I forgot my one-year old twins, not in a hot car, but at our home in the wee hours of the night. It was five days after my then-youngest daughter died from SIDS — the night of her funeral, to be exact. And for the entire week leading up to my awful forgetfulness, obviously, nothing about our life felt, or was, right.
Our grief threw our kids’ once-strict schedules right out the door, making our lives resemble nothing that once was our typical routine. My toddlers were either at daycare during the day while we made funeral arrangements, with my mom at night so we could properly grieve, or running errands with my husband and me in the minutes that filled the in between.
But we were hardly ever home during those days. And this night was the first night we were all together — as whole as we would ever be. We arrived at home later than usual, past my kids’ bedtime, so we immediately laid them down for bed.
My husband went downstairs and I followed after him. He made his way into our bedroom, and I into the living room.
A few hours after the kids were in bed, a little after midnight, my husband came into the living room with his keys in hand, shoes on his feet, hat on his head, and he told me he was making a quick gas station run for some snacks and would be right back.
But during this time, I was terrified of being alone — my mind ran wild when I wasn’t occupied. I had horrible flashbacks from the PTSD, feelings of my heart physically aching as it broke, and benzodiazepines to help ease all of those many ailments.
I couldn’t bear being alone while he simply ran to the gas station, and I couldn’t help but think of the worst possible scenario of him being in a car on the road alone (because we couldn’t think clearly, we’d both nearly wrecked our cars that week). So I scurried to put on my shoes, throw on a sweatshirt and make the quick run with him.
We walked down our pavement and made our way toward the truck in the driveway. I remember remarking about which gas station would probably be open at this time of night, and once we were both buckled in, he drove in that direction.
Our grief was heavy and the radio was too happy during such a sensitive time. I turned the knob to put the cheerful tunes at bay and unlocked my phone to check neglected notifications. And it was then that I saw my children’s faces on my phone’s background and realized … we left them at home.
We were only half a block up the road and we had only just made it to the first stop sign on our street, but still, we forgot our kids. I screamed at my husband, “The babies are home and upstairs sleeping!”
He hollered something with profanity and made a U-turn like a bat out of Hell on the empty and silent street. We weren’t gone for maybe a minute, but we both ran upstairs to check on them the second we got home, leaving the doors to the truck open.
They were, thankfully, perfect. Both of them snoozing away peacefully while their dad and I watched their little chests rise and fall — the most glorious sight to see after child loss.
Still, we hated ourselves for what we had just done.
I remember sobbing, feeling like the worst mom ever and calling my mom to cry about what had just happened. The phone rang, she was asleep, but of course she picked up. And I remember eventually saying to her, “We just buried our daughter today. How could we forget them?”
“Honey, it’s okay. They are okay. You have so much going on right now. It was a mistake,” she gently replied.
And even though I couldn’t see it clearly then, I’m able to now. I screwed up because I am a human mother who was completely out of her normal routine. No matter how much I did, still do and forever will love my kids, I. Make. Mistakes. And sometimes, they are colossal mistakes like this one.
Despite my circumstances, I forgot my children. Not in a hot car, but while they were sound asleep at my house. And even if it was only for maybe 60 seconds, this is more than shameful for me to admit.
I used to say that something like this would “never happen to my family.” But now that it has, I’m forced to ask myself, is forgetting my children at home any different than forgetting them in a hot car?
I was struck with the most pungent reminder to go back home only after I looked at my phone and saw my children’s faces. They were fine, and something like this has never happened since. But the fact of the matter for me is that it did happen… even if I remembered and it was only one minute… it happened.
It happened to someone (that someone being me) who used to say “that could never happen to my family.”
So now that it has once before, at best, the only thing I can say is that I hope that never happens to my family again. And I can put preventative measures in place — the ones others may deem silly — which forces me to remember if, heaven forbid, I were ever to forget again.
Now, I’m forced to ask myself, is forgetting my sleeping children at home any different than forgetting my sleeping children in the car?
I think not.
It’s early August, and we’ve already seen at least hot car deaths in 2019. Clearly, the way we are approaching Forgotten Baby Syndrome — when a parent fails to remember a child is in a vehicle — is not working.
On July 26, one-year-old twins were found dead in the backseat of a Honda Accord in New York City after their father, Juan Rodriguez, forgot about them and worked for eight hours. Rodriguez, who is out on a $100,000 bail for two counts of manslaughter and two counts of criminally negligent homicide, is described by family and friends as a “great” and “doting father.”
But because of this one mistake, Rodriguez and his family have been dealt a lifetime of trauma from the twins’ senseless and horrendous death.
When I think of this family, I think about how much that could have been me. It could have been you, or any other parent out there.
According to David Diamond, Ph.D, professor of psychology at the University of South Florida and advocate for parents who forget their child(ren) in a hot car, there is a cognitive process behind memory failure.
“Forgetting kids in cars is, in theory, the same brain processes involved in any other type of memory failure when the habit memory system outcompetes the conscious fact-based memory system,” Diamond tells Kars4Kids.
If we fail to understand that forgetting a child in the backseat of a car (or, in my case, even at home) has a cognitive process behind the memory failure, preventable action will not be put into place, and in some cases, the results, even for the most careful parents, could be dire for their children.
“Bottom line — memory is flawed, whether it’s remembering that our headlights are on or that our child’s in the car — being aware it happens to attentive loving parents is necessary to appreciate that we need technology to help us so that kids don’t die in cars and parents aren’t traumatized and incarcerated,” Diamond added.
My phone’s background reminded me when I didn’t think I needed a reminder. We need new innovations to help prevent potential tragedies.
Are you too proud to put preventative measures in place? Or would you rather be safe than sorry?