being a mom

Call CPS: I Left My Kid In The Car Twice

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retro kid in carEvery summer, it’s the same; story after story of a baby that’s been left in the car. These stories typically end tragically, and bring with them a storm of sentiments. People who think people who leave kids in cars are horrible monsters. People who pity them. People who judge them.

It always gives me chills, because I’ve left my child in the car. Twice.

Granted, my experience was different than the ones you hear about. I didn’t forget my child in the car. She wasn’t in the car either time for more than 10 minutes. That didn’t make it less scary, it just made me feel like more of an imbecile.

See, when we first moved to Texas, I had a 2001 Ford Escape, a car I really loved and the first one that I didn’t need to outfit with pillows in order to see over the steering wheel. It was great, with the exception of one thing: the car locked even if the keys were still inside and the car is in park. My new car does not do this, but my old one would, and that combined with 100° days, is how it happened both times.

We were living in apartments, and because it got so hot, I got in the habit of parking my car, leaving the A/C running for my three-year-old, and then unloading the groceries before I got her out of the car so that I could He-man everything upstairs before she started to boil in her own sweat. One day, I accidentally leaned on the lock button before I closed the door, and I didn’t even realize that my daughter was locked inside the car with my cellphone until I went to open the back and felt my stomach drop down into my feet.

I ended up having to run into a neighbor’s unit and beg to use their phone, at which point, I had no idea what to do next. Call 911? I mean, it wasn’t really an emergency, since the A/C was on, and I’m sure they had murders and dismemberings and stuff to investigate. I ended up searching for a locksmith and calling them, only to hear:

“Ma’am, you have to call the police.”

“But she’s fine, the tank’s full and the air conditioning is on”

It pains me to admit it, but I was embarrassed. It was an honest mistake. She wasn’t in danger. Cops make me nervous. Did I really have to call them?

They hung up on me. Inside the car, I could see my daughter, oblivious, bopping her head to whatever was on the radio. I walked over and tapped on her window, motioning down at the lock and hoping she really was the genius I thought she was, but she just stared at me. Then she made the connection; I was outside of the car, she was inside. Her face crumpled, and she started to wail.

I dialed 3-1-1, figuring that this would get me the police but not the EMTs. They also hung up on me. Finally I took a deep breath and started making faces at my daughter before dialing 9-1-1, which resulted in two fire engines and a cop car with all of their sirens on at my apartment complex, a panicked crowd of onlookers, and finally a jimmying of the lock that got my child out of the car so I could take her and all of the meat that had been spoiling in the sun upstairs.

The second time it happened, I felt like a professional baby-in-car-leaver. I actually felt my elbow hit the button as I was shutting the door this time, but it was too late for me to do much more than shout “FUCKBALLOONS” as the door clicked shut.

I just kind of sighed, pulled out my phone (which I had started keeping in my pocket and not my purse) and dialed 9-1-1. I was no longer embarrassed. It sucked that the fire brigade was meeting my in front of my husband’s work this time in front of all of his coworkers, but with a little perspective I could see it for what it was. A mistake that wasn’t going to result in the injury or death of my child. At least the police and fire department cared enough to categorize any incident of a child being trapped in a car as an “emergency”.

As embarrassed and horrified as I was, at least my kid was okay. I’d rather have the guilty sweats than an injured child.

And after I told this story the first time, I was surprised to find that more often than not it was met with commiseration, not judgement. Other moms doing shitty, dumb stuff that they are mortified about. Leaving kids in cars. With plastic bags within reach. Trusting them prematurely around chokable toys. Everyone’s done something mind-bogglingly dumb where there kids are involved.

So, at least we can all celebrate being inept–together.

(Image: Everett Collection/Shutterstock)