Thursday, July 30, 2015

Children dying in hot cars


     The Internet is a lens designed to focus and concentrate contempt. Dr. Walter J. Palmer, the Minneapolis dentist who killed Cecil the lion, a beloved and protected resident of a wildlife preserve in Zimbabwe earlier this month, is discovering that now, as global condemnation pours down upon him. I imagine his dental practice is over, and will leave it up to you to decide whether he deserves it. My sympathy is quite minimal, other than to observe if he had traveled to Africa and killed a human being with a crossbow, outrage would have been considerably muted.
     More interesting, to me, was reaction to the Joliet mom who accidentally left her 7-month-old son in a hot SUV for two hours Tuesday while she went to a meeting. The child was found near death.
     "How do you leave your baby in a hot car?" one of my Facebook friends asked on her page. And while I really try not to get down on the mat on Facebook—it wastes time and produces little but angst—I happened to know, so weighed in. 

    "I can answer that," I wrote. "Harried parents forget their kids in the back seat. Gene Weingarten wrote a heartbreaking story about the phenomenon. Here's the link, but I warn you. It's one of the saddest things you'll ever read:"
     And I posted this 2009 Washington Post article on parents who leave their kids in cars.  I both encourage you to read it and warn you that it is truly awful, and contains descriptions that you will never get out of your head. 
     Children die in hot cars  quite frequently. Up to two dozen deaths a year in the United States. Once, three children died in one day. Why? The short answer is parents strap their kids in in the back seat and forget they are there. Out of sight, out of mind. Ironically, when baby seats were regularly put in the front passenger seat, this almost never happened. But the risk of being killed by air bags is such that auto experts recommended the seats be moved into the back, where they are safe from air bags but prone to be overlooked by harried parents. It's an open question whether more children die of heat than died swiftly from exploding air bags, but if I had to pick a way to go, I'd chose the air bags in a second. Far more merciful. 
     Tough as it is to read, I admire Gene's story as much as anything I've ever read, not just for its execution, which is flawless, but for its conception. I had seen those news items about kids dying in cars for years. Usually a small story, the type of thing readers tend not to linger over.  I couldn't turn the page quick enough. Gene Weingarten read the same stories and decided he was going to plunge into that world of unfathomable grief and suffering. That's why he has two Pulitzer Prizes.
    Posting the story did not stem the outrage, not even on this one Facebook page.
     "And how does the mother think that her own child was with someone else?!?!?!" a woman thundered.  She'd have had an answer if she just read the news story. The Joliet mom dropped her boyfriend off with two of her other kids, but he didn't take the third child, for some reason. Mom wasn't aware the child was back there. A tragic misunderstanding, apparently.
     "Dumb bitch!" Lisa C-----n wrote. "That makes me so mad!! YOU DON'T LEAVE YOUR BABY IN THE CAR! Are people really that forgetful .. seriously.. it's a living breathing baby ... I will NEVER understand this mentality ..omg! OK I'm done ranting."
    Thanks for the timely advice, Lisa. Of course you'll never understand it if you don't try.
     "You should read the story," I wrote under her remark.
     Maybe some people did read Gene's piece, because the comments stop at that point.

      It's so easy to get mad, so satisfying to vent your ire over a situation you only half grasp. It's much harder to withhold your anger and understand why something happens. Maybe that's why so few people bother to try.
      I originally was going to use Lisa's full name, to punish her for her "Dumb bitch" remark. But then decided there's far too much punishment on-line already. There's too much suffering in the world as it is. Why add to it? Maybe she has woes of her own. We should at some point start erring on the side of kindness.

55 comments:

  1. Robbie the RobotJuly 30, 2015 at 7:11 AM

    I am more than willing to leave politicians alone strapped into a car seat on a hot day for many hours.

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  2. I think it's a bit of a misnomer to say that the parent " forgot" that the baby was in the car. I have red Weingarten's article and what happened in I believe every single case was that the parent forgot that they had not dropped the child off at daycare. They went into work believing their child was in the arms of another. The article explained how this could happen. Here too the parent did not forget that they had a child with them, instead they were mistaken about belief that someone else had them. This is actually a somewhat different scenario than from one article where a problem with routine came into play

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  3. As a mother, I can't fathom not knowing where my kids are. There is an instinct missing in some women, I guess.

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    1. The point of the linked article is that they thought they did know. Tragically, they were wrong. Most of us will goof up something as parents, but be lucky enough to have minor consequences.

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    2. What a ridiculous self-congratulatory comment. An instinct missing indeed.

      Robert M.

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    3. Robert M, you aren't a mother, so you wouldn't know.

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    4. Easy for you to speak for others while remaining anonymous, isn't it. How proud you must feel for sticking to your convictions with your internet security blanket wrapped tightly around your privilege.

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  4. Maybe someone should invent a car seat attachment that you can put on your steering wheel whenever you've put a child in the seat. A visual reminder could help.

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    1. Evenflo just put out a car seat that has sensors that sync to the car and the chest clip on the seat. If the car is off and the clip is closed, chimes go off so you know the child is still in the seat.
      Luckily nothing like that ever happened to us, what a living hell those parents are going through.

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    2. My thoughts exactly, there must be some type of alarm system which can be hooked up to sound when the front door of the vehicle is opened....or some such thing. This should be a priority to prevent such tragic heartbreak and loss of life

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    3. This is what it's come to? Parents need some sort of electronic device to remind them not to leave their babies in the car?

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    4. Anon 8:21 -- "This is what it's come to?" Hell yes. If it can save some lives, I'm all for it.

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  5. It's a shame to have to actually try to understand a situation, when righteous anger feels so so good.

    john

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  6. I am quite the forgetful person - more than once, I have even left the house without shoes on, but I never, EVER forgot my child in the back seat.

    That being said, it can happen, and I do feel bad for everyone involved.

    However, it isn't the common occurrence that Neil seems to claim - 20 deaths a year - out of how many kids in car seats? Millions? How many more drown in the bathtub, or the backyard pool, or get hit wandering into the street? This has to be put into perspective.

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    1. Would the parent of this latest tragedy feel better knowing more children die in swimming pools or are hit by cars? I don't think so.

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    2. Peter, the child doesn't always die.

      Robert M.

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  7. I heard on the news last night that it's a good idea to keep something in the child seat, like a stuffed animal, that you put beside you as you drive while your child occupies the seat. As you leave the car, it will help remind you the child is still with you. I always left my purse, along with the diaper bag, in the back seat. Women usually do not move from their cars without their handbags.

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    1. That purse idea sounds like a good, simple reminder, Wendy. Even if you forgot your purse, you probably wouldn't go very long at all before realizing that you didn't have it with you.

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    2. Wendy I have read that advice too. Of course, with men, the only analogous thing would be a wallet.

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    3. Everybody has a smart phone, right? Since you shouldn't be using it while you're driving, anyway, put it next to the baby.

      BTW, comparing this situation with the lion shooter, the attacks on the dentist are overkill at its worst.

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    4. good points, Wendy

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  8. While I'm not saying what the dentist did is okay, the guides and corrupt govt officials there in Zimbabwe need to be arrested. I'm not sure if he should lose his practice over this. Generations ago it was okay to do big game hunting. Presidents and famous writers did it, they weren't necessarily evil people. I realize this was a protected lion and that dentist should have better things to do with his money, but perhaps all big game hunting should be illegal. But there is money to be made but the desperate in those countries. Still I think a lion being shot would bother people more than a deer being culled.

    Yes, I saw that link in the paper yesterday on the Joliet case. I noticed it was her boyfriend involved. Perhaps a HUSBAND would have been more responsible. But even if that's neither here nor there, I wonder this much- would all the outraged people worrying about the dead lion, be as outraged when they hear of kids abused to death and killed or left in dumps? Where are the priorities?

    As for the parents who left the kid in the seat, I can't imagine I would have ever done that or forgotten my offspring was in there. I never forgot. But I don't want to condemn them either. They have enough pain and ire from the relatives.

    Where's the outrage of the lady and her kids who were killed in Chicago just recently by a boyfriend. Pardon me, if I digress.

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    1. Some bloggers and even the host here, don't always err on the side of kindness.

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    2. I guess some animal fanatics don't care about the wife and kids of that dentist being ruined. Just charge ahead and tar his business.

      There was a dentist who once killed someone with anesthesia being inaccurate. Didn't hear of him closing anytime soon.

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  9. If I had done that, even by error, my dad would surely have done me in, even as an adult. And my mother or siblings would never let me forget. My mother in law or other inlaws would have eaten my alive and I'm no doormat. That can keep one on the straight and narrow path in life on that and other matters.

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    1. My spouse would have divorced me. Some things you just can't forget.

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    2. Viewer, sorry you have such a self righteous, unforgiving family.

      Robert M.

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    3. Robert M, you are a pot calling a kettle black.

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  10. I truly believe these accidents where a child gets left in the car are incidents of "there, but for the grace of god, go I." It could happen to anyone. It reminds me of when my father was a fighter pilot. When a pilot died - in an accident or shot down (Vietnam era) - the other pilots always found a reason why it was pilot error. How could they justify going up in a plane themselves if they had no control over their own mortality? It seems like the people most eager to heap blame on the parents in these cases want to blind themselves to the vulnerability of every parent. This is something that they would never do, and could never happen to them - until it does.

    What difference does it make if it's a "boyfriend" or a "husband"? (comment above) No one would willingly put a child in that kind of peril.

    As for the outrage over Cecil the lion .... I know I feel powerless to effect the gun violence, child abuse, and spousal abuse in this country. Not to mention the outrage of a person basically minding their own business and ending up dead over a minor traffic offense. The same goes for mass violence, war, illness and famine occurring in other countries. Not a single thing I say or do can seemingly change one aspect - no matter how I vote, opinions I express, or the way I myself act has any effect. However, people have found an outlet with this "big game hunter" dentist. And if this huge shaming campaign does some good to bring awareness of the fragility of animal ecosystems so that people question whether they should spend thousands of dollars to shoot a endangered creatures - well, I'm all for it. I haven't signed any petitions or posted anything online about that dentist, but I sure have enjoyed watching the outpouring from the sidelines. However, no matter how much we protest the dentist or George Zimmerman or a seemingly unwarranted police shooting, it doesn't seem to change anything in terms of the big picture.

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    1. The difference is sometimes these so called boyfriends aren't as vested in their kids as a regular dad. Sure , a dad can be bad too but we also hear of stories even more of kids beaten up or killed by mom's boyfriend, in different scenarios than this one. If he was the actual dad, that's different. On a diff. note, too many single moms out there, trying to do it all with little help.

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    2. Good point, Bluedog.

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    3. How the hell can a lion be beloved? He'd have shred any one of us to bits if he could have. Not saying he should be shot unless charging, but people get out of whack on these things. Like PETA, not wanting kids to drink milk cause it exploits cows or going vegan for sentimental reasons. Now I can see an elephant or horse being beloved but a lion? Isn't that like loving a shark???? And look at the nuts who worry more about some sharks that do attach in swimming areas and should be destroyed or caught, and not the dead swimmer or swimmer with a missing leg. The whole western world has gone insane. Notice people in non western areas don't get as outraged over animals. Heck in Indian, elephants are routinely abused. That's wrong but one can go from one extreme to another.

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    4. Only affluent nations can worry so much about animals. Those in nations where they can barely feed themselves or kids are sold into slave labor,don't have that luxury. (other than Hindus not touching a cow)

      Those guides saw a way to make money, where it's hard to come by and they did. Sure, it's wrong for those to pay for such an excursion but .......

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    5. Anon 11:25, if you had read about the Joliet child, you would know that the boyfriend is the father. It really shouldn't make a difference, a piece of paper doesn't suddenly deem a person responsible and prior to marriage they weren't. So they aren't married, big deal. I don't know their circumstances, maybe she doesn't want to marry him, but it doesn't matter. They don't need to be judged by an annonymouse that doesn't even know the whole story.

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    6. Why are wild animals being named as if they were house pets? We try to place human traits onto animals. It's not right either.

      Cecil indeed.

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    7. Imagine how different things would be for that dentist if it was 1890, 1910 or even 1950.

      Wonder what Rudyard Kipling, T. Roosevelt or Heminway,would think of all this.

      We 'd like to think we are so much more couth and better today but are we?

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    8. Neil, great articles yesterday and today that give a lot of food for thought.

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    9. Some of Cecil's ancestors ate people in the Colliseum and later on the plains of Africa. (tongue in cheek)

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    10. Nikki, I had said different if the bf is actually the father. I'm talking about bf's we can read about in daily papers who kill or beat their galpal's kids that aren't theirs, so need to get the holier than thou attitude. We don't need more of that on here.

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    11. Well, one difference between somebody killing a lion now and back in Teddy Roosevelt's day is that lions weren't endangered back then, and in fact the idea of endangered species was still decades away. So it could be viewed as akin to the ethical difference between shooting a buffalo and shooting the last buffalo.

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  11. I agree it is tragic, but also with the reader who points out that it is a rare occurrence given the size of the population. Still, if young lives can be saved they should. I would encourage legislation, supported by expert opinion, that would mandate changes in car seat technology to address the problem.

    Nice to see Neil giving a shout out to a fellow journalist. That such generosity is not an inbred characteristic of writers was acknowledged some centuries ago by Jonathan Swift

    "What poet would not grieve to see
    His brother write as well as he,
    But rather than they should excel
    Would wish his rivals all in Hell."

    Tom Evans


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    1. Only a fool would be jealous of Gene Weingarten. He's so good, I'm proud to be in the same profession. I once wrote a column urging readers to give his collection, "The Fiddler in the Subway," as Christmas gifts.

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    2. It's kind of strange for me to read such a serious piece by Weingarten. I usually keep up with his monthly online "chats" and check his Twitter sometimes, but he's a bit more, shall we say, irreverent in those endeavors. I did read the Fiddler piece when it first came out and realize he's got the Pulitzer Prizes, though. I suppose I should have explored his other writing more actively.

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    3. Jakash, you Tom and Neil of course, are very well read indeed.

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    4. Ms Nikki, It's a different subject but it's the breaking down of family and marriage not being respected that has caused more probs in society today. Marriage is more than a piece of paper, otherwise why would gays have fought for it so hard????

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    5. Perhaps Dean Swift overstated the case for writer envy. He did, after all, eventually go around the bend. Still, one can't entirely dismiss the possibility of someone being at once a writer and a fool.

      I do remember reading, in the Washington Post, the piece about Joshua Bell playing his fiddle at a subway stop. Must get on to Amazon.com for a copy of the entire collection of essays.

      Tom Evans

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    6. Tom Evans; you should do so. The Fiddler in the Subway is great reading.

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    7. And here I thought the fiddler was only on the roof.

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  12. There is no doubt that "good" parents can forget about their kids. Once when I was about 6, my dad dropped me off at a barber shop and then went to his office nearby. When he never came back and the barber wanted to close up, he had to call my dad to remind him I was there; he had forgotten. Another time, my mom and dad and two sisters drove and parked to attend a parade. We got to the parade and suddenly realized we had left my little sister behind in the car!

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    1. Sounds like the Home Alone film.

      Well at least in a shop, one won't smother to death.

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    2. As bad as the lion story is, here is something to put things in perspective. Anyhow, I'm still more angry with the W.College folks, we were discussing yesterday than with the hunter.


      http://news.yahoo.com/young-girls-decomposed-body-found-crib-father-arrested-114527310.html

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  13. Mr. Evans- It's great when you wax poetic.

    bore/da

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  14. Two things stand out about this topic for me.

    One, this sentence from Weingarten's article: "Humans, Hickling said, have a fundamental need to create and maintain a narrative for their lives in which the universe is not implacable and heartless, that terrible things do not happen at random, and that catastrophe can be avoided if you are vigilant and responsible."

    Religious folks seem to take solace, especially at the worst of times, in believing that "everything happens for a reason." To those of little or no faith, it seems pretty likely from a disinterested look at the world that such is not necessarily the case. And that can be scary.

    The second thing is that this points to a larger issue in society. In this litigious culture, SOMEBODY has to be responsible for almost everything. You trip on the sidewalk to my house -- that's MY fault. If somebody falls off a balcony at a hotel, the hotel gets sued because THEY didn't make a high enough railing. Or whatever. I'm not doing very well thinking of examples, but it just seems to me that there are many cases, such as these that are the topic of today's post, where nobody is really to blame. But as a society, we feel like we need to blame somebody.

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  15. Well said Jakash.

    Robert M.

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