If you’ve never made a mistake when it comes to minding your children, then you are the perfect parent. Congratulations. There are not too many of them. If you are a new parent, you may think you’re a perfect parent so far. But I have to be the bearer of sobering news: though it may not have happened to you yet, one day you are going to screw up. I pray that it is not a major screwup like leaving your kid in a hot car and then finding him or her dead, but it’s actually possible—as are a host of other injuries and tragedies that you could never even imagine could happen to you, the perfect parent. But trust me, one day you will screw up. Then you’ll join the lamentable club the rest of us are in: the less-than-perfect.

You will be late to pick up your kid from soccer, you will forget he had a dentist appointment while he waits outside of school, you will leave the basement door open while he’s crawling around, you will leave a chemical or a medicine bottle within his reach or you will turn around in a store and find him gone. And then you will pray. And ask yourself, “How could this have happened to me?”

In Lakewood, a young mom is now experiencing the most unimaginable suffering any parent can: the death of a child who was inadvertently left in a car. And somehow, in this upside down world we call the New Jersey judicial system, she is being made into a criminal. No one knows exactly who messed up, or who forgot, or who got confused and details are scarce. But the story ends in tragedy.

Similarly, when American former Alpine ski racer, Bode Miller, and his wife lost their 19 month old daughter after she toddled out of the house and fell into a swimming pool, the parents' worst nightmare was realized. In the Millers' case, there was no doubt that the parents’ pain and grief was enough of a punishment, so no criminal charges were filed. It was understood that when parents lose a child, society deems their suffering enough of a penalty.

Unless the Ocean County prosecutor has reason to believe that this child was left in the hot car purposely (and there is no evidence of that), the Lakewood woman should not have been charged with a crime. Presumably, this was a tragic accident and should be treated as such.

I urge those of you who would sit in judgement of this mother to read an excellent column by Gene Weingarten in the Washington Post entitled “Fatal Distraction: Forgetting a Child in the Backseat of a Car Is a Horrifying Mistake. Is It a Crime?”

In it, he explains how human memory is a machine that can be flawed. Consequently, no human can say that this could never happen to him or her. Because we are all human, it most certainly can. And according to statistics, sadly, it happens more often than you think. Weingarten then asks and answers this question: “What kind of person forgets a baby?”

His answer?

“The wealthy do, it turns out. And the poor, and the middle class. Parents of all ages and ethnicities do it. Mothers are just as likely to do it as fathers. It happens to the chronically absent-minded and to the fanatically organized, to the college-educated and to the marginally literate. In the last 10 years, it has happened to a dentist. A postal clerk. A social worker. A police officer. An accountant. A soldier. A paralegal. An electrician. A Protestant clergyman. A rabbinical student. A nurse. A construction worker. An assistant principal. It happened to a mental health counselor, a college professor and a pizza chef. It happened to a pediatrician. It happened to a rocket scientist. Last year it happened three times in one day, the worst day so far in the worst year so far in a phenomenon that gives no sign of abating.”

So before we try parents in a court of law let’s decide: Is forgetting a baby truly a criminal act? And even if by some stretch of the imagination you believe it is, since a parents grief is a life sentence, isn’t that punishment enough? Next time you hear about a baby dying in a hot car (and tragically, the odds are you will) before you rush to self-righteous judgement, remember: There but for the grace of God go you. Bad things can happen—even to perfect parents. Because, as all parents eventually learn, there really is no such thing.

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