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'I did the unthinkable': Mom shares story of leaving child in car

Britta Eberle thought she'd never forget a child in a car. Until she did.
/ Source: TODAY Contributor

Britta Eberle thought she'd never forget a child in a car. Until she did.

Eberle, who lives in rural Vermont, went to a friend's farm on July 2 with her husband, son and daughter. Once they arrived, friends and family were running back and forth from cars to the friend's home, bringing in food and other items, and in all the commotion, 2-year-old Ada was left in the car.

"In our excitement we all darted out, assuming that someone else had grabbed the youngest member of our clan," Eberle wrote in a post on her blog.

Ada sat alone in the car for about 20 minutes before Eberle suddenly realized something wasn't right: Her daughter wasn't with the group and she didn't have any memory of taking her out of the car. Just as she ran to get her, Eberle's sister came in carrying her niece, who was crying, but unhurt. She'd told her aunt, "My mommy's coming to get me," Eberle told TODAY Parents — and hearing that broke her already frazzled heart.

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The temperature in Vermont that day was in the 60s and it was pouring rain, and Ada wasn't hot when she was taken from the car.

But according to statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, even if the temperature is in the 60s outside, it's possible for a car's interior to heat up to well above 110 degrees. It only takes 10 minutes for the temperature in a car to go up 20 degrees Fahrenheit. In 2021, 23 kids died in hot cars, according to the National Safety Council.

Eberle is only too aware of the dangers she dodged.

"You go through all the what-ifs," she told TODAY Parents. "I didn't think I was capable of forgetting her like that."

Days after Ada was left in the car for just 20 minutes, her mother, Britta Eberle, still thinks about what could have happened.Britta Eberle

Like many parents, Eberle had read stories about parents who forgot their children in the car, sometimes with fatal results. "I've always felt so bad for those parents," she said. And she noted a similarity between those horror stories and her own brief incident — a slight change in the normal routine threw off her regular procedure for taking Ada out of her seat.

"Those (fatal) stories, there's always a slight change in plan," she said. "(And that day) it wasn't the way I normally think or act."

She was wary about sharing the incident in a blog post due to the judgment she knows some readers are to eager to deliver.

"There are no excuses for what I did," she wrote. "And part of me doesn’t want to share this. I don’t want the world to know how badly I’ve failed. But then I think that I have to share this. I have to own up to my mistakes. I have to tell the world how far I am from perfect. And how if I did this, anyone could do this. And that scares me, but also makes me judge a little less and makes me pay attention a whole lot more."

Thankfully, most reactions have been supportive. "I think a lot of real dedicated parents have made the same mistake," she said. She's tried to avoid reading the comments from those who want to call her a bad mother for this one 20-minute lapse. One such comment, on a Scary Mommy Facebook post about her story: "She shouldn't have kids," wrote Erin Ann Bachman. "If u can forget your own kids, they should be removed from your care."

"They don't know me," Eberle said. "Anyone who knows me knows I always put my kids first." She's the kind of mom who always double-checks her daughter's chest clip to make sure it's in the right place; when her kids were babies she would bring the baby Tylenol bottle with her to the doctor so they could mark the correct dose, just to be extra-safe. She's a mom who worries about safety — which is why she felt, if it could happen to her, it could happen to anyone.

Putting Ada to sleep that night, Eberle was reminded again of how fortunate her family was

"Tonight I snuggled my baby girl to bed," she wrote. "I read her a story, turned out the light, and stayed beside her listening to her breath go deeper and slower as she fell asleep. And felt so incredibly lucky. We are always so much closer to the end than any of us realize."

Editor's note: This story was first published on July 6, 2017.