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Hot Car Deaths a Tragic Result of Too-Busy Lives

“Parents should get into the habit of always opening their back doors when they leave the vehicle,” says KidsAndCars.org founder Janette Fennel in a recent AP story by Jamie Stengle.

Why is this so important? Because so far in 2016, 23 children have died after being left in hot cars. Twenty-three. The same number of hot-car deaths for all of 2015.

But why don’t parents just remember their kids?

Maybe because the parent dropping the baby off at daycare doesn’t usually have that job. Maybe because a grandparent running late to work was in the driver’s seat and forgot to check the back. Or the mom ran in to the grocery store “just for a few things” and was gone longer than she expected.

I feel very strongly about the hot-car issue. Years ago, one of our kids hopped in the “way-back” of our car and hid, totally unbeknownst to his father, who was about to make a trip to town. About 20 minutes later, my husband made a quick stop at the drug store. He opened the back door to put his purchases inside, and found a grinning little boy of four. “Surprise!”

My husband didn’t think it was at all funny. That was before cell-phones, and I assumed he had taken our son with him at the last minute. And he thought I had him.

So don’t forget to check for stowaways.

Even pets.

Some dogs can be pretty sneaky. Like my grandchildren’s black chihuahua, Noche.  I nearly left him in a hot car one hot summer afternoon.  The naughty pooch had hopped in without being noticed. But luckily, thanks to cell-phones, my son was able to let me know the dog was missing. I found him – hunkered down, hiding in the dark “way back,” behind tinted windows that had made it impossible to spot him from the outside. And we were just about to disappear inside a museum for two hours.

Noche would have fried.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a locked car sitting in the summer sun quickly turns into an oven. Temperatures can climb from 78 degrees to 100 degrees in just three minutes. To 125 degrees in 6-8 minutes.

Here are some tips to safeguard your most precious cargo, courtesy of www.safekids.org:

Top Tips

Reduce the number of deaths from heatstroke by remembering to ACT.

A: Avoid heatstroke-related injury and death by never leaving your child alone in a car, not even for a minute. And make sure to keep your car locked when you’re not in it so kids don’t get in on their own.

C: Create reminders by putting something in the back of your car next to your child such as a briefcase, a purse or a cell phone that is needed at your final destination. This is especially important if you’re not following your normal routine.

T: Take action. If you see a child alone in a car, call 911. Emergency personnel want you to call. They are trained to respond to these situations. One call could save a life.

This is important if your child is in daycare: make sure they will call you if your child does not show up. Many times a child has been left in a hot car because a parent who doesn’t usually do the drop-off went straight to work instead of taking the baby to daycare.

And here’s one of mine: Never leave a sleeping child in the car  – even in your own driveway.

In 2010, Washington Post journalist Gene Weingarten the  won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing for his story “Fatal Distraction,” about parents who tragically left their small children to die in hot cars.

The story’s riveting. And possibly the most uncomfortable piece of journalism you will ever come across.

Read it anyway.

The truth is, Weingarten had a heart for those grief-stricken parents. They trusted him with their gut-wrenching remorse and raw emotions. Maybe that’s because he once left his own daughter asleep in the car.

I know how hard it is to be mindful. I forget things all the time and have to run back inside for a notebook. My keys. Stuff for work.

But when my kids were babies, I was wildly mindful. Uber-mindful. First off, my babies and I were joined at the hip, as the expression goes. I was chemically bonded with them through mothering hormones – the product of pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding – and constant holding.

Breastfeeding just magnifies a baby’s need for his mother. It also yields an emotional connection that is nearly unbreakable; I could no more leave my babies than walk naked through the streets.

We were a couple. Not just a mom. Not just a baby. But a dyad. And we were inseparable. And we took life slow. No rush. Because in my book, babies are to be enjoyed.

I was attending a writers’ conference in Grapevine, Texas, a few years ago, when Gene Weingarten shared his personal story with the audience.  On a day he had his little girl with him, he ran into the newspaper office – just for a minute – and left her sleeping in the car. He forgot all her about her. Lost track of time, he said.

But then, by the grace of God, he suddenly remembered.

You might say it was a close call. But not everybody gets one. Better to do something radically different.

I know, of course, that not every mama can stay home and breastfeed, cooing the morning away over over cups of herbal tea. But maybe it is possible to spend a few more minutes just gazing into a child’s eyes and realizing they are a gift from God, and truly irreplaceable.  FFG

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