A friend once emailed me a slide show of bad parenting moments caught on camera with the caption, “some people just shouldn’t have kids!” My response was… “Thank GOD there was no camera around to capture my worst parenting moments!” None of us are perfect and we all make mistakes…. I should say, I’m not perfect and I make mistakes! And, at least some of the time, we humans are victims of FREAK situations that may look like negligence…. but they’re not. Those moments are learning opportunities for us all… only if we share them.
Several weeks ago, an 11-year-old child passed of heat stroke in a very hot car on a very hot day. The article alluded to special needs. But, before I learned the details, the story seemed to have been swept away, unfinished, in the current of life. Kind of like seeing an ad for “The Meg!” If you don’t live near the ocean, and you don’t buy that movie ticket, you watch in horror for a moment, and then life goes on. It has little to do with you…. until it does. But, I DO live near the ocean, so this particular story hit home, metaphorically and then literally for me. I HAVE three children with special needs — two of whom are 13-year-old identical twin
boys Young Men with Down syndrome…. And, one day, we had a very hot car and a BIG SCARE!
A few weeks ago, during the dog-days of August, our part of the world got unusually hot, reaching almost 102 degrees outside. My poor Old Soul, my Daughter, was at marching band camp for the first day of a week-long intensive program, slathered with sunscreen, and shielded from the sun only by a baseball cap with an American flag on it. She texted me midday to say she forgot the forms she needed to pick up her uniform after camp, explaining she could wait until tomorrow (a process I knew from experience would take even longer the next day). Instead, I said we’d bring the forms and My Young Men and I would wait for her. We are, in fact, quite used to waiting because my Old Soul’s disability is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder — Inattentive Type (ADHD-I)… that is, no H, but a LOT of I. For us, it also means, in addition to lack of focus, she is time-blind. 10 minutes or 100… it’s all the same to her. (We once drove to Disney. It took 3 days with stops. When we pulled into the hotel property, she looked up and said, “Wow, that was fast!”)
On this incredibly hot day, the Young Men and I arrived at 3:00 pm, handed the Old Soul her forms, and asked her to hurry (a word she doesn’t understand; she once said to me, “OH, hurry means go fast? I thought it just meant to keep going!”). And, so we waited. As the rest of the band members began to straggle out, fellow Band Moms congregated to chat about the upcoming, 8-week-long, intensive band season ahead of our kids… and US! I left the AC blasting, Imagine Dragons playing on the CD player, and The Young Men happily singing along, to stand 10 feet away from the front of my vehicle, with my Young Men in my full view, to chat with the other Moms. As is often the case, 10 minutes turned into the dreaded 100+ minute wait. And, an hour and a half later, My Old Soul came sauntering out (meaning she was NOT hurrying… pattern?), sweating and apologizing profusely for taking so long. She looked as though she’d gone swimming, so drenched in sweat. It was 4:40 pm! She went straight to the car to stow her trombone (first female trombonist in our marching band in 16 years… you go girl!) and opened the sliding doors to be hit with a WALL OF SUFFOCATING HEAT!
“OMG! MOM! It’s COOKING in here!”
The Young Men had laid their seats back and fell asleep, as they so often do waiting for their sister. Awakened by her yelling to me, I heard my Young Men mumble groggily, “Olivia, why did you take too LONG!” I ran the 10 feet over to the car to find it was stifling, who-knows-the-temperature, unbearably HOT inside. I opened both sliding doors, and was able to quickly rouse The Boys wide awake — They’re Boys when something scary happens. I asked them why they didn’t TELL ME it was hot in the car and my Big Guy pointed at the AC and said, “the AC is ON, Mom!” He was right, technically. It WAS on but it was pumping piping HOT air. It had stopped working at some point during the past hour and a half+ wait but I’d had NO IDEA, standing just 10 feet away! My Young Men had not complained. They rarely do! Had not alerted me. Had not opened the windows to breathe. They were waiting [TOO] patiently. Following the rules I’d set and consistently and STRICTLY enforced: You CANNOT EVER sit in the car without the air conditioner on! (And, keep the windows closed when the AC is on so we don’t let out all the cool air! Ugh!) My Babies could easily have been laying there dying of heat-stroke while I stood nearby! So, what saved us from a fate about 40 devastated parents face each year?
First, and thankfully, my Young Men are BIG & Tall Young Men at 160 lbs each… It takes a little longer to overheat a well-hydrated, adult-sized body (I am a stickler for hydration too). Second, at one point, one of My Guys opened the window to say hello to the pretty band girl, a friend of their sister’s, climbing into the car next to ours (ever the flirts!) and maybe that released a little bit of that crushing heat from the car; And, finally, we really have no idea exactly how far into that hour and a half wait the AC cr*pped out on them. But, OMG TERRIFYING! A tragic glimpse of my life without my Beautiful Young Men in it flashed before my eyes and I was horrified at the thought of what might have happened to them. HORRIFIED!
Some folks reading this might be judging me, might call this negligence… letting my kids with special needs sit in a hot car, alone. Maybe, they’re right… Or, maybe it was an honest, ignorant mistake. In my defense, as I said, they were not alone… I was just 10 feet away! They are NOT babies… I’m thinking I can’t possibly be the only one who’s ever let their 13-year-old kids wait in the air-conditioned car. And, they are wildly capable Young Men to boot! Furthermore, while waiting for my Old Soul, My Young Men, my Dear Husband (DH, aka “Lou”), and/or I are often sitting in our driveway with the car running and the AC on…. WAITING for the Old Soul! Who would EVER imagine the AC would die? Seriously? What are the chances of that? Well, it turns out a car needs the movement of air rushing through the front grill to cool the AC pump. (At least some of you men are probably thinking… duh!) Parked with the car running and AC on is detrimental to the functioning and longevity of the AC pump. My auto mechanic said a car should not be left parked but running for more than 20 minutes with the air conditioner on. Thank you, Albert (of Felix & Albert Automotive, Oceanside, NY), for that piece of VERY VALUABLE, LIFE SAVING and money-saving information ($1100 repair!). I did not know that then, but I do now… and so do you. And, finally, because we have and will absolutely be caught waiting for the Old Soul on hot days again in our future, we have a newly UPDATED RULE/PROCEDURE: You can NEVER EVER sit in a HOT car! EVER! The AC MUST be pumping COLD AIR or you cannot close the doors of the car! If the AC is not cold yet or stops being cold… Leave the doors open/open the doors, get out of the car, tell Mom. DO NOT EVER SIT IN A HOT CAR!
Turns out, My Young Men were fine… no hotter or sweatier than my Old Soul was marching outside in the 102 degree heat. (One of the band coaches said she looked like she was going to pass out because she was pale and glassy eyed. She replied, “oh no, I always look like that, I have Attention deficit LOL.) I pumped ALL 3 of them full of water, gave them ALL some ice cream, brought them ALL home to an air-conditioned house, and showed them ALL a news clip about a child dying in a hot car. Then, I explained all the cool things in life they would miss — (spoiler alert) like the sequel to Avengers Infinity War so they could find out if the people who disappear at the end of Part 1 get to come back — if they didn’t follow the new rule. I emphasized the DANGER and the potential for DEATH!!! Yes, I went for ‘The Meg”-style scare tactic to drive my message and new rule/procedure home. Again, some of you may disagree, but these were MY Young Men I almost lost, and I DO NOT EVER want to experience that again. Drastic situations call for drastic measures… And, scare tactics WORK!
So, there you have it, my bad parenting, who-knew-that-about-ACs?, scary story that I hope, by sharing, might help save someone’s life. Someone young, someone with special needs, someone who is WILDLY and DESPERATELY LOVED and would be SORELY missed if an accident like this almost befell them. God bless you and all your children!
For more information go to: https://www.kidsandcars.org/how-kids-get-hurt/heat-stroke/