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Vacation Nightmare: Family Forgets Toddler at Rest Stop

Image Source: Thinkstock
Image Source: Thinkstock

Let’s not pretend that family vacations are relaxing — they’re anything but. After getting through the mire of packing, finding passports, mapping out the route, settling the kids, and remembering to pack water, wipes, and waterproof sunscreen, we’re all frazzled messes.

So it is with sympathy that I read in the news about a family who drove 90 miles across France before realizing they had left their 3-year-old daughter at a highway rest stop.

Last Sunday, the French family, who were on their way to the French Riviera, only realized she was missing when an alert caught their attention on the radio. Meanwhile, the little girl was found by other vacationers, but all she could tell them was that she had a brother and a sister and that she was “going to the seaside” when she saw “Daddy’s car pull away,” reported local authorities. It was a full 45 minutes after the child had been found that the parents heard the radio alert and called the police, then turned around to drive back up the highway.

It’s hard not to feel sympathy for the parents who were questioned by officers at the police station where the child was taken. Car journeys with small children are nothing short of hideous and exhausting.

Before we start wagging our fingers in judgment, remember that the UK’s own Prime Minister David Cameron left his then 8-year-old daughter Nancy in a pub in 2012. The mix-up occurred while Cameron, his wife Samantha, and their three children were enjoying Sunday lunch with two other families at the Plough Inn in Cadsden, Buckinghamshire.

Apparently, as the group prepared to leave and were arranging rides, Nancy wandered off to the bathroom without telling anyone. The Prime Minister was then driven back to his residence with protection officers in one car, while Samantha drove with their children in another. It was only after the Camerons arrived home that they realized Nancy was not with them. They telephoned the pub and were reunited with Nancy 15 minutes later.

As parents, I would argue that we are all creatures of routine. We go through the same motions in our daily lives, which creates a sense of order and structure to the chaos that is raising a family. Once we are out of that structure (read: on vacation), it’s much easier for things to go wrong. We aren’t in our usual surroundings, and often we’re tired from traveling and exhausted by heat. These aren’t excuses, but rather explanations for why we can be careless enough to forget our own children.

So what kind of parent forgets their own child? A normal one. According to CNN, the people who have done it range in age and financial/educational background. A veterinarian, a doctor, a dentist, a professor, a school principal, and a rocket scientist are all among the parents who have accidentally forgotten about their children and are now KidsAndCars members — an organization working to prevent injuries and death to children in and around vehicles.

Janette Fennell, president of KidsAndCars, says part of the problem is that no one ever thinks this could happen to them:

“Some people think: ‘I can see forgetting a child for two minutes, but not eight hours.’ But what they don’t understand is that in his or her mind the parent has dropped off the baby at nursery and thinks the baby is well taken care of. Once that’s in your brain, there is no reason to worry for the rest of the day.”

Have I ever forgotten my child?

I’ve driven half way to work one day only to realize I forgot to drop my son off at nursery school and had to turn back. I once was flicking through a book in a book store with my toddler son at my feet only to look down in horror and discover him gone. After a frantic one-minute search that felt like hours, I found him outside the shop, in the shopping center, standing beside a dried fruit stall eating yogurt-covered cranberries. I sobbed with relief.

So as I pack for my family’s vacation to Portugal, I’ll think about the family in France, who will forever relive the horror of the moment they realized they had forgotten their child. We all make mistakes, and thankfully this story had a happy ending.

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