Are you capable of forgetting your child in a hot car?

This has been weighing heavily on my mind these past few weeks. Our community was rocked by a horrible tragedy last month. A toddler about Rosie’s age was left in a car for eight hours in the parking lot outside his father’s office. His father that evening pulled over in another parking lot nearby his office and was noticed by witnesses hysterically giving his son CPR in vain on the pavement. The baby boy was dead, and probably had been for several hours.

The night that this horror was splashed all over the news, I couldn’t sleep. Visions of Rosie dying in a hot car tortured me every time I closed my eyes. My initial reaction was wondering frantically if I was capable of such a thing. I don’t get very much sleep at night (cough, Wren), and for that reason I am really hazy during the day. I sometimes feel like I am barely functioning if Wren has had a particularly bad night. Three helpless beings are completely dependent upon me and only me all day long for their well being and survival. The weight of this responsibility makes me panic if I ever think about it for too long. What if I get distracted for a few minutes with the other two and one falls in a pool? What if one of them gets ahold of some of my grandmother’s blood pressure medication and eats it? What if the swing set that they are on is too old and collapses? What if I absentmindedly forget to buckle one in or don’t buckle them in correctly and we are involved in a car accident? The list is endless and for each terrible accident I would hold myself completely accountable. This is the weighty responsibility of motherhood.

The police in the particular tragedy I mentioned are investigating the incident to ascertain whether it was a horrible accident or murder. I find this incomprehensible because I cannot believe that anyone would subject their child to this horrible death intentionally. There have been several incidents of people intentionally leaving children in cars because they thought the weather wasn’t hot enough, or there was shade, or the windows were cracked. It does not take long for children to suffer from hyperthermia! It doesn’t matter if the windows are cracked, or if it is shady, or if the temperature is only in the 60’s outside! (Fahrenheit, for everyone who is not American. I know, we have unnecessary confusing units of measurement). Those people should be prosecuted, because that kind of ignorance is no excuse. But the question is, can otherwise good parents commit this heinous act unintentionally?

When I have discussed this with people, I couldn’t help but notice a pattern. People without children or with grown children would firmly respond that they could never leave a child in a hot car and that this man is a monster, whether he did this intentionally or not. People with young children, however, can’t help but wonder if this could happen to anybody.

It certainly is in the forefront of my mind this summer. Today, I practically tackled some poor man in the grocery store parking lot so that I could use his cart and not have Wren sit in the car for more than a few seconds. Let us honor that poor boy’s memory by reminding everyone with little ones every summer to double check their cars before leaving them. You should never be too busy to remember the most important things in your life.


About sylcell

Wife, mom of four girls, Catholic, insatiable sweet tooth
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14 Responses to Are you capable of forgetting your child in a hot car?

  1. Ronni Mills says:

    Reading this post super late but…..this is something that has been happening way to much. I have an 11 year old and a 2 year old so I don’t have multiple littles but when my daughter was not old enough to walk yet my mom and I went shopping. When we got back to her house we went to get the bags out of the back (SUV) when a neighbor came and struck up a conversation. Needless to say we closed the hatch and got to the front door that it dawned on me….the baby! There have been incidents where leaving the grocery store I panickly (is that a word?) Look in the back seat cause I don’t remember putting my daughter in the car seat from the cart. I did, but I guess that is kinda where the autopilot thing comes into play. My daughter does not like to sleep so I blame forgetting or second guessing on that. The people who do it intentionally make me very sad, what a horrible thing to do to a child. Leave him/her at a fire station.


  2. morgan says:

    Another (sad) topic: We had an especially nice and hot weekend and on Monday I read in the news that during the weekend about 20 people died in swimming accidents in Germany. Which happens during the whole summer (which makes about 450 people drowning each year. sometimes more, sometimes less). In 2011 the statistics were low – “only” 400 people, of which 22 were kids age 15 and under.
    Ist this as common where you live as it is here?


    • sylcell says:

      VERY common. Especially when people have pools at their houses. It happens a lot when there is a party or a big crowd and everybody assumes someone is watching the toddler. I am so paranoid about it when we are around bodies of water.


  3. Christy says:

    I had conversation on this very topic over the weekend with my parents, my husband and even my mother in law. I can see how in the morning you can be driving on autopilot and perhaps drive right by the daycare, but there’s always that “ah ha” moment where you realize that you were a dumba$$ and needed to turn around, chalking it up to being the start of a crap day. “That’s the day I’m having” kind of day. You know?? But my son is the light of my life and I could never, ever forget him in my car! I think about him 24/7. I wonder what he’s doing at daycare when I’m at work, and I wonder what he’s thinking even when we’re home together. I just hope and pray for every parent’s sanity that this nonsense of forgetting children (and fur-children) in hot cars ends real quick!


  4. morgan says:

    This really puzzles me. How is it possible to forget your kid and go to work for several hours???
    And how comes that here in Europe we rarely get to read news like that from Europe (and then I only remember cases from France and Poland) but often from the U.S.? Is it a problem of U.S. parents or are there just no statistics from Europe? Even all flyers and news over here telling parents of the dangers of leaving kids in the car in summer (btw. why only during summer? It can get really really cold in a car during winter…) only refer to studies done in the U.S.. Which I find totally odd. How comes? I have absolutely NO answer to that.
    I also have no answer to the question whether I could forget one of my kids in the car. Let’s just say: I hope not! Good thing for me is that not only is at least one kid riding in the front with me, but they also tend to notice any oddities concerning themselves and their siblings.

    Searching the internet for any european statistic of this problem, I found this flyer:
    It gives some great tips!


    • sylcell says:

      I live in the southern US, so it really doesn’t get that cold in the winter. At least, not cold enough to freeze to death in a car, usually. However, it does get hot enough for a child to die within the hour. That might be why it is so prevalent. And these things usually occur when a parent who doesn’t usually drive the child to day care is responsible for that on that day. I was wondering if this happens all that much in other places!


      • morgan says:

        Thing is: I don’t know how often it happens here, because all the warnings refer to US studies. And over the last couple of years, we only heard about occasional cases in Southern France, the U.K. and Poland. If you search thoroughly, you can find news articles from all over Europe, but it’s not easy to find (plus there is the language barrier – I speak german, english and french and a bit spanish, too; and when you speak german and english you can get around in dutch okay, but there are many others. Reading news e.g. from Poland – good luck with that.)

        And yes, it gets hot enough to die in a car here – on Friday at around 8 p.m. the thermometer outside still showed 34°C (which would be in the upper 90s°F to the formula I got from an american coworker), clear blue sky, no wind. The climate in Southern France isn’t much different and in Poland it usually doesn’t get as hot. I never heard of a case e.g. in Spain or Greece, where it gets a lot hotter in summer.

        So I’ve been thinking about that for days now… and got some theories

        1. our newscasts are different from what I experienced with US television. They are a lot more focused on politics and economics. Also, local TV stations are almost non-existent, so newscasts on TV usually are for the whole country. A forgotten kid in a car most probably is just a one-sentence-news. Plus – rumor has it that german news anchors are the most unemotional people ever.
        2. just googled the differences in population between Europe and US. Huh, I always thought we’d be somewhat similar but in fact Europe has more than twice as many inhabitants than the US. So if I extrapolate your data, I don’t think that 70 cases p.a. wouldn’t go unnoticed (even if german news anchors can read the most disturbing news like it is last year’s tax report). This got me thinking – under which circumstances is it possible to forget other passengers in the car? And I think the most likely scenario is to forget a sleeping passenger. And that takes some time; it is rare that my kids fall asleep in the car during one of our usual car trips. A usual car trip for us is less than 10km (6 miles?), because Europe is much more crammed than the U.S. and most daily needs like supermarkets, pharmacies, doctors are located within that radius. You can get along pretty well even without owning a car at all, because (at least here in Germany) the public transport system is very elaborate. During my last visit to the U.S. I was located in an area in Vermont I’d roughly compare with the area where my parents live (people are making fun of it as “the rim of the disc”) and the nearest supermarket was 10 miles away.
        Long story short: we don’t drive that much. And if we drive, it’s most likely too short for a kid to fall asleep.
        And you see people riding bikes here everywhere, something I only noticed in NYC. The dutch and danish even have a huge market for bikes with boxes for transporting everything (called bakfiets), especially their kids. I’ve got one of those too, they are getting more popular every year, mainly in flat areas.


      • sylcell says:

        All of that is so interesting! Yeah, in the suburbs here we average about half an hour to get anywhere. The emotional tension in the news here surrounding the case is unbelievable (and it is local news). They are charging him with murder. Most of the time when it is unintentional they don’t charge them with anything. Craziness.


  5. Mo says:

    This is such a huge issue here in Canada too, happening by accident and on purpose this summer. It’s absolutely heartbreaking! And as someone who is 8 months pregnant, exhausted from that and taking care of a nearly 5 year old and nearly 3 year old, I get it. I get being so tired that it can happen, and it’s terrifying! I have read that a good way to avoid it is to keep your purse or phone in the back seat of your vehicle, so you always remember to look back there before walking away…I started doing this when my son was very little, out of fear of forgetting him in the car, just out of sheer exhaustion, before all these accidents started appearing in the news.
    I also know that on days when I am that tired, we just stay home (obviously not always possible if you have to get to a job), but if you are that distracted or tired that you can forget your kid in your car, perhaps driving isn’t a good idea either.
    There is also a video making rounds of a grown man staying in his car on a hot day, to prove how quickly it gets hot in there, for those people that think it can’t get that bad.


  6. Laura says:

    I can’t bring the link over but Google the 2010 Pulitzer Winner by a Washington Post writer about kids in hot cars, it is a must read but not for the faint of heart. It won’t make you feel better about the fear of leaving your child in the car, but maybe it will hit home so hard you’ll always think to check your backseat.


  7. wifeytini says:

    One of my absolute worst fears. Have you read the article “fatal distraction” from the Washington Post? Amazing. And so heartbreaking.


  8. Chandra Lynn says:

    These are horrible, incomprehensible tragedies and we seem to be having an usually high number of incidents this summer. Breaks my heart.


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