Grandparents forget baby in hot car while mom is sleeping

Sep 8, 2015 at 11:32 a.m. ET
Image: Harry Starr/Getty Images

An 11-month-old in Georgia became the nation's 19th child to die in a hot car this year.

The baby, a little boy named Jaxon, was being watched by his grandparents, Kyle and Meta Hendershot, while his mother — an emergency room night nurse — caught up on her sleep. The couple, along with another one of their daughters and grandchildren, took Jaxon to church. Later, they would live the nightmare so many American caregivers dread: learning that the baby entrusted to their care was dead of hyperthermia.

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In this situation, when the group returned home from church, each adult thought that one of the other two adults had retrieved the baby from the back seat. None of them had, and Jaxon was left in the car for two hours, until his mother woke up and asked for her son. It was then that the terrible reality sank in and the family learned that Jaxon was dead.

This awful tragedy should serve as a reminder that a hot car death can truly happen to any caregiver. We put so much emphasis on driving home hot car death prevention to parents, who are perceived as being sleep deprived and forgetful and therefore especially vulnerable to incidents like this one.

This just goes to show that anyone can make this mistake, not just parents. In this situation, the grandparents failed to communicate with each other or with their other daughter, a mistake that ended in the preventable death of a helpless baby.

It is easy to condemn the parents and caregivers who leave the children in their care in a hot car. We can't imagine, as parents, forgetting something as precious as a child as though it were a sack of groceries or a stack of mail. But the fact is, every parent makes a mistake of varying degrees of danger. We miss something while babyproofing or buckle kids into their car seats wrong or give them food they are allergic to when we don't read the ingredients closely enough. The people who we trust with the care of our children make those mistakes too, and every person who has ever watched a child has a story of a "close call" where nothing short of divine intervention kept our children safe. If you're reading this thinking, "Not me, I haven't had a 'close call' yet!" then stay tuned, because it's only a matter of time.

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This tragedy should remind us that every person who comes in contact with a child, whether it is their own baby or their grandchild or a toddler at the day care they work at, needs to be informed and aware of the risks involved and how to prevent them. One of the risk factors of hot car deaths in particular is a change in routine, which is exemplified by this situation. The family was likely doing something out of the ordinary, and when that happens, that's when everyone needs to be particularly vigilant.

Talking to your child's grandparents about how best to care for your child can be an awkward conversation, particularly fraught when the topic is child safety. But it's an important and productive conversation to have anyway. Despite the fact that summer is drawing to an end, and despite the fact that hot car deaths remain a very rare occurrence, if you rely on family members to watch your children, you need to talk to them about how to prevent deaths like these.

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Yes, it's possible that you may offend them. You can still chalk that in the "win" column if their hurt feelings keep the safety of your child in the forefront of their minds.