Yesterday, a Prince William County mother was indicted on charges of felony murder and child neglect for accidently leaving her 2-year-old son in a hot car all day. These are the stories from which I usually avert my eyes. They hit too close to home.
This case is different than similar tragedies because the mother was indicted. Apparently she was known to have once left her son in the car before but crisis had, that time, been averted. Prosecutors found that fact to be enough to attach criminal blame.
Reading it immediately brought me back to a sweltering day last summer. It was a typical morning for me that included sleep-deprivation and forgetfulness. I was trying to rush my toddler somewhere that, at the time, seemed eminently important. But I had lost my car keys somewhere in the car.
A woman drove up to the scene : My daughter all strapped into her seat, the window up, me with my backside sticking out of the driver’s side, rooting around frantically. She parked, walked over calmly and put her hand on the open driver’s side door.
“I’m a mother,” she said, instantly recognizing the situation. “The most important thing is to unlock the doors and keep them open.”
She did not leave my side until I found my keys.
I was lucky that day, just as I’ve been lucky on many other days .
How I wish that Prince William mother had had a guardian angel last month when she was rushing through her own overscheduled morning. She had probably done so many things right that morning. Maybe fixed a full breakfast, tied shoes, buckled the car seat, drove safely. She missed just one thing. She forgot to swing by the daycare before she went to work. Just one thing. The absolutely worst thing.
Parenting often comes with relentless demands and a constant threat of danger. We are daily challenged in our efforts to protect our vulnerable babies, toddlers, preschoolers, kids and teenagers. Even the most vigilant among us trip up and sometimes the consequences are horrific.
What happened to that poor family in Prince William was unspeakable. But for anyone who recognizes that parenting comes with dozens and dozens of mistakes, what happened was not murder.