Today my 1-year-old locked himself inside the car. It was my biggest mommy fail to date and one I could have easily avoided if I had been paying more attention.
Jared and I had just left our weekly Baby and Me class at the synagogue where my daughter attends preschool and where Jared will go next school year. I was situating him in his car seat when another mom pulled up and asked if I wanted to meet for lunch. I said sure and she drove away as I finished tightening Jared’s seatbelt.
I knew he had slipped the keys out of my hand as I was talking; I felt it happen. Still, it didn’t fully register. Until I shut his door and instinctively patted my right coat pocket to feel for the keys. I felt he emptiness and heard the click of the locking doors at the same time.
“Please tell me he hit the unlock button,” I said to no one as I grabbed the handle. The door was locked. All four doors were. Jared was watching me, remote in hand. He pushed lock over and over. It’s the dimpled button and more fun to push than the run-of-the-mill bump of the unlock one. I tried to explain to my 18-month-old that he had to push the other buttons, but he just laughed at my frantic waving and pointing and gesturing.
Then he threw the remote and keys on the floor.
I sprinted across the parking lot to where I’d noticed another mom getting into her car. “Jared locked himself in the car. I was stupid and I let him get my keys,” I said.
She took her son out of his car seat and said, “What do you mean stupid? He always holds my keys,” she said, pointing to her kid who was holding her keys.
With my mind racing about ways to break into my car, I managed to get enough clarity to say I had another car key at home–10 minutes away. My friend loaned me her car and stood watch over Jared at my car as I headed out on the longest 20-minute roundtrip ride of my life. The whole time I had an article by Gene Weingarten playing in my head as if I were reading it right then and there. It’s about parents whose children died in their hot cars when they forgot to take them out. The comparison was silly: I hadn’t forgotten Jared, my friend was standing guard and could break the window if need be, and he’d spend no more than 30 minutes in a car that was far from overheated on an unseasonably cold March day. But it’s what I thought about at every red light.
My story ends well. Jared was crying but placated by Elmo videos he watched through the window on my friend’s iPhone.
When he was younger, I would give him my keys to play with, but then I worried that he would unlock the trunk without my knowing it and I would leave a place to find a dead battery. It’s been months since I let him hold my keys, but I let my guard down for a moment today.
I know I’m not alone in two respects: giving my keys to my baby as a toy and getting distracted. I learned my lesson the scary way, and I tell my story in hopes that this won’t happen to you, too. As my father-in-law said, “Don’t give the car keys to your kid until he has his driver’s license.”