That Tagline is Insensitive

There was a little pushback from a story in the 11 September 2016 issue — or, really, about its tag. Here’s the story:

Ever Feel Like You’ve Forgotten Something?

Washington State Ferries deal with items left behind by passengers all the time, but things are getting worse. “They get on the boat with the people they commute with every day,” says director of marine operations Greg Faust, and “They walk off with them and forget they have a vehicle.” Over the last few years, seven cars and 35 bicycles have been left on ferries. The biggest problem with the forgotten vehicles is that it could mean a passenger has gone overboard. “They can literally set off an air search,” said Ian Sterling of Washington State Ferries. “The Coast Guard will launch their assets. We’ll go out and look for this person.” And that search can be costly: “on average around $10,000 for this type of response,” said Cmdr. Brain Meier of the U.S. Coast Guard. (MS/KOMO Seattle) …Probably the same sort of people who “forget” their baby in the car.

Tuning the Tag

Baby sleeping in car
This is a generic “child sleeping in car” photo, not a depiction of the events in the story. (Via Pixabay)

True Contributor Mike Straw wrote the story, but he submitted a slightly different tagline: …You’d be less likely to forget your car if you just left your baby in there. Considering the “dead children” aspect of the idea, I thought that was a bit too flippant, and edited the tag to what ran.

(Note: the story was included only in the Premium edition, so all the feedback came from Premium subscribers.)

A few readers thought the tag was “insensitive” to those who have lost children by accidentally leaving them in a hot car.

Rather than run any such letter, I’m instead going to run this one, from Bob in Washington:

I have a confession to make. I did this thing. As a newly minted parent and a known absent minded idiot, I still hadn’t caught up to my responsibilities yet. Fortunately it was at night, I just stopped for a bite to eat, and she slept through the whole thing. Nevertheless, it was a big wake-up to me. Never did it again. However, I did learn why this happens occasionally. And to have some compassion to folx who has that brain fart when their responsibilities haven’t quite caught up to their life.

In my defense, I became a single parent when she was in second grade, and she graduated with three honor cords from high school and Cum Laude from her university. Just goes to show. Even I can learn.

Owning Up

It took guts for Bob to admit making such a huge mistake, and I told him a few readers were giving me grief over it, and did he want to expand on his story any? Because, I said, it’s not just “idiots” who can forget their children, it’s pretty much anyone. He replied within minutes:

To me, the takeaway is this: Too many people think that you ARE. You ARE an idiot. You ARE an obliviot. You ARE a horrible person. Because you did something awful. You ARE. However, you aren’t. See, you don’t get to pick and choose what challenges you need to face. It’s not in your hands. Take what you’ve been ‘given’ (Sorry; atheist scare quotes) and do your best. If it isn’t good enough? Learn. I was fortunate. My daughter slept through the whole thing. And I got off scot free. Other folx weren’t so fortunate. I’m fortunate. I know that. I take that and advocate for the other folx who aren’t. To let them understand how it is to be a new, oblivious parent. For some of us it takes a while. I’m hoping I NEVER get a wake-up like I did on that day.

The Bottom Line

He hasn’t because Bob did wake up. He learned. Maybe he’s “lucky” that his daughter wasn’t harmed, but he still listened to the lesson. Maybe someone else can also learn from his story, and their kid won’t have to pay. That’s a wonderful thing.

So Am I Sorry for the Tag? Not at all: if it’ll wake someone up, save a child, and prevent a family from having to deal with this tragedy for the rest of their lives, it’s absolutely worth shaking up someone who wasn’t paying attention. And Bob’s comment drove it home. When I told Bob that, he replied that yes, “I’m lucky. I hope that new parents have a heads-up that ‘Hey. You have a kid. She’s in the back of your f’ing car.’ I’d call that a win.”

And, if they’re really lucky, their kid will grow up to graduate with three honor cords from high school, and Cum Laude from their university.


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27 Comments on “That Tagline is Insensitive

  1. Sometimes being insensitive and smacking your best friends in the head with a 2by4 can be the kindest most generous loving thing you can do.

  2. Insensitive? HELL!

    It’s a simple and direct wake up and shake up call to anyone/everyone to be cognizant of what the hell they’re doing. No matter if it’s a car, a bicycle, or a child.

  3. I actually read the tagline a little differently…to me it’s comparing the same sorts of obliviots who would forget a vehicle on a boat to those who purposefully leave a child in the car. Maybe I misread it then? I understand that leaving a child in a car on purpose has the potential for more serious ramifications than accidentally forgetting your car, but I would think you’d have to be a special kind of idiot to do either one.

    I guess it’s the quotes around “forget”, and frankly I’m unclear why I put them there, but it wasn’t to imply that they did it on purpose. -rc

  4. Our county 911 system has advertised an addition to the Waze app that can remind you to check your backseat for your child when you reach your destination.

  5. Wake-up call indeed. It’s why any of us are able to step over thresholds. It has happened to me a couple of times babysitting, though I was never ‘gifted’ {faith scare quotes ;)} with my own. I was lucky as well, caught one child on his way into water. Learning care is what keeps us heads-up for any in need…such as Syrian children, these days. Thanks Bob, thanks Randy!

  6. I am a mental health counselor. At one time, I had the opportunity to work with a mother who left her child in the car. The child survived, but social services were notified, and she went through 2 years of living hell before social services stopped monitoring her parenting. She was not an obliviot. To her, the 2 years of monitoring was a small price to pay for an absent minded moment that could have cost her child its life.

  7. This is the thing. These days you have these social media/social justice warriors who just can’t wait to pound you into the earth for the slightest hint of imperfect humanity. Silly human you have no excuse. Having been at the hands of these people, I agree with your post completely.

  8. I’m unclear about Bob in Washington’s comments. His takeaway is “Too many people think that you ARE. You ARE an idiot. You ARE an obliviot. You ARE a horrible person. Because you did something awful.” yet “I take that (fortune) and advocate for the other folx who aren’t” as fortunate. So, because his daughter didn’t die, he “advocates” for the “horrible people” who have forgotten long enough for their children to die (which is surely “something awful” that they “did” do)? He’s advocating what, exactly, for them? Compassion because they’ve done this terrible thing? Because they hadn’t “caught up to their responsibilities”? Or what?

    I did pop the URL to this page to Bob, but I’m guessing (by the hour: 3:15 Pacific) he’s still at work. I hope he’ll weigh in later. -rc

  9. People who leave babies in cars are simply overworked. They’re running on fumes. Instead of punishing them we should lighten their workloads.

  10. I am still haunted by a case I read about in the last community I lived, where a much-loved baby that had been adopted after waiting *years* by its parents was forgotten in the car by the father. Normally the mother dropped the child off at day care, and he simply forgot that day that he had to and, in the fog that is so normal to daily commuting, drove to work and totally forgot the baby was still there.

    He was so distraught that it was impossible but do anything but sympathize with him. I mean, haven’t we *all* done something truly, deeply stupid in our lives? It may not have risen to the level of accidentally taking — or even endangering — a child’s life, but I certainly can’t claim total innocence. It’s called being human. And forgetting a car or a bicycle certainly isn’t as awful, but it’s the same principle at work as in the case of this dad — going to work, in a rut of a routine that simply doesn’t take changes in the routine into account.

  11. Julie – I would assume Bob is referring to the fact that we can all be idiots, we can all do terrible things, and not all of us are lucky enough to get away with them. Those of us who don’t are usually worthy of compassion, regardless of what actually happened.

    Part of it is remembering the difference between an idiot and an obliviot. When we make a shortsighted or foolish mistake, we are an idiot. I say “we” because the truth is that idiots aren’t any different from us. They ARE us, just on a worse day. The obliviot goes a step further, usually by failing to learn from his experiences.

  12. Criticise the behaviour, not the person. Bob gets that he made a huge mistake and learnt from it but Bob and, I hope, the rest of us, also gets that he is not a bad person.

  13. To me, this seems to be a perfect example of taking responsibility for your actions. This means everything you do, not just some things. Unfortunately, many people today seem to loathe the idea of being responsible or taking responsibility.

  14. As a Washington state resident for 16 years and a regular commuter on the ferry system, I shake my head at the obliviots who forget they rode their bike or drove their car onto the ferry. It doesn’t just cost the ferry and state $10K to make sure no one went overboard, it costs the commuters in time because we can’t board until the incident is somehow resolved. I can’t imaging forgetting either, especially since the bike riders usually are wearing their biking gear, and when I drive on, I stay in my car. I enjoyed the story, and while realizing with horror that I hadn’t even thought of the scenario you did, I could see the connection to be made.

  15. We’ve had a few occurrences of this a few years ago as well. One right around the time my daughter was born. Since I’m perfectly capable of forgetting even the most trivial things, I was very worried that I too would one day leave her in the car by accident.

    I looked for a way I could use to make sure it wouldn’t happen to me. As a result, I started putting my work bag on the back seat, instead of next to me. That way, when I park the car and grab my bag, I can’t miss her sitting in her seat.

    Smart, and simple. -rc

  16. Sigh. Too many assumptions of human competence.

    The most common cause of this is changing your routine. Because despite what we like to think, more than 90% of our lives are actually handled as automatic reflex actions.

    …guided by the same brain structure that lizards have. -rc

  17. That Washington Post piece is thought-provoking. It’s a fine piece of writing, and it’s striking in its compassionate, humane exploration of the issues of guilt and punishment.
    But I wonder about one thing; if it were a forgetful caregiver, rather than a forgetful parent, would we be so willing to say “she’s suffered enough, there’s no need for legal punishment.” I think we’d all be more willing to seek to punish caregivers, even though the forgetfulness in them, also, is not tied to their competence, their level of concern, responsibility, selfishness, or any other trait indicating lack of character. It’s harder to imagine letting them off the legal hook, but in light of the article’s exploration of the processes leading to forgetfulness, I wonder how I could justify seeking prosecution. Forgetfulness is not carelessness or negligence. It’s just forgetfulness. May we all be wise enough to form deliberate habits that help us increase our vigilance, even when we are distracted, or get out of our routines.

  18. With the now common method of having the kiddie seat in the back here is a handy way to remind yourself of having a passenger.

    Get 8 to 10 feet of cord or rope and 2 snap hooks (like at the end of a dog leash) tie a hook to each end. Hook one end to the kiddie seat, the other end to your key ring. The long rope won’t affect your driving but will remind you of your irreplaceable cargo.

    When not in use loop one end around a seat strap or buckle in a way that interferes with use so you remember to use the cord.

  19. To David in Golden, CO;

    So who takes up the slack of the overworked parents? The childless? Great work if you can get it, foistering unnecessarily more responsibilities on others for the choices someone else made. Parenting is a tough job I imagine. But the choices made in their life that led up to that are the responsibility of that person. Asking others to bear part of your burden is not taking responsibility for one’s actions.

    The childless (by choice or other reason) do not deserve the stigma of society thinking they’re not doing their fair share.

  20. Back in 1969 I left my 2 kids, 3 years & 4 months, in the car on a hot July day. Why? I had to stop for a quick pick-up at the grocery store, both kids had fallen asleep, the car was air-conditioned so it was cool, and I JUST DID NOT KNOW THE CAR WOULD GET HOT!!. We were lucky-I didn’t dawdle, made my purchase & dashed back to the car, gone 15, maybe 20 minutes, max, to find my babies crying & sweating. I was aghast, started the car, turned on the air conditioner full blast and held them in front of the air flow, and can not tell you how bad I felt about what they had endured.

    It was ignorance. No one ever talked about the dangers of children in a hot car. Now a-days the media is doing a lot to educate the public about the dangers, the heat build up, that occurs in a car left in the sun, and what it can do to a child (or pet). I wonder – maybe there are still incidents when one just doesn’t know the dangers? I see people leaving children & pets in cars, so they obviously under-estimate the dangers.

    I have never again left a child in a car, even as they got older and complained about having to come where-ever with me. The horror of that 1969 incident has never left me. I now know they could have died. I think this makes me super critical. Weingarten’s article was very thought provoking & will help me view articles of such tragedies with more empathy.

  21. I have lived in Washington state for over 18 years now and ferry commuting is part of life in this particular area. (In this county, for example, you literally have to pay to leave on any normal day, no matter what route you take; you *can* get around by land, but it’s over 100 miles out of the way, and gas costs money, too.) I used to be worked to the bone by former employers; as a result, sometime before 2001, I was one of those people who left my car on the boat. In my own justification, I didn’t often drive to work (twice in six months was often) and I really was all that tired from being overworked. I walked off the boat as I usually did, following along with the other walk-on commuters. Luckily I remembered my car just a few steps up the ramp from the boat and was able to run back on and drive off.

    I mention that this was prior to 2001 because one of the things that changed as a result of Homeland Security’s decisions was that after they reviewed the Washington State Ferries security procedures, people could no longer return to the boat after stepping off it without first getting the captain’s permission. Today, I could no longer rush back to my car without getting the captain interrupted from what s/he’s supposed to be doing to give me permission to board, so it would still be at least something of a wait for other passengers.

    These days, I too sit in my car on the ferry.

  22. I read through the powerful Washington Post piece linked by Louis in Maryland. To me, this underscores a key problem with today’s parenting mentality (re: David in Golden, CO, and David in TX’s response): the myth of “having it all.”

    The WaPo article’s perfect storm analogy, or the “Swiss Cheese” problem — whichever you prefer — is not something that happens to people. It’s something that happens as a consequence to making a number of decisions, each with their own consequences. Too often parents work under the premise that they can have it all, do it all, and that there is no breaking point for them.

    When it finally does break, you get calls (like David/Golden) for someone else to come and pick up the slack, as opposed to realizing that it’s their choices that put them in that situation in the first place, and it’s going to have to be their choices that sort it out.

  23. What I find insensitive is this guy using the alleged word “folx”.

    And it isn’t just a typo — he does it repeatedly and deliberately!

  24. Very broadly speaking there are two reasons why people leave kids in cars. One is the accidental memory problem examined in depth in Weingarten’s Washington Post article, where the parent has no intention of leaving the kid there and certainly would not have if not for the memory glitch. I have sympathy for those parents — as explained in the article we all think it could never happen to us but really the potential is there, and it’s potentially horribly tragic but shouldn’t be prosecuted as a crime.

    The other is when parents do it deliberately. Not with the intention of harming the child (which I guess is a third reason), but just making a decision to leave the child for the sake of convenience, and genuinely believing they’ll be OK because they haven’t thought it through. It might seem like the baby will be fine if it’s not a hot day and you’ll only be in the shop for three minutes to buy milk or something, but unforeseen circumstances may prevent you from returning for hours or even at all: maybe you accidentally trip and get knocked out, or whatever.

  25. I agree with Bob’s comment. Sometimes life gets to us and we become focused on one thing and block everything else out (tunnel vision). It doesn’t mean we are bad parents. It means we made a mistake, it means we are fallible, it means we are humans. I’ve left the car seat on top of the car with the child in it and almost drove off. Terrifying to say the least. And like Bob, I learned a lesson. There is a news article from 2018, ABC news Preventing Tragedy: Tips to protect yourself against ever leaving your child in a hot car.

    The worst part of the story is where they suggest putting something “important” (emphasis mine) in the back seat, such as a purse or shoe, to remind you that you have a child there. The child isn’t “important”? If the article merely stated putting something in the backseat as a reminder, it wouldn’t be receiving the ridicule it is (it has become a Facebook meme). We are sometimes forgetful. We are not evil.

  26. It’s a funny story about the cars on the ferries, but it’s also funny to me that many of you think that it’s remarkable this happens. Or even that it’s a sign of some extraordinary deficiency.

    I also live in northwestern Washington and use those ferries regularly to get between the islands in the county where I live. Like River, (and unlike Theresa) I can easily see how this could happen– but maybe it depends on what route you are using. It is expensive to take a car where I live (around $75 at the moment), and many people will just walk on instead (~$13) if their destination is near the terminal or there is a taxi\bus\friend-with-a-car option. This means that when the boat arrives, a bunch of people are walking off in addition to people driving off. Everyone starts moving, and some go down to their cars and others head for the gangplank or whatever level they are letting you off at.

    I have never forgotten my car, but could see how it would easily happen. I dare say I have *almost* done it at least once or twice. For example, if you usually walk on, but on one occasion you take a car or bike, it would be easy to forget if you are tired or talking with friends who are walk-ons. People who only occasionally walk onto a car ferry might have a hard time imagining riding a boat becoming as routine as driving the interstate to work, but it can happen.
    Have you ever gotten lost in conversation or thought while driving a familiar route and missed a turn because the turn you needed to take was not the one you usually take? That seems ridiculous to people who don’t drive, no doubt. How could you lose track of what you are doing while barreling down the pavement at 70 mph? But it’s boring for people who are used to it and they tune out. In fact, modern life would be impossible without this ability for humans to tune out amazing things that they do regularly.

    This is also why people forget their kids when they are silently sleeping in the back seat.

    Taken this way, the tagline could be read as saying that an ordinary non-idiot could also leave their sleeping baby in the car by accident, shocking as it seems to those hyper-alert conscientious (OCD?) types. However, deliberately leaving your kids in a hot car is a whole different thing.

    Doing it on purpose for a dumb reason? Obliviot.

    Doing it because you’re tired or distracted? Perfectly normal for many perfectly normal people. That’s what makes it a tragedy, and not a crime.


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