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Guest Column: Children left in car demonstrates a safety problem

July 27, 2011

By Norman Bleed

In mid-April in The Rock River Times, Shannon Symonds wrote movingly how, on April 1, she exited a big-box store to find a 10-day-old and a toddler alone in the car next to hers.

She called 911 while moving the two to her car to warm them. She got only the run-around. Twenty minutes later, the mother appeared and asked for her children back, but Ms. Symonds instead took the baby into the store and asked the manager to call the police.

When he refused, Ms. Symonds gave a “raving lunatic” performance. Soon, a detective and five officers arrived, and things got sorted out. I didn’t know which to marvel at more: her tenacious bravery, or her apparent escape from paying dearly for caring so deeply.

SCENE TWO: It’s the late ’50s, and my slightly older brother and I are sitting alone (who knows why) in the family car, which is parked on the street at 25th and Broadway, pointed down the hill toward East High.

In the driver’s seat, I decide to be a mimic, and pull the gear-shift handle downward. And — oh, no — we’re off! And gaining speed. Terrified, I climb over into the back seat, open the right rear door, and try to literally put my foot down. Eventually, my brother brakes us to a stop.

My point here is that one should almost expect the unexpected when it comes to young children. And, while just as “a watched pot never boils,” but an unwatched pot never fails to boil, leaving them unattended is not a good idea.

That’s why I was not only saddened but also quite amazed by child-rearing author Lenore Skenazy’s May 14 editorial in the Register Star, which argued that a parent’s leaving a tyke, or two or three, in their vehicle for a quick, run-in errand is not only OK — really — it’s actually safer than the alternative: life outside the car.

If, for instance, a tornado suddenly struck, as it did in New Zealand on May 3, and Mom looked out and saw that their car was upside-down, 50 yards away, she’d find her three offspring happy and whole, still strapped in. Just as that mother did. Skenazy reasoned that since kidnapping by stranger (about 115 per year) and deaths by hyperthermia (about 40) are actually extremely rare, whereas about 229 children are killed each year in driveways and parking lots — in other words, outside the car in question — it’s their being removed from it that brings fatal results.

But these two most tragic ways of losing a child have absolutely nothing to do with one an other. And pretending they do, just to make a goofy claim, is horribly abusive to the poor, disconsolate creatures who know this fact best.

They’ve either lost their infant by honestly forgetting she was in the back seat, or lost their toddler by innocently backing over him. Not one of these cases was an either/or situation, Ms. Skenazy. So, have a heart, and back off.

May God’s love pour down on these forlorn parents. They probably feel they deserve it the least, but they deserve it the most.

Norman Bleed is a resident of Rockford.

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