Where's baby? Look before you lock.

unnamed (2)My brain is like a cobwebby attic where I spend most of my time labeling boxes of things and putting them on shelves. That, or making sprawling lists of things to do or remember. Or just chasing rascally squirrels out with a broom. When I actually come outside, it’s tunnel vision onto Henry and keeping him safe, happy, loved and learning.

If you knock on the front door when I’m in the attic, I might have to ask you to repeat what you said while I was getting down the stairs.

I’ve actually gotten out of the shower and not remembered whether I actually washed my hair or just stood there getting wet for the requisite 10 minutes. Or I’ll drive directly home instead of stopping at the bank like I meant to.

Chalk it up to mom brain and too much worrying about organic labeling and screen time and daycare coordination, but I want to get serious for a second to talk about something pretty horrible, in hopes to raise awareness of this issue.

I’ve read more and more articles lately where otherwise wonderful parents accidentally leave their children in the backseat of the car, realizing their mistake too late. Often the story is about a stressed-out parent like me, distracted by minor changes in their normal routine.

The limbic system of the brain directs habits — the autopilot that kicks in when the pre-frontal cortex is tied up with something else. You drive to work instead of daycare, for example. I feel like this could happen to anyone. We’re all busy.

The Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has a campaign running from now through September called, “Where’s Baby? Look Before You Lock.” They report 44 “hot car deaths” in the United States in 2013; mostly preventable, senseless tragedies.

Here are some things they say you can do to protect your child:

  • Never intentionally leave a child alone in a car, even just for a few minutes with the windows rolled down. Young bodies heat up faster than an adult’s.
  • Habitually put your cell phone, purse or wallet on the floor of the backseat so you have to go back there to retrieve it before locking the door and leaving.
  • Seat the child behind the front passenger seat, rather than behind the driver’s seat, so they are more likely to catch your eye.
  • Never assume that somebody else in your party has taken the child out of their seat; make sure to do your own backseat check every time.
  • Keep a stuffed animal in the car seat when it’s empty, and when you move it to buckle your child in, toss it in the passenger seat as a visual reminder.
  • Ask your daycare provider to call you promptly if your child isn’t dropped off as scheduled.
  • Teach your children that a car is not a place to play, and store keys out of reach.
  • Most importantly: Make a habit of always, always checking the back seat when you leave your car: “Look before you lock.”
Let’s all make sure we’re not busy evicting attic squirrels when it comes to making sure our kids are safe.
This Family Time column originally ran in the Glens Falls Chronicle on June 19, 2014.
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