Each state has different laws about leaving kids in cars, so during a routine visit to the police department, I asked the sergeant what would happen to a parent like me if, hypothetically, I had left my child in the car.
After I told my husband what I’d done, he begged me not to tell anyone else.
“You can’t write about that,” he said. “You’ll open yourself up to judgement. There are people who will call you a bad mother.”
The incident happened more than two years ago, but a recent flurry of activity on Facebook related to a similar incident prompted me to confess my own motherly sin.
I had the cash in my hand as I drove into the Target parking lot. My best friend was on her way to my house with several pounds of vegetables and we planned to try out new recipes in the juicer I was about to buy.
I was running late, and my 4-year-old son was asleep in his car seat. All I had to do was run inside, grab the juicer, hit the express lane and I’d be out. Five minutes, tops. But there was this knot forming in my stomach.
Everybody does it.
The temperature was cool, it was an overcast day and I’d found a spot near the front of the store. I grabbed my purse, locked the car doors and hustled across the parking lot.
The automatic doors slid open and something terrible happened. The store began to spiral around me. The faster I walked the more I developed a sense of tunnel vision. I whizzed past the lotion and make-up, past the coffee makers, then made a dead-stop at the toasters and microwaves. I was so close, two, maybe three aisles away from that dang juicer, but a panic so great came over me that all I could do was run — sprint, really — back to the automatic doors and out to my car.
My son was fine — still sleeping — and I unbuckled him quickly so that I could feel him in my arms. I stood that way for a long time, long enough for him to wake up and ask impatiently, “What are you dooooing? I was sleeping!”
I got my juicer, and we were in and out of the store in five minutes.
As we drove home, I thought about all of the times my parents left me in the car while they ran into the store, how I’d sleep laying across the back seat where the cold vinyl felt good on hot days, and how I loved to sit in the “way-back” of the station wagon as we cruised down the highway.
Everybody’s doing it.
Have times really changed so drastically that it was now considered a crime to leave kids alone in the car for a few minutes? Or have parents become too over-protective, bombarded with horror stories from around the globe — stories my parents didn’t have access to before the Internet?
A recent essay shared on Facebook detailed a woman’s story of leaving her child in the car while she ran into the store. A passerby captured the act on video and submitted it to the police, and while the child was fine, the woman was charged with a crime, went to court and ultimately was given community service.
Each state has different laws, so during a routine visit to the Savage Police Department last week, I asked Sgt. Mike Schiltz what would happen to a parent like me if, hypothetically, I had left my child in the car.
It depends on the circumstances, he said, but rattled off a list of tragedies that could occur: abduction, choking, heat stroke, just to name a few.
It happens at least once a year in this area, Schiltz said, a child dies from the heat after being left in a vehicle. In 2013, 44 children in the U.S. died as a result of vehicle-related heat deaths, according to kidsandcars.org, a nonprofit child safety organization that monitors news sites and police reports involving children and vehicle accidents.
In early June, the Savage Police Department responded to a report of four children left in a running vehicle at a business — logged as a “Crime Against Family.” Thankfully, nothing happened to the children, but the father was advised by a police officer of the dangers associated with his actions and the case was referred to Scott County Human Services.
From there, a social worker called the father to talk about parenting and safety. The man was not charged with a crime.
Crime or not, Schiltz advises, “Just don’t do it.”
But isn’t everybody doing it?
Odds tell me that if I leave my son in the car again while I run into the store, I’ll return and he’ll be just fine. But I can’t play the odds. I also can’t control the multitude of things that could hurt him, even while walking through a store holding my hand. But at least I know that I’m doing everything within reason to protect him, whether it’s what everybody else is doing or not.
My husband didn’t want me to tell this story, but I’m going with my gut. I have a feeling there are parents out there that needed to hear this.
This editorial won a 2015 Minnesota Newspaper Association Best in Editorial award. Originally published in the Savage Pacer.