Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The day I left my baby in the car

I'm opening myself up to a lot of criticism with this post. If you'd like to tell me how horrible I am, go ahead. There is nothing you can say to me that I haven't already said to myself. But maybe, just maybe, you'll see that by pressing publish on this post, when tragic stories hit the news, it isn't necessarily torch and pitchfork time.

There used to be an Australian TV show called Crownies (it's now called Janet King). They had a story line where a baby died in a hot car after the father forgot him. The episode left me devastated and has stayed with me. Then, last year, it happened in real life here in Perth with an 11 month old baby and I was equally distressed. One was a fictional family and the other a real one that I had zero connection to, and yet my heart felt like it was being ripped from my chest. I remember my arms aching to hold my babies even closer that night, and it was one of the occasions where Tricky kicking me in his sleep was a blessing.

I wrote of my distress on my Facebook page and it touched a lot of people. Some were upset whilst others were confused at how anyone could ever forget a child and suspected something sinister (as the courts in the US suspect now in a horrible case). A Washington Post article did the rounds, explaining how common forgetting a child was (it's a long, but fascinating article). It referenced the Swiss Cheese Theory and it stuck in my head. Likening our lives to slices of Swiss Cheese, the holes are all over the place and when things fall through one layer, there is another right underneath to catch it... but sometimes, those holes line up and accidents happen.

Bobbin is a few days shy of being 11 months old, and yesterday, I forgot she was with me. The holes in our Swiss Cheese life lined up:

For starters my memory is shot. On Monday I forgot, within 40 minutes that MapGuy was off work, sick. I came home to grab a bag I had forgotten and nearly shat myself when I saw someone standing in the hall out of the corner of my eye.

Yesterday MG was off work sick again. With him home it meant I could drop Tricky at his first day back at school solo, which was fabulous because getting two of them out of the car in the rain is a pain.

At pick up time I ummed and ahhed about taking Bobbin with me or leaving her home with MG because of the rain. I decided to take her then I'd go shopping after I picked up Tricks. MG put her in the car while I jumped in the front. As I was backing out the driveway I realized I'd forgotten the shopping list so MG ran inside to get it and handed it to me through the window. I even made a joke about having a terrible memory, and waved goodbye.

I drove to school thinking about nothing important. The shopping list. What time to start dinner. Wondering if Tricks had had a good day at school. Wondering if I'd get a parking spot.

I pulled in to the street and parked in the exact same spot I had parked in that morning. Score. About ten metres away from the gate, close enough to not need an umbrella, even if the few spots of rain that had been threatening for half an hour decided to fall. I got out, jammed my keys in my pocket and walked through the school gate.

I chatted. I put my name down on the parent roster. I chatted some more. Tricky came out, we hugged and I asked him about his day. "It was good. Come and play with me." So I did. The rain was holding back so we walked around his playground looking at the strawberry plants and the Camellias. I was so impressed with myself that brown-thumb me could recognize some plants.

We walked through the gate hand in hand, swinging our arms, chatting about being back at school. It was a lovely moment, until we reached the car and I opened the door for him. Because that's when I saw her.

She leaned forward in her car seat, still rear-facing, and smiled at Tricky, saying his name.

I felt all the air rush out of my lungs and for the briefest of moments I could swear my heart stopped. I was so confused.

What the fuck is going on? How did you get here? Didn't I leave you with your Dad? No. I didn't. I brought you. I forgot you. I left you. Fuck. FUCK!

Ten minutes. I forgot her for ten whole fucking minutes while I made bullshit small talk about school holidays and not getting any sleep.

I got in the car and carried on like nothing had happened. We went to the shops and I walked around on autopilot grabbing the handful of things we needed. I spoke to the cashier, I smiled at a school mum, I told Tricky he couldn't have a packet of biscuits. Just push through, just go through the motions, don't acknowledge the horror, don't fall apart.

At home I told MG and then emailed my sister to declare that I was the worst mother to have ever lived. A throw back to Catholic school days and a need to confess my sins, searching for absolution. They were both shocked but understanding. I withdrew.

You would think, that after such a disturbing event, that I would spend the rest of the afternoon hugging my children, smothering them with kisses. But I didn't. For the remainder of the afternoon I avoided my kids, so ashamed with my actions (or lack thereof) that I could barely look at them. The thoughts that ran through my head were dark and scary, reminiscent of times when the Black Dog was not just barking at my heels, but mauling my soul. It was frightening how quickly I went back to old, familiar thought patterns.

After a few hours, when I could breathe again, I ran a bath for me and the kids. I washed their hair and we played with cups, splashing and laughing. Be normal. Be normal. Be normal.

I read Tricky a book and cuddled him to sleep, stroking his hair. Bobbin fed to sleep in my arms and I held her for a while, kissing her forehead, smelling that fresh baby smell as the endless what ifs circled whirled through my head. And finally, I cried.

MapGuy says it's OK. That all is forgiven. This was "just" ten minutes on a rainy day with no tragic outcome. I know I would tell someone else in my position that it was an accident, to take the experience, move on, learn from it. But right now, I just can't forgive myself.

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