What Kind of Parent – By Stephanie
When you hear of cases of child hyperthermia where the parent or other care giver has left the child in the car unintentionally, you must wonder, “What kind of parent would do that?”
Definitely not a parent who took prenatal vitamins for 6 months before trying to get pregnant. A parent who threw out the baby bumper because the American Pediatric Association did not recommend bumpers for cribs as they could cause suffocation. A parent who drew up three different driving routes and tested the routes in order to determine which route was safest. A parent that made their own baby food, breast fed and pumped. A parent that made belly casts for both her pregnancies. A parent who went on bed rest, ate right, did not drink, smoke or do drugs. A parent who thought they had researched enough about hot cars and thought their drop-off plan would work. A normal, good and caring parent that was looking forward to the birth of the child she was carrying. A parent like me, Stephanie.
According to KidsAndCars.org, approximately 9/10 hot car cases happen to great parents. This tragedy happens to the wealthy, the poor and the middle class. It is blind to gender, race, education, those with great common sense, the disorganized, and the organized. It has happened to a dentist, a postal clerk, a social worker, a police officer, an accountant, a soldier, a paralegal, a preacher, an electrician, a Protestant clergyman, a rabbinical student, a mechanic, a stay at home mother, a teacher, a nurse, a construction worker, and an assistant principal. It happened to a mental health counselor, a college professor and a pizza chef. It happened to a pediatrician, an attorney and an ER doctor. It happened to a rocket scientist. It happened to me.
My son, Gannon, died on a Thursday morning. He was five months old. Each day that week was a different driving schedule with either my oldest child sick and not making one of two daycare drop-offs, to everyone going to their daycares and to everyone staying home. I had been trying to accustom myself to a 4 hour sleep schedule with midnight and early morning feedings. Whether it was from the exhaustion of two months of a 4 hour sleep schedule, a sick child at home, dinners, work, driving, a new driving schedule, all the things that parents face daily, during the middle of my drive on the road, my brain re-booted in my old driving route when I saw my work building. At one intersection, I turned right instead of going straight. And during the few seconds it took to turn off my car and go through my mental/visual list of seeing myself dropping of my children, my brain processed a false memory, a previous memory, that I dropped him off at daycare as actually just occurring. My memory of dropping him off was indistinguishable from my memory of dropping Mackenzie off at her daycare, which I had done. I had successfully completed my Mommy List for the morning; like I had done for 31 days prior. And since my husband helped put the children in the car that one morning, my personal routine of putting the bottles in the front did not occur. And all day long while planning weekend activities for the children, talking to friends about Gannon, I believed, I knew, that he was being coddled and cooed by his daycare ladies. That he was safe.
If you haven’t read the Washington Post article Fatal Distraction by Gene Weingarten, please do. I’ve added the website at the end of this note. In short, “the memory is a machine and it is not flawless” according to Dr. David Diamond, a memory expert with the University of South Florida. The brain, like our heart, our lungs, our nerves and all of our other organs, is subject to outside environmental factors, such as what we eat, how we sleep, stress, natural and unnatural chemicals, and change of routine. And, most importantly, because it is our brain, our warning system to warn us of problems may be very thing malfunctioning. Why do governments use sleep deprivation and mental stress to break people? Because it works. Why are men and women in the military subjected to such physical stress and examined for their mental consciousness? Because they know how outside environmental factors affect the body, especially the brain.
Every day for the rest of my entire family’s life, it is altered from what it is supposed to be. And there will be thousands of things I will note for the rest of my life that my son will never accomplish, see, smell, eat, taste, ride or say. My daughter was 5 years old when Gannon died. She had wanted a sibling for years. And yet, months after Gannon’s death, she still reminded me that she forgave me. There are no true words to describe the pain and guilt of being forgiven by your child, a five year old child holding your hand, without having to ask for forgiveness. At times, the upwelling of emotions and pain push me beyond my limit of maintaining the composure that most of you all see from me. And there are no true words to describe the glass shattering, screaming, soul losing moment of finding my son, my joy, my Gannon, in my car after work while believing, while knowing, all day long he was safe.
So many times, I had to remind my daughter to be gentle with her brother and that accidents can happen. When in the end, it was me, who caused the biggest tragedy of our lives. I was the one who was supposed to be the protector, the watcher. And it was me, my brain that my son, Gannon, needed protection from. I simply did not take care of myself. Like most parents and caregivers. We take care of the children first; Us, next. And because I didn’t take care of myself, my body, my brain failed my son.
If you know someone with an infant or small child, get the strength to talk to them about parents like me. It will be hard, it will be awkward. But worth every word you say.
Please consider making a donation in honor of Gannon to help KidsAndCars.org save children’s lives:
And please go to KidsAndCars.org on Facebook and “like” them. (https://www.facebook.com/KidsAndCars.org)
Not only do they work to prevent child hot car deaths, they work to prevent other important vehicular accidents involving children, like window strangulation and back overs. They also work to get laws passed requiring inside trunk latches, back over alarms, and most importantly to me, rear seatbelt alarms for our children. The parents of KidsAndCars.org also provide grief support to families, which I use and am part of.
The brain is the most powerful organ in our body. It controls our involuntary body requirements for life, it makes us who we are, it stores our memories, controls our memories, processes our thoughts. But, it is a mass of neurons, blood, synapses, and water. Why would anyone think that YOU will always have control of it.
And support this year’s Transportation Bill. Alarms are best to let us know that our children are unbuckled in the back seat or still buckled when the car is turned off.
AND DO NOT FORGET TO READ THE FOLLOWING!!
Pulitzer Prize winning Washington Post article – Fatal Distraction, by Gene Weingarten