A young Wisconsin woman was arrested last week after deputies discovered her 5-month-old infant crying in the trunk of her car during a traffic stop. Police say the baby was laying on top of a large pair of garden shears and sharing the trunk space with other dangerous items such as a used gas can and a rusted tire iron. It was reported that the decision to place the child in the trunk was made in lieu of a potential citation for not having a proper car seat.
Breona Synclair Watkins, the 19-year-old mother of the baby, was pulled over for a missing headlight. A 14-year-old sitting in the front passenger seat informed the officer that the car belonged to her mother. The passenger also claimed that the baby had been sitting in her lap, but upon seeing the cop car approaching, Watkins directed her to hide the child in the trunk through an opening in the backseat.
While it’s easy to judge teen moms for making bad decisions, it serves a far greater purpose to employ empathy. For most of us, the idea of driving with a baby locked in the trunk of your car sounds ludicrous. It seems that Watkins shared that sentiment prior to being approached by a patrol car and forced to respond in a moment of panic. She knew that her baby was both safer and more comfortable sitting in the lap of the passenger than laying on top of sharp objects in a hot trunk. Unfortunately, the law doesn’t care about situations that lead up to violations, or extenuating circumstances that create criminals out of victims. Car seat laws have only existed since around 1984, so many young people were raised by generations that commonly rode with babies sitting in their laps. Technology and education has advanced considerably since then, which is particularly fortunate for the modern era of parents and kids. When you think of your grandmother not using a car seat for her children, you don’t assume she was a monster, you think, “she lived in a different time, they didn’t know better back then.” So why, then, can’t we give a 19-year-old the same courtesy? I did a lot of stupid things at 19 because I didn’t know any better, because nobody at 19 knows much at all when it comes to being a responsible adult.
As a mother of a toddler, I’ve been hearing about the monumental role that car seats play in our children’s safety for a while. Maybe I’m just disillusioned by my impending middle-age and the state of the world, but I find the endless car seat debates to be overzealously self-serving. I’ve watched moms virtually claw one another’s eyes out over the recommended age to switch from rear-facing to front-facing. I’ve seen $500 car seats on backorder because, well, if you want your kid to live, you get them the best. So naturally, the impoverished communities are out of luck, which works perfectly for the car seat enthusiasts who don’t include them anyway, except to harshly judge them by reading about young women, like Watkins, who are struggling to make the right choices by trial and error just the same as any other young adult. Trying to take care of yourself is a learning process, and contrary to popular misconception, having a baby does not miraculously impart the life skills needed to take on that responsibility.