Parenting

4 Things I Learned When My Toddler Locked Me in His Bedroom

The headline is this: my oldest child and I spent an hour and a half locked in a bedroom while my younger child stopped answering my voice, and our rescue involved three strangers, three firemen, a fire truck, three police officers, several calls to 9-1-1, and a very brave neighbor.

Here are 4 Things I Learned When My Toddler Locked Me in His Bedroom:

1. If bedroom doors lock from the outside, it’s just a matter of time before something goes wrong.

It was 2009, I was at home with my preschooler and a toddler, and Robb was on a business trip. We were in the final stretch of six days without him, and that alone was hardly a recipe for freshness and success. We had just finished baths, the wettest and most chaotic necessity with small children. I had just finished dressing two-year-old Tyler, and he was running free while I gave three-year-old Tucker the post-bath treatment. Tyler had just learned how to successfully operate the doorknobs, and in a phase of opening and closing doors incessantly, he casually closed the door to Tucker’s bedroom.

I’m not a huge fan of closed doors with small children on the other side, so I asked Tuck to open the door while I picked out his clean clothes. And then I heard him say, “It’s locked, Mommy. Tyler locked the door.” Tyler was on the outside, and Tuck and I were trapped inside. (I’d like to take this moment to give a special nod to the previous owners of this house, who thought it was indeed brilliant to put a lock on the outside of a child’s bedroom. Brilliant.)

My cell phone was about eight feet away, on the shelf at the top of the stairs . . . on the other side of the door. Robb was in Texas. My parents were out of town for the day. Nobody was likely to drop by our home unannounced for a very long, long time. Even still, I didn’t panic. Yet.

2. I can communicate fairly succinctly in a desperate pose with my face smashed to the carpet.

I lay down on the floor, with my face smashed against the carpet. I could see Tyler’s little socked feet. I called for him, and he lay down on the floor, inches away from me. I could see 1/4 of his sweet little face, pressed against the carpet. He was so close and yet so far, with a securely locked door standing between us.

“Hi, Mommy.”

“Hi, buddy. Can you unlock the door? Turn the little knob? Please?”

He stood up. He fiddled with the doorknob. I thought it would perhaps be this easy, since he was our only hope. But then he peeked through the one-inch crack underneath the door, and he slid his fingers through and smiled at me. “Hi, Mommy.”

“Hi, baby. Can you get mommy’s phone? It’s on the shelf by the steps. Please, baby. Please.”

“Phone? Get Mommy’s phone?”

“Yes. Please.”

I watched his sweet little feet walk down the hallway, stopping just short of the shelf. But then he took the calendar off the wall and sat down to look at the newest animals born at the zoo. We tried this again and again for a long stretch. I sent Tyler to retrieve the phone, and he found other things to do for a few moments, only to come back and say hi to me.

But then he stopped coming back. The only thing worse than the hopelessness of a child who cannot follow directions is the fear that settles in when he stops answering. I began to imagine the worst.

Tucker, trapped with me, paced the length of his bed, again and again, saying, “We’ll never get out, Mommy. Never. We’ll never get out. Ever.” Not so helpful. I encouraged him to pray instead. So he folded his hands and paced, saying, “Please, God. Please. Please save us. Or we’ll never get out. Ever.”

Still, no Tyler. He would not be our means of escape, and I needed a plan: fast.

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3. Keep some sheets near every second story window, because you just never know.

I dove into Tucker’s closet, and I found one wire hanger among hoards of plastic ones. (As a rule, I don’t keep the wire ones, since a friend of mine told me her childhood story of being rushed to the ER with a wire hanger protruding from her eyeball. So, we stick to plastics. But I was singing the praises of the one wire hanger I hadn’t purged.) I unwound it, and I poked it through the hole in the middle of the knob. I tinkered and jammed. No luck.

I looked out the second-story window. Could I jump? I could tie all the sheets together and lower myself until I felt safe enough to jump. (I couldn’t imagine feeling safe enough to jump. I’m not your stereotypical risk taker.) A definite option, but just not yet.

Instead, I took the screen out of the window, and I started screaming my head off. Our home backed up to a busy road, and I bellowed to all the passing traffic. I gathered a white sheet from the closet collection, and I added a flying flag to my SOS calls. I was pretty confident that a few drivers looked our way, and one passenger even turned her head to look closely as they drove by. But nobody stopped. Come on. Somebody. Please.

I spotted an older woman walking up the sidewalk. I upped the volume and the frenzy, and thank the Lord, she heard my voice. I shouted directions to our home. She would need to walk the entire length of the fencing to the intersection, turn left, then left again, then up the hill . . . the list was long. But she didn’t seem confident to jump the fence to rescue us in a shorter route. I told her our house number. I told her our garage code. She didn’t seem entirely confident, but she was our best hope, thus far.

As I watched her walk away, it occurred to me: who am I kidding? Why should she help us? She is this little old woman out for a walk to keep her arthritis from acting up, and I have launched her into a most awkward rescue mission. I’m toast, I thought. Better keep screaming.

I spotted two teenagers strolling by, so I waved, screamed, and flailed until they looked our way. I had had enough with the lengthy directions, so I just shouted, “Please call 9-1-1! I need help!” I needed rescuers who were willing and able to break into my home, and you can count on the ones with badges. This sweet girl listened to my pleas, and she called 9-1-1 from her cell phone. She relayed my address twice, withstood four transfers of her call (?!?), and stayed on the line until someone assured her that help was on the way. Even better, she promised to stay within my line of vision until help arrived.

That’s when I started to cry because that’s what I do when the crisis is nearly over and it looks like maybe we will be okay. But we weren’t okay yet, and I had a three-year-old in the room who was watching my every move to determine if he should cry as well. I shut down the waterworks, with plans to do that later once I knew Tyler was okay too. (Still no word from him, by the way. The hallway was s-i-l-e-n-t.)

4. Waterproof mascara is invincible on a toddler’s eyelashes.

In the forever of waiting and not crying for I-don’t-know-how-long, a team of strangers sprang to action. The little old woman actually did come through, and she went to my neighbor’s home to find someone who knew me. When our neighbor Sabrina answered the door to find a seemingly senile old woman insisting that someone was locked in the house next door, she was suspicious. Why on earth would Tricia be locked in her house? Who gets locked in their own house, anyway? Tricia, smart girl that she is, would open the door and let herself out.

When I didn’t answer her phone calls, Sabrina was willing to consider the possibility that the woman wasn’t crazy. She came into my house to find everything in working order—only the people were missing. There was evidence of daily routines, dishes out, iPod playing, laundry half-folded . . . but no people. She came upstairs to find all the doors closed, thanks to our masterful door-closer, and she opened my bedroom first. She found Tyler, happily playing in my makeup. Homeboy had spent the entire hour hanging out in my makeup drawer, painting himself. No wonder he didn’t answer me. He had black caked across his nose, cheeks, eyelids, and eyebrows. My little boy was in drag.

Sabrina scooped him up, and she came in search of us. Tuck and I were waiting, cluelessly and helplessly, when the bedroom door flew open. Hers was perhaps the most beautiful face I had ever seen. I hugged her and held my black-faced baby in my arms. I would have finally cried, except just then we heard blaring sirens and pounding on my front door.

I rushed downstairs to find three police officers and two firemen ready to break the door down just as I opened it for them. “Ma’am. Was there an emergency here? Were you waving a flag out the window?” As it turns out, there had been multiple 9-1-1 calls from people reporting a woman hanging out her window, screaming for help. So they did see me, all those people whom I thought had gone merrily on with their day.

“Are you okay now, Ma’am?”

“I’m a little shaken, but I think we’ll be okay.”

They looked at Tyler. “Ma’am, can you tell us why his eyes are black?”

“Yes. I sure can.” I told them the story, and I explained that yes, actually, Tyler was just fine, except for the mascara with lasting power. Apparently, I buy the best stuff WalMart has, as we can now tell, on Tyler’s forever darkened lashes.

That evening, Robb came home from his business trip to find the three of us in a dazed stupor. The children were probably drinking salad dressing and eating sour cream while I wallowed as the damsel in distress who had been locked in the tower with only the townsfolk to rescue her. He started a bath for me and poured me a glass of wine. I handed the children over to him, and I settled in for that ugly cry I promised myself while he disabled all the bedroom doorknobs in the house, privacy be damned.

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