The article showed up in my Facebook news feed between a picture of my cousin’s dog and someone’s rant about the World Cup. The headline said “New information in case of father accused in toddler’s death,” and without thinking too much I clicked on over to check it out.
Staring back at me was a candid photograph of a smiling, blonde, 22-month-old boy who looked strikingly similar to the smiling, blonde, 22-month-old boy I had just kissed goodnight a few minutes earlier.
Reading the article, I learned that in mid-June the toddler from Georgia had died after being left in a sweltering hot car for seven hours. The boy’s father says he accidentally forgot to drop his child off at daycare that morning, but investigators recently announced they’ve found evidence suggesting the death was a homicide: In the search history on the dad’s computer, someone asked Google how long it takes for an animal to die in a hot car.
Reading those words—and seeing a photo of a now-deceased child who looked like he could be my son’s brother—sent a shiver down my spine. For a split second I thought about my own boy trapped in a hot vehicle and felt my heart plummet to the floor.
“I don’t want to even think about it,” I shuddered. Even just a few moments of imagining my child suffering was more painful than I could bear.
So I quickly hopped back over to my Facebook news feed and scrolled away, banishing the terrible thought from my mind and instead focusing on puppy pictures and soccer scores.
That’s how we mothers often react to terrible tragedies involving children, isn’t it?
We hear a story or read a news article that gives us just a glimpse of that anguish and immediately jolt ourselves away, because the mere two-second thought guts us, bringing us to our knees.
We have to turn away just to make it through the day.
And yet, for some reason, this time is different for me. Maybe because the poor little boy was the same age and the spitting image of my son, the imprint of his face has been burned into my brain.
I realize now, I can’t just not think about it. I have to think about it.
As excruciating as it is, I have to allow my head and my heart to go there.
Why? Because it is the ache that I feel when I go there that spurs me to action—to do what I can to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
The pain motivates me to raise awareness about the danger of leaving a child in a hot car, something that happens shockingly often.
The torment prompts me to take action to improve the mental health and wellbeing of parents and caregivers.
(I recognize that the details of this particular case are still unfolding, so I have no idea if the dad in question suffers from a mental illness. Nevertheless, the issue of parental mental health is a real one.)
Imagine if mothers all over the country—all over the world—were driven to action over the thought of tragedy touching our children. Imagine if we all allowed ourselves to think about that pain, and then took that awful feeling and did something useful with it.
We would become a legion of powerful advocates for a host of important issues related to child safety. Our influence would be an incredible force for change.
Think about how much pain we could possibly prevent just from allowing ourselves to imagine it happening in our own lives.
So I’m not going to stop thinking about that poor toddler in Georgia. I’m not going to shake the image of his smile out of my head or expel the knowledge of his death from my memory. It hurts, oh my, it hurts. But it is that hurt that propels me to do something.
How do you react as a parent when you hear about tragedies happening to children?
image via drouu