Today I did the one mistake I always vowed I’d never do as a mother: I accidentally locked my kids in the car.
I had just picked Jo Jo up from preschool and we had about 45 minutes to kill before getting Teddy. I figured I’d treat Jo Jo and Geoffrey to pizza just a few blocks away from Teddy’s school. “Pizza!” I sang as we drove along High Ridge. “Pizza! Pizza!” my soon-to-be five year old and my 21 month old chanted, bouncing happily up and down in their car seats in response.
I pulled into the parking lot, turned off the ignition, got out of the car, and slammed the door. As I was about to open the door to unstrap the kiddos, I heard a click, then saw the locks on the car dart down like little worms ducking into holes. But it didn’t quite register to me what was happening until I started pulling on the door, only to realize it was locked shut.
That’s strange, I thought, staring at the door, somewhat confused. We’d had this rental car for almost two weeks and I’d never seen it lock itself before.
Then I realized that without even thinking about it, I’d tossed the car keys into the diaper bag sitting on the passenger side of the front seat as I climbed out of the car.
I just stood there, totally stunned, for a moment. Then like a crazed Mommy rabbit I darted over to the other side of the car and tried rattling that door. It refused to open. Jo Jo and Geoffrey were just looking at me, obviously perplexed at what Mommy was doing banging her hands against the sides of the car. Geoffrey’s brow was completely furrowed and his head was tilted to the right, the way he does when his little toddler brain is having a “deep thought” moment. “Pizza,” I watched him mouth to me.
“Oh my god oh my god oh my god” I chanted to myself as I raced into the restaurant.
“Please help me!” I shouted at the waitress as I ran in. “I locked my kids in the car!”
The woman, an aged-looking blonde with smokers’ lines around her mouth, shrugged her shoulders. “What do you want me to do?”
I just gaped at her. “My kids are 4 and 1,” I told her. “I locked my cell phone in my car. Please help me.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll call 911,” I heard someone shout. “We’re on it!”
I nodded and raced back outside. The kids were still sitting patiently in their car seats with the same quizzical, slightly bemused expressions on their faces. Geoffrey saw me and began bouncing up and down in his car seat again. “Mama!” I heard him chirp happily. “Mama!”
“Don’t worry, they’ll be fine,” I heard a voice say, and I turned to see that two of the men in the restaurant had come outside to check on us. “We called 911. Do you want to use my phone to call your husband?”
“Thank you thank you thank you,” I started blubbering. “This is a rental car and I didn’t realize it locked automatically like that.”
“No worries,” he shrugged. “My wife used to do this all the time.”
I called Jamie. “The emergency key’s under the passenger rear bumper,” he told me.
That made no sense to me. “Are you sure?” I asked.
“I’m sure,” he said. “I put it there myself.”
I handed the phone back to my new male friend, got down on my stomach and started slithering underneath the car. “My husband thinks there’s a key under here,” I told the two men, who were staring at me like I had sprouted a third boob right in the middle of my forehead.
“A key under the rental car?” one of the guys asked. “I’ve never heard of that before.” They watched me wiggle around the car for a while. “Don’t touch the exhaust pipe!” the older one yelled. “You might burn yourself.” Then I heard him say, “yeah, she’s underneath the rental car. Ohhh!” and then, “your husband forgot you were driving the rental. You can come on out now.”
I groaned, and then to make things even worse as I was maneuvering my way out my pony tail got caught in the exhaust pipe. “I’m stuck!” I yelped and as one of the men leaped down to untangle me I thought to myself, “why does this random crazy shit always happen to me?”
And then when I emerged from the bowels of the rental car, I saw the firetruck, sirens blaring, lights blazing, headed straight towards us. Five firefighters tumbled out, all here to save me, the desperate, slight sweaty, now covered in grime suburban housewife.
“Tools!” one of them yelled and before I knew it all five of them were on either side of the car with all sorts of pump wedges and tool rods. Geoffrey was going crazy, squealing and clawing at his car seat straps in an effort to climb out and I started to panic and then I realized why: it was his first time ever seeing real live firemen.
Within about three minutes, the car was open, and my kids were freed.
“Thank you thank you thank you!” I babbled again, and then I started to explain myself and they brushed me away with a “no worries, we see it all the time!” I clutched a squirming Geoffrey in my arms, who was babbling and blowing kisses and screaming “aaai!” as if he were backstage at a Rolling Stones concert.
I got it. These fire men were my heros, too.
I was a little sheepish walking into the restaurant, but when the three of us made our entrance everyone stood up and cheered. “I’ve totally been there, little kids, locked car, the whole deal,”one woman told me sympathetically.
As I watched my kids devour their pizza, I could feel myself relaxing as the stress hormones slowly drained from my body. I feel like these days I’m constantly in some sort of fight or flight response, between hurricanes and car accidents and just the random craziness that life always seems to throw my way.
But it’s always heartening to see how others can come through in times of crisis (or in this case, semi crisis). Even though I’d clearly done a stupid scatter brained thing, no one called me out on it.
And I have just one caveat for our new car (our Sienna was totaled, BTW).
No automatically locking doors.