Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Gone Baby Gone

I was instantly sick to my stomach on Monday when I saw the letter that Herr had brought home from daycare.  One of the children, "N," had "become ill on Tuesday, June 10 and died of complications" on Friday, June 13.  The note went on to say that "N" had been a hero because his organs had been donated and that we needed to respect the privacy of the family at this time. Since I don't socialize with any of the parents, I don't know any last names at daycare--I just know a few names of some of the children.  I called the daycare because I wanted to know if "N" had been in either of the girls' classes.  If so, I needed to figure out how to handle this with them, if at all.

When I called the daycare, the Director informed me that I certainly did know "N" because he and his father walk in the exact same time I did every day.  At that moment, my heart stopped.

I am one of three parents who show up at 6:30AM to drop off my kids.  In addition to me, there is a woman who drops off her two toddlers and a father who drops off his toddler.  For over a year, the father and I have said good morning to each other, commented on how much our kids have each grown.  I told him it was a phase a couple of months ago when "N" was getting belligerent when he would drop him off.  I saw this little boy go from being a baby brought into the facility in his car carrier, to being a 16 month old who was a wobbly walker.

My heart stopped for another reason.  Once I was told it was "N" who had died, I remembered that last Tuesday morning, I had been a couple of minutes late in dropping off the girls. "N's" father was walking out as I was getting Genna out of our car.  We exchanged nods and I went inside.  The classes in this facility do not have walls.  They are divided by bookshelves that come up to one's hip.  I was on one side of a bookshelf, getting the girls' breakfasts ready.  One of the teachers, "N" and one of the other toddlers was on the other side. The teacher and I were chatting about who knows what, when she suddenly said, "N, you are going to FALL!"  She and I both froze as he fell.  Hard.  He hit the bookshelf with the back of his head.  It made a strange thumping noise.  Neither of us moved.  I didn't move because, well, kids fall.  I trained myself to not scream out when the girls fell as toddlers, because I didn't want to scare them or encourage them to cry.  We waited a split second, but he didn't cry.  He didn't make a sound.  He just looked a little stunned.  I looked at the teacher and said, "Now THAT is one tough kid."  She said, "I know!  It's amazing."  I then turned around, kissed my kids good-bye and left.

After remembering all of this, I asked if "the fall" had anything to do with "N's" death.  I was told, "I can't tell you."  To me, that tells me that it did.  I couldn't sleep Monday night because I had convinced myself that I had been a foot away from him and didn't do anything when he fell. I spoke to the director again yesterday and told her that I needed to make sure that the fall didn't have anything to do with his death.  Guess what she told me?

"There was no fall."

"Oh yes there was," I said.  " I was there when it happened."

She then went on to say that she couldn't tell me what happened but, "there were a lot of different factors involved in what happened," and that she was sure that "the girls probably saw the ambulance come on Tuesday morning," and that "it was all really complicated."

I am beside myself.  On the one hand, my heart is completely broken for these parents who have lost their only child.  I cannot even imagine the utter torture they are going through.I pray I never have to experience that.  However, I am very suspicious of the fact that the daycare refuses to disclose the details of his death.  I know that if he had died from  a contagious disease, the health department would require that parents be notified.  I would think that any time a child is taken away by ambulance from a daycare and later dies, it has to be disclosed. What if he had gotten into something poisonous?  What if he choked on something?

I keep thinking about the fact that the teacher who witnessed the fall hasn't been in school since that day. Is the school trying to cover up the fall?  Is the teacher REALLY in Belize this week and doesn't even know that "N" died the way they are saying?  I don't think that any negligence occurred when the fall happened.  However, if the fall was the cause of his "illness" I don't know what happened after the fall, or how long before an ambulance was called.  What happens if the school gets sued?  Only two of us saw the fall.

I know that I wouldn't be reacting this way if I didn't know who he was or saw what I saw last Tuesday.  I would be devastated for the family, and I would still want to know the cause of death, but I don't think I would be this obsessed with it.  If I could be sure that the fall had nothing to do with his death I would be able to let it rest. Eventually.

What do you think?  Do parents really have the right to know?  If the daycare is going to deny that his death had anything to do with the fall, do I drop it?  Do I contact the parents?  Do I wait to see if the school gets sued?


margalit said...

What a horrible story and what a terrible situation to be in. I had to think for a bit, but my feeling is, you should tell the parents that you witnessed the fall. I guess how I would do it is to find out their address and send them a sympathy card with a note inside expressing your sorrow and then adding that you saw N fall and if they need or want to discuss the fall, you're happy to oblige.

At least that's what I would do.

Arwen said...

Definitely contact the parents. Drop a note letting them know who you are and that you were there when the accident happened. See if they respond.
How absolutely horrible for both the parents and you knowing what you know.

Kim said...

I don't envy your position. Like the other commenters, I would contact the parents with a note. In their position, I think I would want to know.

I don't think of myself as an alarmist sort of mom but I'm not sure I could leave my kids in their care, with a director that gave you those kinds of answers.

HeatherK said...

Actually, I'd be inclined to call the police or make a report to whatever agency oversees daycares before you speak to the parents. But of course I would want to let the parents know. How awful. Truly awful. I'm so sorry.

Lumpyheadsmom said...

Oh my god. How awful.

The saying in Washington goes "it's not the crime, it's the cover up." I'm not an attorney, but I would guess the daycare would not be sued over the child's fall unless it had been intentionally negligent. Children fall. Accidents happen.

Lying or intentionally failing to disclose important information, on the other hand, could be a problem.

It sounds to me like more information would be helpful. While the family has requested privacy, no one is ever offended by heartfelt expressions of sympathy. You're clearly shaken and grief-stricken by their loss, and telling this family that is not disrespectful.

Perhaps you could relate the tale of how "tough" this kid was - as a nice memory you hold of him, but also as a way to make sure the parents know about the incident.

MetroDad said...

What a horrible story!

Regarding your dilemma, whenever I'm faced with a situation like this, I try to put myself in the other person's shoes. As a parent, I ABSOLUTELY would want to hear what you witnessed. No doubt about it.

It's a shocking act that will require you to get involved in a sticky situation. However, it's the right thing to do. Start by telling the parents.

And shame on the daycare center! It's situations like this that reveal true character and they seem kind of shady to me.

Be brave, D!

kimmyk said...

oh my gosh.
i wouldn't talk to the parents just yet, but file a report like heatherk said. then go from there. what a horrible situation.

my heart goes out to the family and you....

Childsplayx2 said...

I agree with Metrodad. I think I would want to know. I'm sure the attorneys of the daycare center have advised the staff not to admit any culpability but I don't think they're being very sensitive either.

Good luck. Now I'm off to hug my own little toddlers.

Annie P said...

Holy cow! What a terrible story and situation to be in. The fall may have had nothing to do with the child's death, but I think the parents are entitled to know and decide whether to pursue an investigation or not. I think the suggestion to send a note to the parents is a good one.

Dutch said...

as a former attorney, I can tell you that what you have been witnessing since that day has been a whole lot of CYA. probably orchestrated by the insurance company lawyers.

I would not advise talking to the parents. They are going through enough right now, I'd say, to start freaking out about liability. I would write out a very detailed description of what you saw, date it, and sign it. even get it notarized if you want. in a few weeks or whenever, maybe then you could approach the parents about what you saw.

I don't envy you. but as sick as it is, a day care center involved in the trench warfare of pre-litigation is probably actually a pretty safe to bring a kid.

Mike said...

Wow. What a tragic story. I think the lawyer who posted last has the best suggestion. In a way I don't understand why the daycare is alienating you by denying it happened. After all, you are the only one not affiliated with the center who could collaborate that the teacher was not at fault. Of course, if they feel they are at fault...perhaps because of the lack of walls...or the teacher's negligience, then yeah, I can see why they'd cover it up.

Sorry this happened and you have to go through this.

Heather said...

I agree with Dutch, but with a twist. You should write everything down, date it, get it notarized, and THEN talk to the parents. That way, you have proof that your side of the story wasn't colored by the parents and their emotions.

I'm so sorry you have to deal with this. Trust your instincts.