Last July, I received an from the Texas Department of Public Safety: “DPS: Leaving Children in Vehicles Can Be Deadly” that detailed the dangers of kids and hot cars. I’d heard of children dying in hot cars, but I never really imagined it was often at the hands of an adult forgetting about them.
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I reached out to kidsandcars.org, a child-safety organization that tracks such tragedies, and found the problem is far worse than ever I imagined, especially in my home state of Texas. Since 1990, over 115 Texas children have died as a result of being left—being forgotten—in a hot car.
Texas summers, for those unaware, are brutal, especially in Houston. The mix of heat and humidity makes stepping outside during the hottest parts of the day feel like you’re walking into an oven on high. The hot, sticky air fills your lungs and for a moment it feels like you’re suffocating.
As I started reporting, I knew I had to write a story, to raise awareness for this horrific problem, to convince people that even if you’re the absolute best person on earth, this could happen to you.
So I reached out to a mom who had lost her 3-year-old son. It was one of the hardest phone calls I’ve ever had to make. How do you cold call someone and ask them to relive the worst day of their life?
She agreed. I felt horrible because I felt a sense of reluctance on her end. I told her I wasn’t just looking for a quote for a story, I wanted to know her story. She invited me to her home and we spoke for two hours.
She was open and honest, the pain still trembled through her voice as she talked about her blond-haired, blue-eyed boy. He loved the movie “Cars”, she told me, and hiding behind the couch to pounce on her back when she walked by. He had a knack for memorizing song lyrics, especially to “Life Is A Highway”, the theme song to “Cars.” She relived every moment of the day, Aug. 13, 2008, when Christian died.
I walked out with a knot in my stomach. It’s one thing to read a press release saying it’s a problem, it’s another hearing first hand how a mother lost her child.
[aesop_image imgwidth=”350px” img=”http://mattkeyser.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/DSC_0078-e1470414910260.jpg” credit=”Matt Keyser” align=”right” lightbox=”on” caption=”Dee Dee Estis looks through a photo album of photos of her 3-year-old son.” captionposition=”left” revealfx=”off” overlay_revealfx=”off”]
I want to share her story with you: to raise awareness, to convince you that, despite your best efforts, it can happen to you. You can read her story here.
I’ll be honest: As a new dad, this terrifies me, because I know it could happen to me. I’ve driven to work with no recollection of getting out of the shower, I’ve gone to an interview and forgotten my backpack with all my essentials.
I understand some will say forgetting notebook isn’t the same as forgetting a baby, but as someone told me while reporting the story, “If you can forget your phone, you can forget a child.”
It often happens because our minds are elsewhere—either because of stress or nerves or whatever—and we skip over a step that is often part of our routine.
I bring this up not to be a downer, but as a reminder: take time to slow down, double check your backseat.
Don’t let your child become a tragic statistic.