Settle in folks while I spin you a tale about why my purse is by my child’s feet on the dirty floor of my car. It’s a vulnerable story that only a few close to me know, so if your first inclination is to be a Judgey Judy, then keep it for your coffee date, not the comment section.
Once upon a time I was a struggling single mom with a newborn baby and two small children, one of which was only 2 years old.
I busted my butt to make sure my kids still got to do things they loved, like dance and soccer, and I made sure that I was the one to drop them off and pick them up from school.
I was fresh off of a c-section and likely not even supposed to be driving or lifting anything heavier than my infant, but as a single mom, who was I going to call, Ghost Busters?
The morning was normal chaos. A forgotten shoe. A whiney toddler. Engorged boobs. Short attention.
I counted my children as we exited the apartment like a good mother duck, strapped them in their seats and started the car.
“Mommy!” I hear from the back seat.
My daughter’s voice sounded urgent, but oddly calm. Almost like her tiny 7 year old self was trying to not induce panic.
“What, baby?” I replied as I looked at her through the rear view mirror.
She looks up to meet my eyes in the mirror and says “where’s the baby?”
My heart raced. I know I had the baby when I was leaving the house.
I counted all the kids three times. Once as we left the house. Again after I locked the door, and again when we got to the car.
I make a habit of counting my kids and anyone else’s if we are out at a park or another public space. It’s an old habit that has stuck from high school working in our school’s child development class’s child care center.
When you have multiple kids, counting makes it easier to make sure no one has strayed. You learn to do it quick and it allows you to catch a straggler before they stray.
In this case I knew I had them all, but upon her tiny prompting of “where’s the baby,” I quickly turned to see just the base of the carseat. I sprang out of the car with my heart in my throat beating a mile a minute and there he was.
On the trunk.
I left my baby on the trunk of the car.
The routine was new.
The stress I felt was new.
The buckling of more than two car seats in a 5 seater Dodge Neon was new.
Everything was new and I was sleep deprived.
I placed my newborn on the trunk while I buckled my 2 year old in his car seat and I instinctually shut the door and climbed inside like I had done a million times before he was born.
I hate to think – what if my daughter hadn’t been there?
What if we were doing pick up and not drop off and she was at school?
What if I had backed up?
What if she hadn’t noticed?
I hate to think about the what ifs and have learned to not judge the people living through the worst of the what if scenarios.
Year after year I see comments filled with hate, vitriol and judgement when a parent loses a child because they had a change of routine and forgot their quiet child was in the back seat.
Every year I am gutted by these stories because I know as parents we are one accident away from our worst what if scenario and the loss of life that can occur.
Every year I hold on to my own personal embarrassing dangerous parenting moment as my reminder to not judge others and plan for the what if.
So, since my youngest was born I keep my purse by his feet.
Not because my purse is more important than my son, but because grabbing my purse is a habit no matter how my routine changes.
If I am running to the store sans kids, I grab my purse.
If I have 3 appointments in different parts of town, I grab my purse.
If I have to drive 45 min away before I pick up the kids from school, I have to grab my purse, and by grabbing my purse, I’m forced to look in the back seat.
I’ve never left a kid in the car, but I know as humans we are fallible, so I plan for me to have human moments when I’m under stress or any other time.
I keep my purse by his feet.
As we reach record temperatures in many areas, take a moment to remember that the worst what if scenario can happen to anyone.
Hold your judgement and put a plan in place to account for human moments.
This post originally appeared on the author’s Facebook page.