It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Misplaced children

There was an incident here in Ottawa last month. Parents dropped kids off with a caregiver and headed out for their adults-only date day — at Home Depot.

Oooooo, romantic, huh? A “date” spent choosing ceiling tiles and switchplates at Home Depot. Or maybe it was insulation and plumbing fixtures. It doesn’t much matter.

Can we relate? We can relate.

At this point, I’ve heard a couple of different versions. Either they heard their license plate called over the store’s intercom, or they had actually left the store to see the window of their car being smashed in by police. Why? They had left their baby in the car.

Their three-week-old baby. In a car in a sunny parking lot when the temperatures were about 30 degrees.

What kind of parents would do a thing like that?

Well… In this case, regular, normal, loving parents. Who had made a mistake.

Each thought the other had handed him over to the caregiver, you see. For her part, I’m guessing the caregiver figured that since the baby was asleep, they’d decided not to disturb him. Baby was in the seat behind, in a rear-facing car seat, sound asleep. Easy to miss, particularly if you honestly believed the seat was empty? I’d say so.

They went out to find that police had smashed in the window of their car, the Children’s Aid had been alerted, and they were the centre of a whole lot of nasty attention. (Lest any of you faint before the end of this post, I’ll tell you now that the baby was fine! He was taken to hospital to be checked over, of course, but he was fine.)

Attention which only got worse when, after appropriate investigation, Ottawa Police Services decided that it wasn’t a criminal matter. Suddenly the righteous everywhere were outraged. Outraged and leaping to judgment — because that’s what the righteous do best.

“Those people deserve to have that child taken away!!!”

Wait. They did not knowingly leave the child in the car. They didn’t decide, “Oh, it’s too much trouble to wake him up. We won’t be long, let’s leave him there.” No. They had made arrangements for their children to be cared for by a loving relative. Each thought that’s where the child was.

This wasn’t a bad decision, this was an accident. A miscommunication at worst. An accident which could have had tragic consequences, of course, and had that happened, who would have suffered most? Not the righteous, with all their frothing and fulminating, but those poor parents, blaming themselves for the rest of their lives.

I was talking about this with another couple over the weekend, a couple whose children are all adults, some with families of their own. They shared how they’d been part of a social group not too long ago where the conversation had moved on to just this topic: Forgetting/misplacing your child.

It seems bizarre, just writing that down. Misplacing a child???

And yet, in the rather large group of parents-of-adults, there were quite a few stories of forgetting a child and/or misplacing one for a few terrifying seconds/moments/hours. At gas stations on long car trips, at gramma’s house, at school, and, most bizarrely by me, a baby in a car seat left behind in a cab.

All these stories had happy endings. Parents and children were reunited, nobody hurt (except a few ulcers born, perhaps).

How often, we wondered, does this happen to young parents, and you’re just too scared to tell anyone? Because who loses their baby??? Only loser parents do that, parents who just don’t deserve to have kids, right?


People get distracted. People lose count. People assume the other parent has the child. Parents of young children are often distracted and sleep-deprived.

It happens. Not too often, and not to all of us, but it does happen.

I had a friend whose wife left him with their then 6-week-old daughter so she could go out with a friend. First time since the child’s birth. Dad was in his workshop in the basement, baby was sleeping in her room. Partway through his project, dad realized he needed something from the Hardware Store a couple of blocks away, so off he went.

It was only when he was in line at the checkout that it hit him like a ton of bricks — the baby!!! The baby he was in charge of! The baby he had totally forgotten he even had.

The baby was fine. He got home and she was still sleeping. The marriage survived, too, helped in part by his decision not to tell his wife. (Oh, he did eventually, but I think he waited a good three years…)

But I wonder if more of this happens than we realize. I wonder if we only feel safe to talk about it when years have gone by, when, by virtue of producing healthy, happy adults, we have earned sufficient parenting cred to feel safe to admit to the “time we almost lost one”.

Soooo… How about you? Any ‘baby left behind’ stories in your lives?

August 16, 2011 Posted by | controversy, health and safety, Ottawa, parenting | , , , | 29 Comments