children in the car but I am certainly capable of having some other lapse that causes harm. Who am I to judge when I could be in their position so easily? Really, any of us could be in their position....

Posted by: Billie_R | March 9, 2009 10:40 AM | Report abuse

I forgot: why do people dump such vitriol? The article nailed it: the "fundamental need to create and maintain a narrative for their lives in which the universe is not implacable and heartless, that terrible things do not happen at random, and that catastrophe can be avoided if you are vigilant and responsible."

Losing a child is intolerable. Having it be your own fault, completely avoidable? Unthinkable. So we look for differences, reasons, excuses -- some logical distinction. When there isn't an obvious one, we make them up -- he must not have loved his kid, it must be some freudian way to tell his wife he never wanted to have kids. Then we can write it off as an aberration, someone else's problem/fault, not part of our life, not a threat. Check the box, tuck it away in that corner of the mind. So we don't have to think about it. So that we can avoid admitting the horrible reality that it could be us.

Posted by: laura33 | March 9, 2009 10:41 AM | Report abuse

kallieh, excellent example ith your mother. I recall a friend of mine who had 4 elementary aged kids went over to pick up her 5th grader at friend's house and her child was not there. Her child was supposed to go home on the bus with a friend and she couldn't remember which friend, and after a flurry of phone calls she located her child, but not before completely breaking down and wandering what kind of mother was she that she didn't know where her child was?

Guess what? My friend had had one of those horrendous weeks with sicks kids, plumbing problems, car breaking down, etc. I know a 5th grader is not a baby, but the "perfect storm" scenario fits all types of accidents or incidents.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | March 9, 2009 10:45 AM | Report abuse

I think that Fred's comments coming pretty close to nailing it. Investigate what happened; assign an explanation/blame; file an appropriate response (charges if necessary), move on.

For those who say, well, there's no intent - people get punished by the legal system in cases where there's no intent on a regular basis. It's called negligent homicide, among other things. If you get too absentminded while driving and cause an accident that kills someone, it's your fault and appropriate charges will be filed (maybe none). There was no intent; you didn't mean to hurt anyone; you were just too busy to think about safety factors.

And second the person who points out that it could have been the babysitter, not the parents, who left the child there without intent/by being busy/absentminded. Would that be different in any way? To me, no.

(That article was okay, but could have been better. I'm not a fan of Weingarten; I find much of his stuff to be unimaginative, snarky, and just plain unfunny. Got a column to fill? More nasty phone calls to overworked customer service folk will do the trick; or maybe some long gender-stereotyped exchange with his friend Gina! But this article was actually okay.)

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | March 9, 2009 10:57 AM | Report abuse

It doesn't matter why this happening or whether someone should be pilloried or not. It has to stop, period. Stacey, your post and Gene's article are right on target. I would suggest that you keep posting this every tragic time this happens again in order to keep people focused. Let's also focus on preventing this horrible thing from every happenging again. If it means putting sensors in cars, we should do it. If it means signs in parking garages, we should do it. If it means education classes, we should do it. Inocents are dying and we have to start making changes.

Posted by: Dadat39 | March 9, 2009 10:59 AM | Report abuse

I forgot: why do people dump such vitriol? The article nailed it: the "fundamental need to create and maintain a narrative for their lives in which the universe is not implacable and heartless, that terrible things do not happen at random, and that catastrophe can be avoided if you are vigilant and responsible."

Losing a child is intolerable. Having it be your own fault, completely avoidable? Unthinkable. So we look for differences, reasons, excuses -- some logical distinction. When there isn't an obvious one, we make them up -- he must not have loved his kid, it must be some freudian way to tell his wife he never wanted to have kids. Then we can write it off as an aberration, someone else's problem/fault, not part of our life, not a threat. Check the box, tuck it away in that corner of the mind. So we don't have to think about it. So that we can avoid admitting the horrible reality that it could be us.

Posted by: laura33 | March 9, 2009 10:41 AM |
_______________________________________

I just copied and pasted Laura33's post because it says exactly what I would have said.

Posted by: lostinthemiddle | March 9, 2009 11:04 AM | Report abuse

I've always been told - and told others - get yourself in the complete habit of putting your purse/briefcase/necessary work items on or near the baby seat. Then you *have* to go in the back seat (and hopefully see the baby) when you get to work.

Posted by: inBoston | March 9, 2009 11:05 AM | Report abuse

One thing not mentioned in these discussions: the role of the vast seas of parking in the death of these children.

If any of these children were left in a car parked by the roadside and a sidewalk -where people pass - then someone would have noticed and called for help.

We build office buildings and require that they be surrounded by asphalt and parking. We build malls and require that they be surrounded by asphalt and parking.

We dehumanize our environment and in turn, it dehumanizes us.

Posted by: hundredyears | March 9, 2009 11:12 AM | Report abuse

Off Topic!

Don't think Gene is funny? That's because you have no sense of humor, AB! I had heard that you invented the pocket protector. Is this true?

Fred
Grandson (but not necessarily proud) of a Purdon't grad!

Posted by: Fred_F | March 9, 2009 11:12 AM | Report abuse

I do wish that we would spend more time trying to keep this from happening in the first place. Every woman I know takes a glimpse at the backseat of her car before getting in, to make sure there isn't anyone hiding there. It's almost an unconscious thing. It would be so easy to just remind yourself to take a glance at the backseat as you leave. Or put your wallet on the backseat so that you have to check back there when you leave the car.

Posted by: floof | March 9, 2009 11:17 AM | Report abuse

"why do people dump such vitriol?"

That's an easy one. Personally, I get a feeling of satisfaction when I slam a parent for the choices they have made and a feeling of superiority when I criticise somebody for making "stupid" mistakes. It's called putting somebody down to make me feel better. I hate to say it, but it works.

Where does it come from? Answer: Low self esteem.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | March 9, 2009 11:21 AM | Report abuse

I couldn't even read the article. I am an absent minded person and I know this could happen to me and my family. This is one (of many) reasons why I refuse to drive to work. If I accidentally forget to drop off my kid, the kid will not suffocate on the metro!

Posted by: eannaw | March 9, 2009 11:21 AM | Report abuse

Also, are these all cases of daycare dropoffs gone wrong? It seems that way. I think it would be easy enough for daycares to adopt policies that state that they must contact parents who fail to drop off children as expected, and must contact every number on the child's emergency list until they reach someone who can verify the location of the child.

Posted by: floof | March 9, 2009 11:21 AM | Report abuse

It's not always daycare. I recall a story a few years ago about a family whose baby died in the car while they were inside having a party to celebrate the baby's christening! Each of the adults thought someone else had the baby.

When my kids were in rear facing carseats, I was terrified that this would happen to me - combine the sleep deprivation of having a baby with any change in our normal morning routine, and you have a recipe for disaster. I got one of those mirrors which allows you to see the baby from the driver's seat; every time I looked in the rearview mirror during my drive I caught a glimpse of baby, even if he was silently sleeping.

I also like the suggestion of keeping your purse or other necessary items in the backseat, so that you have to look into the back seat when you arrive at your destination.

Posted by: newengland1 | March 9, 2009 11:53 AM | Report abuse

Where does it come from? Answer: Low self esteem.


Posted by: WhackyWeasel | March 9, 2009 11:21 AM | Report abuse


Or is it Inflated self esteem? Some people think they are perfect.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | March 9, 2009 11:55 AM | Report abuse

Dadat39 - while I don't necessarily disagree with your sentiments, these problems are hard to solve. False positives will destroy the effectiveness of many of them. Sensors, for example - how do you build one that detects when it's a baby in a car seat causing the extra weight; NOT a heavy backpack? (Seriously, the passenger airbag sensor goes off every time I toss my way-too-heavy laptop bag/backpack on the passenger seat - it squawks that the seat is occupied but the seatbelt isn't fashioned. It's far more of a pain in the neck than a useful warning.)

You could build a sensor that detected warmth or breathing, but it would have to be located either extremely close to the baby (not likely) or it would have to be extremely sensitive, in which case it would alarm due to sensing the adult passenger still sitting in the front seat.

Similarly with signs that say "check for your baby in the back seat." If they're everywhere - like signs that say "lock your car and take your keys; we're not responsible for stolen items" they become part of the background and get ignored.

Fred - two years in West Laugh-a-lot was enough to destroy my sense o' humor forever. But nonetheless, Gene just ain't funny, in general.

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | March 9, 2009 12:27 PM | Report abuse

fashioned -> fastened

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | March 9, 2009 12:31 PM | Report abuse

Off Topic

Still didn't answer me about the protectors.

Posted by: Fred | March 9, 2009 12:34 PM | Report abuse

Off Topic

Still didn't answer me about the protectors.

Posted by: Fred | March 9, 2009 12:34 PM | Report abuse


A middle-aged man has a backpack? There's your answer, Fred.

Posted by: jezebel3 | March 9, 2009 12:39 PM | Report abuse

I feel badly for these people, I really do, however, I think they should be treated the same as any other caregiver would if the situation happend on the caregiver's watch. I cannot imagine many parents who wouldn't sue the pants off of a daycare that left their child on the bus to die, or let them wander off. I would expect to be prosecuted if I "forgot" a loaded gun on a table in my home, this is really no different.

I don't think that caregivers should have to call 10 people if the child doesn't show up to make sure they are o.k. It is the parent's job to ensure that they child is o.k. What is so unfortunate when you read this is how these babies are really reduced to nothing more than hand luggage to be dropped at one place or another. People have got to slow down and pay attention to the things that are really important. Talk to your child (they don't have to be able to answer to enjoy your voice), sing to them in the car.

It seems to be overlooked forget that these children have no voice no other advocate to speak up for them except their parents who failed them. We as a society owe it to them to closely examine why they died and penalize those responsible when appropriate. Just because the parent loves them doesn't mean they weren't negligent, it just makes the whole thing more sad. Clearly children dying hasn't scared enough people to ensure this doesn't happen anymore, maybe jail time would, maybe if they posted pictures of these dead babies would convince people to PAY ATTENTION.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | March 9, 2009 12:41 PM | Report abuse

I just did some research and found that children who were killed by airbags were about four times more numerous than are those killed by hypothermia in cars. So those whose children are now in safety seats should not stop using them because of the chance the child might be forgotten on a hot day. Deaths by airbags have come way down in recent years but deaths by hyperthermia have not risen a level comparable to the years before the safety seat laws came into effect.

Posted by: Phred22 | March 9, 2009 12:43 PM | Report abuse

"A middle-aged man has a backpack? There's your answer, Fred."

How else would you carry your laptop, mouse, power cord, spare battery, removable hard drive, wireless access point, power converter (plugs into a car cigarette lighter or airplane power outlet and provides a 110 outlet in the other end), cell phone charger, and if necessary, printer and projector, not to mention ancillary devices?

I'm just not into them drag-behind wheelie laptop cases, y'know? An engineer who can't carry his own stuff ain't much of an engineer. :-)

But to answer Fred's question - I didn't invent the pocket protector; I just perfected it. :-)

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | March 9, 2009 1:04 PM | Report abuse

Moxie, I wish we were all as perfect as you. All of our children would be safe all the time.


Posted by: cheekymonkey | March 9, 2009 1:05 PM | Report abuse

Thanks cheeky, you clearly know me well! Sorry that I like to speak for those who can't. Lots of people feel badly for lots of mistakes they make, doesn't mean that there isn't a penalty for that mistake. Would you like to press charges against the teenager who was texting while driving and ran into your kid on a bike? He didn't mean to kill your child after all and will have to live with that the rest of his life.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | March 9, 2009 1:24 PM | Report abuse

Since we are chatting about death caused by [negligent?] forgetfulness on the day after we changed the clock to Daylight Savings Time, here's Wacky reminding you to change the battery in your fire alarm.

If you haven't replaced the battery, consider yourself one or more of the following:
A) Ignorant
B) Lazy
C) Neglectful
d) Stupid

Similar to those who have left a child in a car to bake, Failure to change the fire larm battery results in horrible, preventable deaths to children every year, though I don't think any parent has ever been prosecuted for neglegence in this matter. Hmmm.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | March 9, 2009 1:29 PM | Report abuse

Off Topic,

Oh, AB, just admit it! You carry a backpack to haul around that oversized sliderule. You know, the one with the BIG numbers for older engineers. Think presbyopia

Posted by: Fred | March 9, 2009 1:34 PM | Report abuse

OT

and I'll be durned that Purdon't has one of them! (huge slide rule!)

http://news.uns.purdue.edu/images/+2004/alleman-sliderule.jpg

Posted by: Fred | March 9, 2009 1:40 PM | Report abuse

Moxie--

Did you read the article? What really struck me was how these parents didn't forget about their children--at least, not in the way you seem to be assuming. They really, truely believed that they had dropped them off at daycare, or that they were in the care of the appropriate adult. It wasn't a question of "forgetting" that they were parents. And I don't think that you can really believe that the problem here is that the results aren't horrific enough.

In a way, that's the most terrible thing about the parents profiled in the article: these kids did have someone utterly dedicated to speaking up for them--their parents, who were devoted and loving. And who...shorted out at the worst possible time.

But to assume that the problem is that these parents wouldn't have been responsible for their children's deaths if they had just "slowed down"--that's massively oversimplifying the issue. I'm not trying to imply that these parents are blameless. But I am saying that this could happen TO ANY OF US. And before it happened to them, I bet they were just as confident in their attentiveness and parenting skills as you are, moxiemom.

Posted by: jbs280 | March 9, 2009 1:53 PM | Report abuse

I think there's something to be said for the fact that all these parents seemed to have been multitasking, rather than seeing the drive as time to spend with their child, before they have to go off to work. If you're spending all day away from your child, wouldn't you at least turn the distractions off and sing to them, talk to them, on the way to work? I think that's what gets people -- that the beloved baby becomes another errand to check off the list, at least during that "morning rush." I'm home with my kids, and I spend drives singing to the infant and pointing things out to the toddler. I would think I would be even more interested in connecting with them if I had to leave them all day.

I don't think the babysitter analogy works, though. The point is that these parents thought their kid was in daycare and that they didn't have responsibility for them for the next several hours; what excuse would a babysitter have for not noticing the kid was missing for hours?

Posted by: ofi1992 | March 9, 2009 2:21 PM | Report abuse

Seriously, is it just totally impossible to make a safe forward-facing car seat? This didn't happen in the old days when parents could see little faces smiling up at them in the rear view mirror. I can't find stories like this from the 80's. Only in the past 20 years has it become a bigger and bigger problem of parents forgetting all about a kid in the car.

Posted by: DCFem | March 9, 2009 2:34 PM | Report abuse

Gene's profiles included three folks who admitted talking on a cell phone (in a couple cases, repeatedly) during that fateful commute, yet he never delves into the well documented distraction caused by phoning while driving. Maybe leaving the baby in the car is not intentional, but certainly the decision to use your car as your office is.

Posted by: eomcmars | March 9, 2009 2:39 PM | Report abuse

These people did forget their kids. They forgot they were in the car! The fact is that these babies are entirely dependent upon their parents. They are strapped in an in no way able to help themselves. This requires a higher level of responsibility and awareness. This could not have been me, because my first job is my child. If we were talking about a kid who rode his bike into the stree and got hit by a car, then absolutely this could by anyone, but not everyone is capable of this level of "shorting out". It seems the primary reason these kids were forgotten was because the parents had too many things going on. So yes, if they slowed down this might not happen.

RE: forward facing seats - the reason they face backwards is that the child's head is disproportionaly heavy relative to their body size and neck strength. Therefore in an accident, a forward facing baby could separate their head from their spine from just the forward force. It is not the responsibility of anyone but the parents to fix this problem. I might add that these were all people with enough education to think these things out and make better choices.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | March 9, 2009 2:52 PM | Report abuse

"I'm home with my kids, and I spend drives singing to the infant and pointing things out to the toddler."

I'm at home too, and I spend most drives wishing that my 3-year-old would just stop talking for one second. There are few things more irritating than playing 4 frillion questions at 60 mph.

I really don't think you can make this as simple as "working parents treat their kids like luggage." If we must paint it as a working parent vs. at home parent issue (and I don't think we should), isn't it just as valid to assume that the working parents have far more stressors than the at-home parents, and are therefore more likely to be multitasking in the car and to forget one of those tasks?

Posted by: newsahm | March 9, 2009 2:55 PM | Report abuse

A poster said: "the article made me think...I've left a gallon of milk because it wasn't in a grocer bag. I've left my purse in the car for hours, in plain view, because I had my cash card and driver's license in my pocket, and didn't need it. I've left coffee cups on the roof. I've grabbed the two library books off the front seat to return, but forgot about the two in the back. I understand what happens to these parents. I know I used to read articles about infants dying in locked cars, and would immediately jump to terrible conclusions about their fitness as a parent. I will no longer judge them because they're suffering so much by judging themselves. I've forgotten things too often myself to believe these are bad parents."

The problem I see with this logic is that a child is not a "thing" to be forgotten. If someone values their child the same as a gallon of milk or a book or a purse or a coffee cup, I have serious doubts about their fitness as a parent. While I feel for these parents, in the extreme cases their actions took a life and they should have to answer for that just like anyone else who takes a life, even if it wasn't with malicious intent.

Posted by: singlemom | March 9, 2009 4:01 PM | Report abuse

moxie, I guess I just have to disagree, because I believe that most people are capable of "shorting out" like this. It's not that you see kids as luggage, or the same as any other errand that needs to be attended to. It's that your brain naturally compartmentalizes different parts of your life. And when you have something unexpected pop up where it's not supposed to, you're fighting against everything deep down in your brain to remember that this time it's different.

When I go out with my kids, we talk, we play 4 frillion questions (thanks, newsahm!), we sing, etc. etc. etc. I am always happy to be with them and interact with them. There is zero danger then, because in my brain that is "kid" time.

The "danger" times are when I am doing something that I habitually do without kids. For now, yes, that is most frequently "going to work because DH does morning daycare/school dropoff." But even when I was home with my kids, there were always things that I routinely did without them. Like, say, grocery shopping -- I'll do it with them in a pinch, but the routine has always been to do it when DH or babysitter is there so I can minimize the pain factor for all involved. So I basically turn the key and automatically switch to the "normal grocery store run" autopilot -- which switches of the "worry about kids" switch in the brain. You may be an exception, but everyone I know has something they typically do without kids. And that's the danger zone.

Fundamentally, you can't "think things out" and "make better choices," because the whole point is you are NOT using the conscious, thinking part of your brain. I also don't think it's just about stress or being too busy; yes, stress makes it more likely you forget changes to your routine, but everyone runs on autopilot some part of the time.

My approach is the opposite of yours: I have been highly, highly aware of how easily this could happen to me (ok, not with Doppler Girl, but definitely with Silent Bob). And so I consciously try to do things to keep that autopilot from kicking in when I need to change up the routine -- including singing songs like "I'm taking the girl to school, I'm taking the girl to school," etc. For me, at least, the best defense is being aware of the danger -- recognizing my own fallibility and taking active steps to avoid falling into that kind of automatic thought. And yet, I still drove past her school last month. . . .

Posted by: laura33 | March 9, 2009 4:03 PM | Report abuse

I'm a dad of two little girls, a two year old and a newborn. I'm the kind of Dad who laughs and rolls my eyes at the safety-obsessed parents who buy every safety gadget from, what's that catalogue?, One Step Ahead or something; helmets and knee pads for babies learning to crawl. I throw my two-year-old up in the air because I love hearing her laugh (although, admittedly, I usually do it over the couch or a bed). I've gotten into family arguments supporting that NYC woman who lets her son ride the subway because I'm one of the "kids are overly protected" voices.

And I don't cry very easily, until I read this article on Sunday. And again after reading the transcript. This article hasn't left my head since reading it. When my daughter was in the bathtub and I was shampooing her hair, I thought of that one quote from the article, over, and over, and over. I can't stop thinking about this, and now I want to buy one of these devices. And probably that Turtle-wristwatch-water-alarm thing in SkyMall. I don't think I'll stop thinking about this until after my kids can both swim and open their own car doors.

I'm pretty well educated, including in history. I've read all about the Holocaust. I can think of all sorts of horrible, unimaginable things that can and have happened to children. The pictures in the Holocaust museum, the medical experiments, children kidnapped and murdered. I've NEVER had the same emotional reaction as I have to this article, and now I think I'm figuring out why.

It's two-fold. One is the imagined parental guilt. When I read about various suicides and the supposed pain that the person was feeling, I've always said "Even if I was going through that, I wouldn't want to kill myself." But this is the first time I ever thought that if I did this I would want to kill myself. And I don't even blame the parents in the article for doing it, I know it's not their fault.

And the second part is about the child's perspective. As awful as it sounds, I imagine a child who has fallen into a pool or burned herself thinking "Oh no, I made a mistake." A child who is facing a murderer would think "I wish my Daddy was here." But the children in this case would all be thinking "Why did my Daddy LEAVE me here?"

It's the combination of imagining the child dying feeling betrayed and the parental guilt of the child thinking that that makes it the worst situation I could possibly imagine. And I can't get it out of the back of my head. And that one quote, that one "hair" quote.

Posted by: rr321 | March 9, 2009 4:20 PM | Report abuse

I second your entire post, laura33, and will add this:

"The problem I see with this logic is that a child is not a "thing" to be forgotten. If someone values their child the same as a gallon of milk or a book or a purse or a coffee cup, I have serious doubts about their fitness as a parent."

singlemom, I think you're missing the point. The basis for the milk/book/purse analogy is not to establish that these parents valued their kids as much as the milk/purse/book, but that the same mental autopilot that all of us--ALL OF US--use at one time or another that results in us forgetting the milk/purse/book COULD also, under the worst possible circumstances, result in us forgetting our kids.

Posted by: jbs280 | March 9, 2009 4:24 PM | Report abuse

moxiemom1 = FAIL

"Would you like to press charges against the teenager who was texting while driving and ran into your kid on a bike?"


Texting while driving? That is active negligence, unlike every one of the cases in the article. Try again, sweet cheeks.

Posted by: popopo | March 9, 2009 4:49 PM | Report abuse

What about when a parent accidentally runs over their child? How is that any different? People seem to be able to understand that more and can sympathize with the parent. I'm disgusted by the ignorant comments I've read. It's proving Gene's point that we need to demonize the person so that we can deal with the horror that could just as easily happen to us.

Posted by: LilyBell | March 9, 2009 4:53 PM | Report abuse

jbs280, thanks. Yes, that is exactly what I meant. OrganicKid is NOT milk/purse/library books. She's more things than I can put into words, and I'm in awe of her every day, for one reason or another. But, like jbs280 pointed out, we ALL have autopilot points. Stop and think how many times you've been going to a place that's generally along the same route you drive to work. And how many times did you signal like you were going to work/turn left (work) instead of right (store)/pull into the work parking lot on a Saturday morning, instead of getting to the Home Depot down the road? You just have a quiet laugh at yourself, then go about what you were doing. Autopilot took over. Now, imagine that your spouse dropped the kids off wherever every morning, and you picked up every afternoon. One morning spouse is out of town. And the drop off spot is along the normal drive to work....and autopilot kicks in. Oh......so you've NEVER driven on autopilot? HAH! I don't believe for ONE MINUTE everyone on this chat has not, at least once, been guilty of pulling into the wrong destination, or turned the wrong way because of autopilot. It can happen to any of us. It very well may have happened to some of us. And if I've made anyone hyperventilate because you remember the time you pulled into somewhere, and before you even got out of the car, your brain went "KID IN BACK!!" No harm, no foul. Like Gene's admission at the beginning of today's chat. What's that saying "There but for the grace of God...."?

Posted by: OrganicGal1 | March 9, 2009 5:15 PM | Report abuse

Chances are Moxie did not read the article and is talking out her butt again.

I'm glad you have it all figured out Moxie, this blame game of yours is ridiculous. I'm glad your children will never be in danger of this type of tragedy as I'm sure the parents in this article felt the same way you did at one naive point in their lives. Sadly they were mistaken.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | March 9, 2009 5:40 PM | Report abuse

"I really don't think you can make this as simple as 'working parents treat their kids like luggage.'"

Excuse me, I didn't. At all. Go back and read my post; I said I took drives as an opportunity to interact with my kids, and I thought working parents would have EVEN MORE REASON to do so.

This may be a fight you like to see, but I don't have any notions about who is a better, more attentive parent in the time they spend with their kids.

Posted by: ofi1992 | March 9, 2009 5:53 PM | Report abuse

I was completely blown away by this article-I've NEVER liked Gene Weingarten-his attempts at humor to me fall pathetically flat-he is NO HUMORIST. But his serious articles? The depth and perceptiveness shown to the families and the images that he conjured from his masterful writing? I've rarely read better. Gene, a little advice-GET OUT of the humor schtik-that's not your bag-THIS, SERIOUS WRITING, IS CLEARLY YOUR FORTE-THE ARTICLE WAS BRILLIANT AND VERY PROFOUND!

Posted by: farfalle44 | March 9, 2009 6:16 PM | Report abuse

I think it's important for us to think about the connection between taking care of ourselves and taking care of our kids. Many people mentioned that sleep-deprivation, lack of communication, and hectic schedules might have been factors in fatal mistakes like these, but I think we tend to think of how these factors impact our kids more than ourselves. If we prioritized our own health -- were a little more selfish, perhaps -- I think we'd see positive repercussions for our families, too.

Posted by: coloradomom | March 9, 2009 6:18 PM | Report abuse

"What about when a parent accidentally runs over their child? How is that any different? People seem to be able to understand that more and can sympathize with the parent."


Nope, same standard as I wrote at 9:14 am.

"It's proving Gene's point that we need to demonize the person so that we can deal with the horror that could just as easily happen to us."

Again, no, I have never felt the need to demonize these parents. And I would contend that we as parents can take simple steps to greatly minimize these occurrences. As one person said previously, it really is just as easy to get into the habit of always looking in the back seat. My cars are positioned in my driveway so I have a view of the back tires before I enter it. One lady I know backs into any parking space when she can. That way, she is always going forward when she pulls out.

As I have learned in many safety courses at work, a lot of accidents occur when a whole series of small events deviate from the normal. Break one of these small events, you lessen the possibility of an accident.

Posted by: Fred_F | March 9, 2009 7:38 PM | Report abuse

I see someone else posted this idea already (which worked for me, particularly in the early days of parenthood [read: severely sleep deprived!]):

I've always been told - and told others - get yourself in the complete habit of putting your purse/briefcase/necessary work items on or near the baby seat. Then you *have* to go in the back seat (and hopefully see the baby) when you get to work.

Posted by: inBoston | March 9, 2009 11:05 AM

I still find visual reminders of other periodic/not usual events to be helpful. A post-it note with the date and day of week plastered over the spedometer helps too.

I also agree with Fred, each of these instances have to be investigated. Parents should be held to the same high standard as babysitters. I mean, we're legally responsible for our kids 24/7/365. That's why we're permitted to claim them as deductions.

Which reminds me, I need to go make certain tax deduction 1 has the lights off and isn't reading under the covers with a flashlight; and that tax deduction 2 really brushed his teeth.

Fred, I hope Frieda has beaten her cancer? My husband went through testicular cancer, so here's your PSA, "Fondle a friend!" or "It's a game two can play!"

Posted by: Skowronek | March 9, 2009 9:54 PM | Report abuse

To clarify what I meant which could be read with a very narrow interpretation, please note that I am not advocating a jury trial for all of these cases.

As to the question of guilt and punishment, I would leave that to the DA, the grand jury and trial jury and judge, all of which should have heard all the relevant facts.

Posted by: Fred_F | March 9, 2009 10:23 PM | Report abuse

Thank you, Skowronek. Don't recall your name, maybe you posted under a different one?

Frieda is in total remission from her breast cancer and continues to be in remission from her thyroid cancer for 5 years now.

2008 will turn out to be a heck of a year tax deduction wise for our medical bills.

Posted by: Fred_F | March 9, 2009 10:26 PM | Report abuse

Different name, somehow it all got mixed-up and I got locked out.

You googled Bazy Tankersley though...

How wonderful to hear the good news about Frieda! Do you still have your "Save the Boobies" sticker?

Posted by: Skowronek | March 9, 2009 11:15 PM | Report abuse

Gene Weingarten should get another Pulitzer for this one. I think a copy should be enclosed with every car seat sold, especially the advice about putting an item needed for work in the back with the child or placing something of the child's like a diaper bag on the front seat. No, I've never left a kid in a hot car. But I know I am absent minded, consequently I always deliberately focused on the child, never talked on the phone while driving with children, and often talked or sang with the child, because I was terrified of doing this or some other stupid thing. My kids also were noisy, squirmy and not prone to sleep in the car. Ironically, my own and my kid's ADHD kept us safe! Yes, these people did something wrong-they obviously all know it and will carry the pain in their hearts as long as they live. There is no greater punishment. They don't need to be treated like criminals, and my heart goes out to them.

Posted by: maryannevans2 | March 9, 2009 11:49 PM | Report abuse

"Texting while driving? That is active negligence, unlike every one of the cases in the article. Try again, sweet cheeks."

--

Perhaps the teen was soooooo busy and exhausted that he simply forgot that he was driving. He thought he was at home sitting in a recliner -- pinky-swear to GOD, that's what he thought!!

Posted by: Pantoufle | March 9, 2009 11:51 PM | Report abuse

Oh my dear Moxiemom (and a notable few others), there but for the grace of God...

In the army, we tended to ostracize soldiers who “called the shots in on themselves” by saying of their fallen comrades: “That could NEVER happen to me!” I have a similar, eerie feeling here and would suggest people consider the agony of the poor members of a fraternity that they would never willingly join in a thousand years.

There is no love like a parent’s for their child, and causing the ultimate harm to what you love most is more unthinkable than most people realize. I think Gene’s put a dent in some of the mis-perceptions; the comments include a lot of converts to the realization that bad things do indeed happen to good people.

People who survive such tragedy usually live in perpetual torment. They often mentally adopt children of similar age so they can imagine what their lost baby might look like or be doing had they lived. Some keep their child’s bedroom in the state it was the day of that horrible moment.

It’s nice to think of parents as ever-vigilant automatons incapable of error but they’re just human beings, quite capable of tremendous mistakes, especially when under stress. Gene’s story (and personal experience) tells us that forgetting babies happens more often than we realize or talk about, and it’s just when “all the holes line up” that terrible outcomes occur. Who among us can’t think back to a close call of some kind that could have ended up very badly had there had been just one more “wrong factor.”

The best solution I read in the comments to the original article was to use a token. Keep a teddy bear strapped in the car seat. When you strap the baby in, put the teddy bear on the front seat – or even clip it to your essentials so you can’t leave without it.

This simple solution provides a concrete reminder for the lizard brain to associate the token with a living baby, no matter what else is distracting the higher brain functions. I call that an “elegant” solution. Simple, cheap and nearly automatic in its execution. Baby in, token out. Token out, baby in.

Posted by: Peggy_M | March 10, 2009 8:05 AM | Report abuse

"the person who points out that it could have been the babysitter, not the parents, who left the child there without intent/by being busy/absentminded. Would that be different in any way?"

I think it would be different for a babysitter. The parent in these situations typically believes they have dropped off the child and so they no longer have to think about the child's whereabouts, safety, etc. A babysitter, however, should never be in a position of NOT knowing where the child is. That is their job so if they left a child in the car it would be, IMO, a much higher degree of negligence and definitely should be prosecuted. I would also have a lot more questions about the situation if it was done by a SAHP. I am a SAHM and can't imagine that I'd forget my child in the car for more than a few minutes because taking care of my kids all day is my job so I'd certainly notice if they weren't around. My big fear when my kids were babies was that I'd somehow lock my keys and them in the car on a hot day. I made a habit of never having all doors shut if a baby was in the car and I was not (e.g. unloading groceries, or having to run back into the house for something).

Posted by: Arlington01 | March 10, 2009 10:19 AM | Report abuse

Whatever side of the fence you're on regarding the horrendous outcome of leaving a loved one - child or family pet - trapped to overheat in an enclosed vehicle would you be willing to help prevent this from ever happening again? Automakers already install driver reminder systems for headlights, keys left in ignition, doors ajar, etc. They also have numerous sensors placed strategically to monitor vehicle performance, location, airbag deployment, etc.

Please read, sign and send this petition to Congress to mandate the use of existing technology in every vehicle to prevent overheating deaths in enclosed vehicles. Domestic automakers are seeking taxpayer funds to bail them out and foreign automakers receive tax breaks and taxpayer subsidized incentives. Automakers installed seatbelts and airbags only after Congressional mandates forced them to. It's OUR money - let's get something for it.

http://www.gopetition.com/online/244409.html

Posted by: LifeSaverAlert | March 10, 2009 10:47 AM | Report abuse

Posted by: LifeSaverAlert | March 10, 2009 10:50 AM | Report abuse

Moxie, stop saying you feel badly. It makes you sound like an illiterate. You do not feel badly. You feel BAD (unless your sense of touch is not working properly).

Posted by: Annapolis1 | March 10, 2009 1:09 PM | Report abuse

The people who judge these parents so harshly are the ones who are most afraid of making such a mistake themselves. The possibility scares them so much that they have to separate themselves psychologically from those other "bad" parents by building as thick a wall as they can -- they're criminals, they're idiots, I would never ever ever do that! Stop insisting, just for a second, to think. Do you suppose that before it happened, a single one of those parents ever imagined that they could do such a thing?

Not one of those stories in Weingarten's article described a parent with any kind of history of neglect or unusual forgetfulness. Face it: THIS COULD HAPPEN TO ANY OF US. Throwing blame and insults and criminal punishment at these poor, broken, heartsick people whose lives are already forever ruined is a particularly cruel and selfish way of protecting ourselves from having to face reality. Life is full of unbearable risks and dangers. No parent, anywhere, is perfect.

Posted by: MrsWhatsit | March 11, 2009 8:34 AM | Report abuse

"The people who judge these parents so harshly are the ones who are most afraid of making such a mistake themselves."

Arg. This method of argumentation is so obnoxious. I actually think these particular parents featured in the article shouldn't go to jail. But it's possible to disagree without having selfish motives.

Hey, maybe everyone who doesn't want those parents to go to jail is just trying to excuse themselves, in advance, for any harm that may befall their children because of their inattention!

There, isn't that annoying?

Now go out there and make a real argument!

Posted by: ofi1992 | March 11, 2009 4:21 PM | Report abuse

Well, maybe you could make one. It's not an argument just to call another person annoying.

It just seems so cruel to add criminal punishment to what these parents are already going through. Why be so cruel? What is the point, if it's not some kind of need to make them into The Others Who Couldn't Possibly Be Me?

Obviously, if there's any element of non-accident in it -- if the parent did it because of drinking or drugs, or had a history of neglecting the child -- that would be different. But when this happens to an otherwise-good-enough parent who made a single, unspeakable mistake, I truly can't think of a reason to punish them criminally, which is why I'm theorizing to try to come up with one to explain those who want to.

You said you wouldn't punish the parents in the article. Which ones would you punish? Why?

Now go out there and make an argument!

Posted by: MrsWhatsit | March 13, 2009 7:13 AM | Report abuse

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