It's one of the first signs of spring. Saturday night, we set the clocks ahead an hour and wake up Sunday morning to daylight saving time. Even if there's snow on the ground and black ice on the highway, it's a hopeful dawn, filled with the promise of sunshine and daffodils and bird song.
Something else comes with the spring and it's the antithesis of hope. That would be the beginning of hyperthermia season. For the next few months, there will be heartbreaking news stories in which babies and toddlers were left in parked cars that, in the heat of the day, quickly turn into death traps. Each year as many as 37 children lose their lives, not through a deliberate act on the part of a parent, but through tragic forgetfulness, a momentary lapse that can't be undone.
Each case bears a frightening similarity to every other case. Generally, the parent is an ordinary, responsible person who is experiencing unusual stress. It's stress that neuroscientists have found can cause a snafu in the brain's memory system. There's been a change in routine or the parent who is driving isn't the one who usually does the day care drop-off and they simply forget. Many times a child can spent an entire day locked in a hot vehicle before being discovered. On a 72-degree day, the temperature inside a car can increase by 30 to 40 degrees in an hour, and 70 percent of this increase occurs the first 30 minutes.
It almost happened to an old friend. That sunny morning last May had been frantic, full of misplaced backpacks and spilled cereal bowls. The older children were finally loaded on the school bus and the baby tucked and buckled into the car seat in the minivan.
And then her mom simply drove right past the baby sitter's house and straight to work. She parked and started gathering her things to dash to her desk and send the memos that were already half-written in her head. But when she reached behind the driver's seat to retrieve her purse, she realized the baby was still in the car.
Later that day I received an email: "You have no idea what you did today. You saved my baby's life and you kept me from a lifetime of torment and regret. You saved my family."
What? I hadn't even seen her in months. I kept reading.
"Today I almost forgot that I had Ella with me. I came this close to leaving her in a hot car all day or at the very least until lunch. The only thing that prevented it was some advice you gave me years ago when I was pregnant for the first time. You told me to always put my purse in the back seat. That I should get in the habit of doing it so it was second nature. Thank God I took that advice. If I hadn't reached in the back to get my purse I never would have looked behind me and Ella would have been locked in the van."
Every experienced parent has advice that they pass on to the newbies: the best way to deal with tantrums, night terrors and failure-to-share. Teething and toilet-training tips. Favored pediatricians and baby sitters. My chosen advice dealt with the purse in the back seat. It was told to me before the birth of my first daughter and it just made good sense.
I took it to heart and, today, with my youngest well into her 18th year, I still open the back door and toss my bag behind the driver's seat. I see no reason to change. After all, I'll someday be a grandmother.
This tidbit of advice had always been offered casually in conversation, along with my preferences for brands of apple juice and finger foods. I'd never given much thought of the kind of impact it might have until I received my friend's email. And now I'm on a mission. So, please, mention this to your pregnant friends, talk it up at baby showers and to anyone with a child young enough to ride in a car seat.
Spring will come, sure as the sun rill rise and set and the tides come in and go out. But hyperthermia season doesn't have to happen.
Teressa Glazer is a Gainesville businesswoman. Her column appears biweekly on Fridays and at gainesvilletimes.com/viewpoint.