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I left my toddler in a hot car

Dozens of kids die in hot cars every year. For this mom, every new story brings back her near brush with tragedy.

“I never imagined I’d leave my child in a car,” says Rachel Green. “Absolutely not.” And you’re probably thinking the same thing every time you read about such a preventable tragedy. How can a parent just step out of a vehicle and lock the door with their child still strapped inside?

Every story of a hot car death hits too close to home

Green recently read about the father in Georgia who left his son strapped in his car seat all day inside a hot car. The toddler’s death felt personal. “In the comments under the article, a woman shared a sentiment I used to harbor as well: ‘I just don’t see how you can forget your baby in a car,'” Green shares.

She knows exactly how something like this could happen, because when her daughter was just a toddler, Green did just that. Her story starts out very familiar to those of us who aren’t getting enough sleep.

A sleepless morning in June

Green got up and got ready for work on a warm morning, and soon began operating on autopilot. “I put Cecily in the car seat and I must have driven in a kind of fugue state of exhaustion, because the next thing I knew I was in the parking lot at my office,” she remembers. As she normally did, she exited her vehicle, locked it, and got all they way to the door of her building when she realized she’d left her purse behind.

“I opened the car again and happened to glance in the back seat, only to see that I had never dropped Cecily off at her grandma’s house,” she tells us. “She was there in the back asleep and I had been on the verge of going into the office for the rest of the day. I burst into tears on the spot.”

Cecily and her mother |
Photo credit: Brian Green

The exhausted mistake still haunts her

Green’s 2-year-old daughter was in the middle of transitioning her nap times, and had been keeping Green up late at night. “Since I was working full time, I was getting by on maybe three hours of sleep, two hours many nights, and I was so sleep deprived that I sometimes couldn’t remember hour-to-hour much of anything,” she says.

Cecily’s grandmother probably would have called to find out where her granddaughter was and she likely would have been okay, Green muses. “But imagine I took her to a day care instead and they just assumed I’d kept her home sick?” she says. “It happens just like that.”

Even though it’s been six years since it happened, Green hasn’t forgotten the experience, and likely never will. “I still feel faint and sick just remembering it,” she explains. “The wash of terror was profound, even though nothing had happened.”

It’s so easy to pass judgment when someone forgets their child in a hot car. You really can’t imagine doing it yourself, can you? But Green wants you to think about her story the next time you hear of a similar tragedy taking place. “Remember me and that I’m a far from negligent parent, and then remember this story, because it happens like that,” she says. “I was lucky and our guardian angel was paying attention that day. Otherwise… I can’t really stand to think about otherwise.”

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