Black 'N' Whyte

Is that your baby in the car?

Tim Whyte · June 1, 1997

The baby didn't know how close it was to death. Sleeping in the back seat of the car outside the convenience store, the infant was in direct sunlight on a morning when the temperatures would soon top 100 degrees.

The baby was alone.

I did a double-take as I walked toward the front door of the convenience store, in search of a big soda with ice in it to start my day. It was already hot, and I was shocked to see a baby in a car, all alone, with the windows rolled up tight.

It was a newer import, I believe, one of those family sedans with the classy, deep green paint job. Not a cheap car. A sharply dressed young man was standing in front of the car and appeared as it he were waiting for something.

"Is that your baby?" I asked, sort of hoping it was, so then I'd at least know a parent was within sight of the poor kid.

"No, but I was just thinking the same thing you're thinking. I just saw the mother go inside. I hope she had the air cranked up before she parked."

"I can't believe she left the kid like that."

"Me either. I wouldn't even leave a dog in the car like that, on a hot day with the windows rolled up."

True. Just last weekend, on our way home from a visit to relatives in Big Bear, Erin and I left the dogs in the car while we zipped into a McDonald's to feed our son, Luc. We rolled the windows down, stayed within sight of the car and gave the dogs water. It was nowhere near as hot as it was here in the valley this week. But we still worried that some passer-by would give us a hard time for leaving the dogs, even for a few minutes.

This was different -- far different.

This woman's baby was in a car, all alone, on a hot day, with the windows rolled up, in direct sunlight. The baby was sleeping, which, I presume, was the reason Mommy didn't bother her butt to carry the child into the store with her.

The issue of child safety was fresh on my mind, in the wake of this week's story about the little 7-year-old girl who was raped and strangled in the bathroom of a casino in Primm, Nevada. A locked car outside a Santa Clarita convenience store is a far cry from a casino teeming with boozers and gamblers, but these days, you never know. It can be a damn scary world. You hate to be an overprotective parent, but man . . . I had a fleeting moment of fear for that little baby.

It was probably only for a few minutes. The line wasn't terribly long inside, and it seemed to move quickly. I noticed the woman -- an attractive lady -- get into her car while I was in the store, so she probably didn't leave her kid alone for very long.

But how long does it take? How long does it take for the heat to rise inside an enclosed vehicle to the point where it's a hazard to the child? It's just a few minutes, isn't it?

And even if the vehicle is locked, how long would it take for someone to snatch the child? While you're standing in line to buy cigarettes and Doritos, your baby could be taken. Just . . . like . . . that.

I don't know. Call me super-cautious, but I don't think those are risks worth taking. I became angry at this woman. It was a good thing I was busy getting my tub o' soda when she left, because I might have become one of those meddlesome types who tee off on someone for a sad, public display of parenting that completely lacks common sense.

Those meddlers can get out of hand. You know the types: The ones who run for the pay phone to call the Department of Children's Services every time they see someone scold a child.

But this is much more troublesome that seeing someone whack a misbehaving kid on the fanny. This is, potentially, a matter of life and death.

This woman didn't look like an "I-don't-give-a-damn" type. Her baby looked generally well-cared-for, and I wouldn't, by first impression, peg her as someone who doesn't care about her child's safety. Maybe she just hadn't thought it through.

Ma'am, if you're reading this, please understand that this is meant with the utmost compassion and understanding of the busy lives we lead, rushing from one errand or job to another with children in tow:

I'll chalk this one incident up to ignorance, or a momentary brain fade, and move on. But if I ever, ever, see you leaving your baby alone in the car again, even if you are in a store just a few feet away, I will take down your license number, report you to the authorities and publicly hold you up as an example of an unworthy parent and a tragic waste of skin.

- 30 -

Tim Whyte is the magaging editor of The Signal. His commentary appears on Sundays.
© 1997, THE SIGNAL -- ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


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