We live in a fast-paced world. A world where deadlines, appointments, routines and the clock can rule our lives. The mornings can be especially difficult if you are a parent. We must ready ourselves and our little ones to face each day within a small window of time. We must fight traffic, drop off our kids and rush to reach our destination on time. Days flow into each other and the monotony can drive you into autopilot. You strap your child into his or her car seat. You flip on the radio or play your voice messages. Your mind is on that early morning meeting or that big presentation. Your little one – if you are lucky — is silent in the back… out of sight and more than likely out of mind. In fact, most of your drives are done without much thought of your immediate environment.
This is when mistakes can happen. Sometimes those mistakes are small and nothing more than mildly inconvenient – like losing your keys, bumping your elbow or making a wrong turn. But, sometimes this lack of mindfulness can have real consequences. On August 5, a father left his 6-month-old baby in his parked car at the Forest Glen Metro station in Silver Spring, Md. He got on that metro and headed into work. He didn’t remember for nearly three hours. The baby is thankfully okay, but this situation is not. Not ever.
According to kidsandcars.org about 38 children die in hot cars each year from heat-related deaths after being trapped inside motor vehicles. Many more have close calls. In most cases, the parents or caregivers simply forgot or didn’t realize their child was inside. When something like this happens, it’s easy to allow anger, outrage and judgement to take over. We want to blame bad parenting. We want to believe that this could not happen to us… because somehow we are above these parents. And while negligence is absolutely a factor in some cases, many times these are regular loving parents who are preoccupied. They are on autopilot. They are unfocused and unaware. And their children pay the ultimate price.
As a child care provider that greets hurried parents each day, I understand how difficult this push and pull of keeping a schedule and trying to be all things to our children and our jobs can be on individuals. I understand that when your routine is slightly off, it’s easy to falter.
But, risking your child’s life because you are off schedule or running late and simply forgot is not a lesson anyone should have to learn.
Some people suggest that in order to prevent these tragedies you should leave your shoe in the backseat… or your purse… or your phone. Other people are sitting in hot cars taking the #hotcarchallenge to bring awareness to the dangers of leaving children and pets in cars. All of these ideas are useful and helpful. But, I suggest that we also begin a much broader conversation about WHY these tragedies are happening in the first place.
Why are we so busied? Why are we allowing our brains to tune out? What is our real priority? Can’t we transition from home to work without becoming a drone?
The next time you feel stressed about that dreaded clock… or your looming high-pressure contract, turn off your radio and focus. Talk or sing to your baby. Choose to be more present and aware of your surroundings. Mindfulness can save your child’s life. Your children are not invisible creatures strapped to seats. They are there with you… trusting that you will take them where they have to go safely. And they not only demand, but deserve your full attention.