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Jessica Wiant: Mental slip can lead to tragedy

I'm a bit of a writers' groupie.

When time lags here at the office, I try to find good stories to read for inspiration.

An obvious source is the annals of the Pulitzers -- the top prizes in journalism.

On a recent day, I went to the Pulitzer website to read the 2010 winning feature, announced in May.

When the subtitle of the article was "Forgetting a child in the back seat of a hot parked car is a horrifying, inexcusable mistake. But is it a crime?" I just kept on reading.

That's when I made my own mistake: I forgot that having my own kid has magnified my sensitivity to anything tragic by at least a thousand.

I read on as long as I could, but the gruesome details in the article proved more than I could bear. Pre-motherhood, I could have done it, but not now. The true terror of a baby dying strapped into a hot car got to me too much.

I became horrified that I would leave my own baby in the car -- as the article, by Gene Weingarten in The Washington Post in March last year, states, it can happen to anyone: "The wealthy do it, it turns out. And the poor, and the middle class. Parents of all ages and ethnicities do it. Mothers are just as likely to do it as fathers."

Just as I was beginning not to obsess about it quite so much, another article came out, this time in Parenting magazine. It revealed that this tragic circumstance, forgetting a baby in the back seat, takes the lives of about 37 babies and toddlers each year. Thirty-seven.

I thought back to the early days of parenting. After spending two months mostly indoors taking care of my newborn, my maternity leave came to an end and just like that I started driving to work every day again. The difference? There was now a baby back there to be dropped off at day care.

He almost always slept the whole trip. In fact, he still usually does. It would have been so easy. Just one mental slip and I would've pulled into the parking lot like I always used to and gone into work. And that's all it takes.

The Parenting article offers some tips for avoiding what it dubbed as "hot-car tragedies."

The most useful tip, I thought, was to have someone call you if your child is expected somewhere but doesn't show up on time. Another tip was to put your purse or phone in the back seat so you'll be more likely to see your child back there also.

My own advice is to get a mirror for the back seat. Positioned correctly, it allows you to view the baby by looking in your rearview mirror. Without one, and with rear-facing safety seats, the baby is out of sight. With it, any time you glance in the mirror you can't help but see him. It's pretty hard to forget him when it becomes a habit to constantly glance in the mirror to see if he's awake and comfortable.

Let's not let one of those 37 babies be from here.

Contact Jessica Wiant at jwiant@nvdaily.com. For more "That's Life" and other family news go to www.nvdaily.com/moms.


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