I left my daughter in a hot car, and if I could do it-so could you.
“Hey where is Penny?” It was such a simple question, one that any parent of a young child will find themselves asking when things are too quiet. It was a little after 8 p.m. and my family had just arrived home-I was gathering things around the house to prepare for a work trip I was taking the next day, my husband was going through the mail and my seven year old was already playing in her room. Everything seemed normal except I didn’t hear sounds of my three year old, my baby, running around or fighting with her sister.
Not yet knowing the gravity of the situation, I walked in each room calling for her, and with each utterance of “Penny” my anxiety was climbing and my voice becoming more concerned-I instinctively knew this wasn’t a game of hide-and-seek. I heard my husband ask, “Do you think she is still in the garage?” from another room and the weight of realization that not only was she in the garage, but still buckled into her car seat overcame me. It felt so heavy, as if every single muscle in my body was filled with lead but adrenaline pushed me to run to the garage.
I opened the door and could hear her screaming from inside the car. I threw the door open, relieved that the inside temperature of the car felt cool compared to the stifling, sticky temperature of the garage. Tears stained her flushed cheeks but the moment she saw me she stopped crying and just stared at me, obviously mad.
I frantically unbuckled her and attempted to hold her close to me but she pushed me away angrily.
I kept repeating that I was sorry and I would never do that to her again. Like a typical threenager, her mood immediately switched and she nestled her head into my shoulder allowing me to feel the weight of her body against mine. This time I truly became frozen, I stayed in that hot garage feeling the sweat start to bead on the back of my neck and my heart beating out of my chest replaying everything that happened that caused me to leave my baby in the car.
When I looked back, what hurt the most was how easily it happened. We had gotten home later than I wanted from dinner and knowing I had to pack for a work trip, I wanted to get started quickly so I could get to bed at a decent time. As soon as we pulled into the garage, I transferred something from my husband’s car to mine so I wouldn’t forget to bring it with me the next day. This was the break in routine that caused me to forget Penny. Every time we arrive home, I get out and unbuckle Penny as my husband opens the door for my older daughter. The simple act of doing one tiny thing differently could have drastically changed our lives forever.
Prior to this incident, I was not the parent who said this could never happen to me. In fact, I previously have written an article about never saying never when it comes to tragic situations. Still, while I knew it was possible, I didn’t think it would happen. And holding my girl that night, I felt so incredibly lucky that the circumstances were what they were-she hadn’t been in the car more than five minutes because my husband realized it was just a little too quiet, it was late at night, and the car was still cool from running the air conditioner. It didn’t have to be that way and tragically, it isn’t for some parents.
When I admitted on social media what happened to my friends, several chimed in and admitted their parenting mistakes, and a few reached out to me privately and shared they had done the same thing, feeling too ashamed to openly admit it. While I have extreme regret and was angry I made the mistake, I don’t feel ashamed to admit it. If being open about my story helps one other parent realize it could happen to them too and be more aware how easily it can happen and potentially prevent an accident, then I would share it as many times as it took.
I’m a good mom. I know this through and through-I adore my girls, want the absolute best for them and feel pride knowing that my daughters will make a difference in the world because of who they are and how I am raising them. It doesn’t mean I can’t, don’t, or won’t make mistakes in the future and I was just very, very lucky that evening.