It's finally summer. The days are longer, the air is warmer, the sun even seems sunnier somehow. We love summer. Fresh berries, peaches, plums, watermelon, tomatoes off the vine... Pools, sprinklers, the beach... Sundresses, butterflies, flip flops (I wear flip flops year-round, who am I kidding?)... I love pretty much everything about summer.
What I do NOT love about summer is the plethora of horrifying stories and statistics about accidental infant and toddler deaths that seem to flood my Facebook newsfeed day in and day out. We all know about the dangers of unattended children by large (or not that large) containers of water, but somehow a tragic number of children still die every year from drowning. Something new that I learned about this year is a phenomenon called “secondary drowning.” I consider myself to be a fairly level-headed mother, but this freaked me out, because it seems like something that could happen if Adelaide simply swallowed water “down the wrong pipe.” (I've come to understand that secondary drowning, though something one should definitely be aware of, is not actually all that common.) My daughter does not know how to swim, and we have been (and will continue to be) around pools, hot tubs, lakes, large buckets, etc. all summer. So what does this responsible, informed mama do? I sent my husband out to purchase a top-of-the-line, Coast Guard-approved life vest for Adelaide. It even has a handy-dandy handle so she can be grabbed out of the pool should she fall in unintentionally. This of course, I swore to myself, would never happen, because I'm a good mom and will make sure there are eyes on my child at all times on the pool deck. Never, for ANY reason, leave her alone in the bathtub – even to grab a towel that I'd forgotten. I had a plan.
Today I needed to return a shopping cart to the corral at Costco, so I left the hatch of the Volvo wide open so both girls would receive ample air while I was gone for less than twenty seconds returning the cart. It would also be conspicuous should I, against all odds, suffer a heart attack on my way to and from. This way someone would notice an unattended car and see that there were children inside. Even though this would never happen to me. Never. But, I had a plan.
I returned to the car, closed the hatch, and drove across the overpass to the local fruit stand. I parked, grabbed a cart and went around to get Adelaide out of the car. I opened the door and to my utter horror, I saw that her carseat was unbuckled. My mind raced – did she disobey me and unsnap the chest clip? Possible, but I've seen her struggle with it before – she's not coordinated enough to unsnap it fully, only part way. Besides, it wasn't only the chest clip that wasn't secured – the crotch clip was undone as well. In fact, everything was underneath her, as if she had been placed in the seat and never buckled in.
It dawned on me, with a horrible, glaring light, that I was the culprit. I had neglected to secure my child to her carseat.
Early on, Jay and I established a rule to avoid situations like this. Never put a child in the carseat unless she is fully buckled. Even if she's napping at grandma's, even if we're just snapping the carseat into the stroller to go for a walk. ALWAYS BUCKLE HER IN FULLY. I had a plan.
I HAD A PLAN.
I cannot fully describe the emotions that came crashing over me like a massive wave. I had broken my own rule, but it wasn't like I thought “I should buckle her in... Nah. I'll get to it in a minute.” I didn't think “We're just going across the street to the fruit stand – I can't be bothered with a possible battle of wills over this.” No - I was in such mommy auto-pilot mode that I placed her in her seat, gave her a banana, and forgot to buckle her completely. It didn't even enter my mind. My love for Adelaide had nothing to do with it. My desire for convenience had nothing to do with it. I am not an irresponsible mother. It's just that THESE THINGS HAPPEN. All the plans the in the world can fail you. I just never, ever expected it to happen to me. I was a good parent, I cared about my children and put their safety above my convenience. I was a better parent than all those whose children drowned unattended in pools, whose children suffocated in hot cars. I was a good parent, and they were all bad parents who didn't love their children enough.
Today, as I stood in the parking lot shaking and struggling to breathe, I realized that love, or being a “good parent,” or having correct priorities has nothing to do with it. Even the most child-focused, selfless humans are fallible, and the tragic reality is that sometimes children bear the consequences of our imperfections. I am no better than any other parent because I have a plan for every possible misfortune that I can imagine. I don't love my child more than they do. The only thing that kept my mistake today from ending horrifically was God. He was protecting Adelaide. He always is protecting her, it's just today that I was keenly aware of it.
So make plans, set rules for yourself, and hopefully we will all enjoy a tradgedy-free summer. But please don't make the ugly, prideful mistake that I made and buy into the idea that you're somehow better than these grieving parents who are suffering the loss of their children. As they say, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” I hope that you don't have to discover firsthand that these things TRULY “could happen to anyone.”