By the grace of whoever’s in charge, I’ve never had to dial 911. I’ve joked in the past about having to in advance of Joe doing yard work or using power tools, but thankfully I’ve never had to actually dial the number.
Last week I did. And, then I quickly hung up.
Just as quickly, 911 called me back. So, that was a first.
Before I write about why I called, I just want to make sure that I make one thing clear. I’m not talking about this, in any way, to sound righteous. In fact, I’m writing about it because I think people can relate to it. Not my actions. Well, you’ll see.
A week ago, I was with my parents and my daughter at an outdoor shopping center on a beautiful afternoon. It was sunny and probably somewhere in the mid-70s. Perfect. My dad, daughter and I were waiting on a bench for my mom to finish buying a new bag inside a store. A woman walked by us and asked if we knew who owned the white, Honda minivan in the lot. The very first parking spot. We said we didn’t know.
“Oh. There’s a baby in it,” she said.
She said it just like that. As casually as if she was telling us ground beef was on sale, or something equally as mundane.
At first, I was skeptical. I walked a little closer, but still at a distance from the van, to see if a rear-facing baby seat maybe confused the woman. Sometimes those car seats appear to have a baby in them, when really it’s a blanket or a stuffed animal or something. They’ve tricked me before.
As I tiptoed over to the car, my dad watching my daughter and still waiting for my mom, a woman in a tightly pulled bun came charging out of another store and ran to the van. She slammed her body against it. Banged her open palms on the windows.
“It’s okay baby! We’re here! We’ll get you out!!”
She was screaming at the baby. I stopped walking. She turned around to face the shopping center, where a few people had started gathering on the sidewalk.
“She’s crying! She’s terrified! Who would do this? Who would leave their kid in a car?!”
I held my phone. This woman was freaking out. I half wondered if the baby was scared because this strange woman had thrown herself against the car, like a zombie, and started screaming at her.
I called. Just as it rang the first time, I turned my head back to the shopping center and saw a woman come running out of the store my mom was in. I recognized her. I had seen her walk in minutes before, as I walked out. She hadn’t been in the store more than 10 minutes. If that.
She sprinted to the car. Unlocked it. All the while visibly in grief. All the while listening to the lady with the bun criticizing her.
“This is your car? You did this? How could you do this? Who leaves their kid in a car? To go shopping? Really?”
If I favored using Caps Lock, I would for that woman’s screams. Her voice was shrill. Her words cutting.
The distraught mother scooped up the baby, probably about 18 months old or so. I hung up the phone. Just before I did, the woman with the bun looked at me, pointed to the license plate, and mouthed something to me. I didn’t bother.
The baby had a few tears. Groggy eyes. Rosy cheeks. But she was fine. The mother cradled her daughter in a way that any loving mother would. Her face was stricken with regret.
“She was asleep. I just forgot. I can’t believe I forgot. She was sleeping. She just took a nap. How did I forget?”
I walked past the bun lady, who by this time had stopped screaming, and stepped closer to the woman, holding my phone to my ear. An operator with 911 had called me back. I put my hand on the little girl’s head. She wasn’t warm at all. I felt her back. Same.
I told the operator the baby appeared to be fine. Awake. Crying. Alert. Hugging her mom. And, not at all feverish. I knew the woman had been gone from the car for minutes. The operator felt good about the scene and we hung up.
The bun lady left. I put my hand on the mom’s arm.
“Are you okay?” I asked her.
She said no. She exhaled. And then she started to cry.
“You’re okay. She’s okay,” I said, putting my hand on her daughter’s back. “Don’t listen to them. Shit happens.”
She laughed, just once, between tears. And then she shook her head, still hugging and rocking her daughter.
I wish I could have stayed longer to talk with her and protect her from the lady with the bun and the people who were looking at the scene from the sidewalk near the shops. I had to go get my son from school.
Had I stayed I would have reminded her that everybody makes mistakes. I would have told her that every single one of my children, at some point during their toddler years, fell down the stairs. The whole flight. My son did it twice, down the stairs inside and down the stairs outside. Just for good measure, I suppose.
He also had a fun adventure with super glue. I vividly remember crying the entire time I was trying to get it off his leg, which by then was glued into a bent position.
I would have told her I curse in front of my kids from time to time, probably more often than I should. I would have said my kids get too much screen time, by standards that often feel like they’re designed to fail modern, busy parents with electronic-obsessed kids.
Our house is too loud. We don’t eat enough vegetables. And, based on the fact that I often sit in the doorway until they fall asleep, I’m too easy on them at bed time.
But, “shit happens” was the best I could come up with at the time. I felt like it summed up the moment she was experiencing, by also letting her know we all know. We all know.
I just wish the lady with the bun had remembered that.