The Day I Left My Son In The Car

Salon's Kim Brooks gives us the story of a "Good Samaritan" bystander who takes things too far and nearly ruins a good mother's life:

Every year, 30 to 40 children, usually under the age of 6, die after being left alone in cars. Their deaths (usually by suffocation), are slow, torturous, unspeakably tragic. In some instances, they are the result of clear-cut neglect, but more often, they occur because of a change in routine — usually the father drops off at daycare but today it’s the mom and she is tired or harried and forgets the kid is with her and leaves him there for hours. I was aware of these tragedies long before the day I left my son, because, like most anxious, at times over-protective mothers, I spend a not insignificant portion of my time reading about and thinking about and worrying about all the terrible things that can happen to the two little people I’ve devoted my life to protecting.

I know that on a 75-degree day, a closed car can become an oven. I know that a home with an unfenced swimming pool is as dangerous as one with a loaded gun. I know how important it is to install car seats correctly, to adjust and fasten the straps regularly. When my kids were babies I always put them to sleep on their backs, though they hated it. I treated small, chokeable objects like arsenic, put up gates on all our stairways (not the tension-rod kind that can be pushed over, but the kind you bolt into the wall). I immunized them against everything immunizable, sliced their hotdogs lengthwise and removed the casing, made sure their plates and cups were BPA free, limited their screen time, slathered them in sunscreen on sunny days. When my more carefree friends say things like, “What’s the worst that could happen?” I usually have an answer. Sometimes I fantasized about moving with my family to a sun-drenched island in the Mediterranean where my children could spend their days frolicking freely on the beach without worry of speeding cars or communicable diseases, but I never confuse this fantasy with the reality we live in, the reality of risk and danger, the reality that terrible things happen to good, well-meaning people every second of every day.

And so, it came as more than a shock to me when, on the way home from the airport, I listened to a voice mail from an officer at my family’s local police department explaining that a bystander had noticed me leaving my son in the car, had recorded the incident using a phone’s camera, and had then contacted the police. By the time the police arrived, I had already left the scene, and by the time they looked up the license plate number of the minivan and traced it to my parents, I was flying home.

I’d never been charged with a crime before, so the weeks that followed were pure improvisation. I hired a lawyer to talk to the police on my behalf. I sought advice and support from those I loved and trusted. I tried to stay calm. My lawyer told me he’d had a productive conversation with the officer involved, that he’d explained I was a loving and responsible mother who’d had a “lapse in judgment,” and that it seemed quite possible charges would not be pressed. For a while, it looked like he was right. But nine months later, a few minutes after dropping my kids off at school, I was walking to a coffee shop when my cellphone rang. Another officer asked if I was Kim Brooks and if I was aware there was a warrant out for my arrest.

Find some time to head over to Salon and read this one today.