Every summer, at least one tragic headline about a hot car death hits our newsfeeds, and instantly stops us in our tracks. When most of us hear the news, we find ourselves thinking the same few things: How on Earth does this happen? How could a parent completely forget about their kid? Don’t they notice the silence? We imagine the scenario playing out in our own lives, and ultimately decide that nope, we can’t imagine that ever happening to us.
But last week, Britta Eberle of the blog This Is Motherhood bravely took to Facebook to share an upsetting story that sadly proves it can happen to us — because it almost happened to her.
On July 1, Eberle shared a photo of her 2-year-old daughter Ada sleeping soundly on her shoulder, along with the words: “Today I did the unthinkable and forgot about her in the car.”
And she goes one step further, too: Eberle describes, in detail, just how it all happened:
“Our family arrived at a friend’s house and in our excitement we all darted out, assuming that someone else had remembered to grab the youngest member of our clan. But no one remembered her. And she sat for about 20 minutes crying alone before one of us grabbed her. It was such a small mistake but it could have had devastating consequences.”
As Eberle notes, she turned out to be lucky for a lot of reasons that day — from the weather to the length of time her little girl was left alone.
“Thank god we were parked in a safe place,” the mother of two wrote. “Thank god it wasn’t hot outside. Thank god she wasn’t alone for long. Thank god she has already forgotten about it and forgiven us. But it will be a long time before I forgive myself.”
Her panic and anguish over what could have been are certainly understandable. After all, far too many families aren’t so lucky. According to NoHeatStroke.org, 718 children have died of heatstroke after being left in hot cars since 1998, which means, on average, 37 will suffer the same fate by the end of this year.
But while the experience shocked Eberle to her core, it also left her feeling compelled to share her story with others — if for no other reason than to let parents everywhere know just how easily a mistake like this can happen.
“I usually think I’m a good mom,” she continued. “But I made a huge mistake today and I feel terrible. There are no excuses for what I did. And part of me doesn’t want to share this. I don’t want the world to know how badly I’ve failed. But then I think that I have to share this. I have to own up to my mistakes. I have to tell the world how far I am from perfect. And how if I did this, anyone could do this. And that scares me but also makes me judge a little less and makes me pay attention whole lot more.”
Speaking with Babble, Eberle admits that writing the post wasn’t easy. But ultimately, she felt it was important.
“When I first wrote the piece, I was still processing what had happened and just wrote down my thoughts and feelings,” Eberle says. “I was hesitant to share my story because I was worried that it made me look like a bad mom. But then I realized that many parents have probably had this exact same feeling and kept it bottled inside because it is so hard to talk about it. And the reason that I write is to create community and help other parents feel less alone. So it took me outside of my comfort zone but I felt like I should share it anyway.”
As it turns out, many parents are so grateful that she did. Eberle says that parents have been “incredibly kind and supportive” of her post so far, and that many have shared similar stories that have thankfully not ended in tragedy, either.
“I feel really privileged that these parents have felt safe sharing their stories with me,” adds Eberle, “and I hope that by sharing my story I raise awareness that this can happen to ANYONE. I think of myself as a very cautious and conscientious parent. If I could do this, anyone could do it.”
At the end of her post, Eberle shares just how much those harrowing moments were, soon after learning her baby girl was locked in the car — and just how grateful she now is for every waking moment spent with Ada.
“Tonight I snuggled my baby girl to bed,” she writes. “I read her a story, turned out the light, and stayed beside her listening to her breath got deeper and slower as she fell asleep. And felt so incredibly lucky. We are always so much closer to the edge than any of us realize.”
Indeed, we are.
So instead of passing judgment the next time we scroll past a story about a parent’s tragic mistake, maybe we can instead remember the heart of this mom’s message. Because the one thing we truly need more of in this world is compassion.
“Hug your babies tight and practice forgiveness,” Eberle writes. “Forgive those that make mistakes, even if the person who you need to forgive is yourself.”