Keeping it Real
I had been pondering what I wanted to do for my column this month; so many exciting things have happened with my kids that I wanted to memorialize it all in writing. But then this weekend happened, and I still cannot shake the complete emptiness and pit in my stomach. I close my eyes and relive the moment over and over again. The moment we could have lost one of our children. I told my colleagues at work about what happened, and while they were shocked, they were equally as terrified about having the same potentially deadly experience as we did.
I thought I would write about it as therapy for me and a reminder PSA for my fellow Montana parents.
It was a busy Sunday afternoon; I had two of my children with me as we did a few last-minute errands, including grabbing groceries for a co-family cookout we would be having later that evening. Our last stop was to pick up my middle child (6 years) from a birthday party at the local trampoline gym.
We arrived home, the kids jumped out of the van, I grabbed the groceries from the back and we all headed inside.
I put away groceries, tidied the kitchen and went into the living room to vacuum. As I moved the vacuum back and forth, I happened to glance outside for a moment and noticed something in the driver's seat of my van.
I screamed, "Someone is in the van!"
I bolted out the front door, and as I got closer, I knew by the blonde hair it was my 6-year-old. He had been trapped in the car for nearly 20 minutes on an 85-degree day.
I banged on the door, but it was locked. I started pounding the door and window. The alarm blared behind my screams. Luckily, my husband, the more rational of us, grabbed the keys and hit the unlock button.
His body was somewhere between frail and limp. It had no resistance as I yanked his hot-to-the-touch body out of the car, falling back into our yard. You could see the dried-up streaks where his tears had fallen just minutes before.
He is OK... physically. I'm unsure how long the emotional and mental side effects will last. I shudder thinking about him being scared and screaming for us to no avail. According to him, he was exhausted after the party and hadn't realized we were all getting out of the car. With five doors opening and shutting (including the groceries in the back) I didn't realize one door hadn't had a kid come out. When he noticed he was alone, we were already inside and the doors were locked.
Here is the kicker. Like so many new cars, our car has child locks, which enable a person to unlock or open the doors from the inside if the car is off and locked. Most of us are unaware of this feature. I've had this car for a year, and it's never been a problem until this horrific instance. And, again, our car—like most—also doesn't have a physical lock button. It is all technology with no button to flip or pull up like the old days.
After Olan returned to his old self and was safely tucked in bed that night, my husband and I tested this out. I locked him in the car, and he, as a college-educated, very tech-savvy mid-30’s adult, could not get out of the car. This is not OK and is quite terrifying, especially because they don't tell you this when you buy the vehicle.
As I'm writing it now, tears burn the rims of my eyelids, but this nightmare has many takeaways.
» Grown kids can get distracted and be grossly unaware of their surroundings and what is happening around them.
» Child locks are on most newer cars and can cause more harm than good. Look into this with your car, and see how/if it can be disabled. Older children should be able to get in and out of locked cars. What if they were playing hide-and-seek and got into a car and hit "lock" so as not to be found?
» Cars heat up fast. According to the National Weather Service, the temperature inside a vehicle will reach 100 degrees in 25 minutes when the outside temperature is just 73 degrees.
» When we read about childhood accidents, it's not for us to judge but to have empathy. Had it been a few minutes later, who knows what the outcome would have been in our situation. All for something so avoidable and, quite frankly, stupid.
» And, primarily, for me, slow the hell down and be aware of where your children are. I will never make that mistake again.
Thank you for letting me share our story, and I hope it gives all of us a wake-up call to be vigilant the rest of summer.