Friday, July 10, 2009

I Almost Killed Ani

Today (Thursday, July 9) my friend's car was broken into. The Midvale (Utah) police fingered me for the crime and threatened to arrest me. I received a stern, well-deserved reprimand from several officers and a citation to appear in court within the next two weeks.

Still, I couldn't have felt more grateful! Or been more relieved! Because my daughter was alive.

We're visiting from California, on vacation. I asked a friend to drive me to the bookstore while my wife and children rested. As we departed, my two-year-old, Anibel, tearfully indicated that she wanted to go with her “daddy”. Thus tugged by my heartstrings, I transferred the car-seat from my wife's minivan to my friend's sedan, strapped my baby in, and took off. Happily she settled into the back seat, my friend and I started talking and....

...about a half an hour later we exited the store, bags in hand. As I searched for our vehicle, I noticed several police cruisers parked behind one car in particular. The officers were trying to get inside. “Some guy's locked himself out”, I thought, “or locked his child in.” I shuddered at the thought.

Then my friend asked, “Where's Ani?”

To my horror, I realized I had forgotten my child in our car! Locked doors, closed windows and a confining car seat can mean death in a matter of minutes, even on a "cool" summer day! Now I frantically ran, looking for our car! Fortunately, it had already been found.

By angels.

Thank you, Midvale police and first-responders, for breaking that window! Thank you, paramedics, for evaluating my daughter's health and determining that she was “hot,” but “okay”. Thank you, heaven-sent lady, who parked her car beside ours, heard a muffled cry, and called for help.

20 minutes later – and I would have been pulling a dead child from that car seat. Instead, I found my baby girl, with tear-stained cheeks and sweat-covered hair, terrified and alone, “safely” strapped in, hiding under her “blankey”.

I've spent the day weeping, holding my younger children close, appreciating anew how careful I must be whenever they are in my care! Especially in the car!

I had the agonizing experience of confronting my wife and telling her that I nearly killed our daughter!

Fathers, if you're like me – and not in the habit of “chauffeuring” your children around – remember: LOOK in the back seat WHENEVER you leave your car! It's stupid – and against the law! – to leave a child unattended, even for a moment. Too many things can go SERIOUSLY wrong. So ALWAYS check.

I didn't mean to leave anyone in the car today. But would that make any difference? To my daughter?

Child-restraining seats save lives, but under the wrong conditions, they can just as easily kill. I've read stories of parents who have “spaced out”, became distracted, or simply "forgot" (like I did) their young children strapped in the back seat. Fathers have gone off to work, following their “routine”, forgetting to deliver their silent, sleeping child, only to return, hours later, to find them dead. Mothers have come home to unload their groceries, forgetting their child outside. Their pain must be endless.

Mine will subside. But I'm still quivering with anguish at what might have happened.

I don't know how two adults forgot Ani today. But we did. I did. And I'm her father. It's my job to protect my children. My lapse of awareness almost cost her her life...and created – for those who know and love her – a lifetime of misery and regret.

I've been crying all day, thunderstruck by how close I came to killing my little girl. She wouldn't sleep tonight until I held her in my arms. She doesn't know how terribly close I came to betraying the absolute trust she places in me.

I earnestly thank the men and the woman who stepped in to act when I stumbled, who helped save my daughter's life this afternoon. I vow never to make this mistake again. And I pray none of you ever will.