A few months ago I was driving down Bethany and reached the overpass for Highway 26 as I crossed over the bridge I thought to myself, "Hmm...I wonder where I would have ended up going?" Because I should have turned left on Laidlaw over a mile earlier. But I hadn't. I was driving on autopilot. Not sure where I was going because I realized I was not where I wanted to be before I got there.
At the beginning of the summer when C was still home we were headed to the gym one Tuesday morning. I pulled out of the neighborhood and turned right on Springville and headed in the opposite direction of where I wanted to be. Because for the past month on Tuesdays at that time I had gone to PT. I normally go to the gym right after I drop Brent off at work, not later in the morning. But with C home we were going together so it was later in the morning. But I still turned right instead of left. Habit.
Once in Florida after working close one night and then having to get Brent to work by 6 AM the next morning I remember being almost all the way home and having no memory of the drive from the time I left base to where I was. About 15 minutes worth of driving. Just not there. Habitual driving. I learned years later about how the brain forms habits and patterns and that we do a lot of things like that without ever being completely conscious of them. It's a great system actually. Keeps us running efficiently. Except when it fails.
When C was a newborn I woke up one night to the sound of him fretting (he didn't cry when he was hungry or needed changed, he fretted, he was an amazing baby). Anyway...I reached over to pick him up and he was gone. Not lying between Brent and I. I patted down the bed and couldn't find him. The panic started to hit as I realized I had lost the baby. Where was he? Then I realized he was in his own room in his crib. He wasn't in the bed with us. But I will never forget that moment of panic as I had no idea where he was.
Last Thursday Brent left work early. Well early for him, he got off at five. As we were driving home an ambulance passed us. We watched people who had no clue how to get out of the way and just stopped in the road instead of even attempting to pull over. Because we had the discussion about it the ambulance stuck in both of our heads. Later that night the news reported the tragic story that someone at Intel had left their baby in their car while they were at work. That's who the ambulance was for. The baby did not survive.
As I watch people react the first thing you normally see is the "How could that ever happen? How could you ever forget the baby?" Well, if you aren't the parent that normally has the baby, if it's not your habit to drop the baby off, if the baby is sound asleep and you never look in the back seat...if you are tired, if you are thinking about something else, if you get distracted...
And then people will say, "There is NO WAY I would ever do that." And it's true there might not be anyway you ever would. Most people never do. But is that as much luck as anything else? And then there were people who were shocked that not one person noticed the child all day. And I thought, I was in that parking lot right about the time the dad was discovering his life was now completely destroyed. And I had no idea. I don't make the habit of driving up and down the rows of cars looking in their backseats. Does anyone?
I lost C. In that moment between sleep and awake I had no idea where he was. Now it worked out just fine that he was in his own bed. But what if it had been the other way around? If I had thought he was in his crib and he was in our bed instead and I has rolled over on him not remembering he was there? What if I had gotten out of bed and tossed the blanket on him when I got out? None of that happened, but what if?
I cannot imagine what that family is going through. To lose a child, and to know it was at your own hand? Unimaginable. How does the marriage survive? And they have another child. How do you trust yourself again? How do you ever start to forgive yourself? And to know that almost everyone you meet has judged you. That there are people who assume the worst of you, not just that you made a tragic mistake with unimaginable consequences but that you obviously must have done it on purpose because there is no way THEY would have done it.
I can't take that stance. No, I never forgot C in a car. I never forgot I had him. But that's because when he was a baby I was a stay at home mom. Of course I had him. I always had him. And by the time we were switching on and off who took him to day care and school he was old enough to let you know he was in the car so there was no chance to forget him. But there were times where we had to check with each other, "Are you picking up today or am I?" He is the most important thing in our lives. Brent and I were extraordinarily doting parents. And we didn't always remember who was supposed to be on pick up duty that night. It happens. Thankfully we never had any sort of tragic results because of autopilot or forgetfulness.
Now maybe because I know what it's like to absolutely forget something important to you and have someone tell you "If it was important you wouldn't have forgotten" and knowing that's not true I have more understanding. Maybe because of that moment of losing C when he was a baby and I was exhausted I understand that it can happen. Maybe because of the moments where I am driving on autopilot I understand that habits can take over. Or maybe it's because I cannot imagine adding my own judgement on a family that has to be devastated that I cannot see jumping on the "hang them high" bandwagon.
Or maybe it's just because as I age I realize more and more that "I would NEVER!" most often really translates to "I have never..." Because you don't really know what you would never do, you just know what you have not yet been faced with.
Our local news gave some really good tips to make sure you "would never" and I'm going to pass them along here along with my condolences to that entire family. I cannot imagine what they are going through and I am so sorry for their loss.
1. Always leave something needed for your day (purse, phone, briefcase, computer, etc.) on the floor of the back seat so that you are reminded that the child is back there esp. if the youngin' is asleep.
2. Always arrange with the daycare center, babysitter, etc., to call the parents if the baby is absent (much like our schools do)
Thanks, Sherri, for sharing these tips.