After reading Part I of #failcarmom, many of my readers were so sweet, commenting on my post or social media and assuring me that I wasn’t alone; they, too, had locked one of their kids in the car.
But I’m thankful that my big God helped me keep my vow to never, ever lock my baby son in the car again.
Too bad I didn’t use the plural when I made that vowel.
Despite evidence to the contrary, I really am a conscientious mom. After I locked my oldest son in the car in 1990, I kept my wits about me for nine whole years before I once again committed “The Deed.” But nine years is a long time, right? I mean, if one thinks in terms of going without food or water, or holding one’s breath…
After navigating through my daughter’s childhood without imprisoning her in my vehicle, I was certain that my #failcarmom days were over. Then, in 1998, we had child number three.
In 1999, hurry was my middle name. Hurry to my oldest son’s soccer practice or game. Hurry to my daughter’s soccer practice or game. Hurry to piano lessons, school functions, baseball practice, shopping, church stuff, doctors, dentist…you get the picture. And, like many youngest children, my little son got lugged everywhere.
Often, while his older siblings were speeding around the soccer field, I’d allow my son to explore the minivan. He loved pushing buttons, opening windows, playing the radio, and roaming free around the interior—this kept him entertained for hours. But, when we carted his brother and sister around, or he and I were running errands while my two older children were in school, he spent a lot of time confined to his car seat. Until he turned eighteen months old, that is.
That’s when he transformed into “The Great-Escape Toddler.”
The first time he wiggled out of his car seat, I figured that I hadn’t tightened the straps properly. Kids couldn’t get out of these things. But when it happened again, I realized that I had a Houdini on my hands. I may have taken some maternal pride in his ingenuity, determination, and physical ability to twist himself into a pretzel, but I was far more worried about his safety.
Since my youngest is the family’s strong-willed child, I resorted to a technique I called “Intimidate and Immobilize.”
First, the intimidation. Anytime my son attempted to get out of his car seat, I pulled over, walked into the back, and put on my don’t mess-with-me mom look. Then we’d have an eyeball-to-eyeball conversation, with me doing all the speaking, since he was too young to talk yet. “Don’t you dare, young man. You STAY IN THAT SEAT AND I DON’T MEAN MAYBE, or you’re in big trouble, hear me?”
When my voice began taking on a more frantic, desperate tone—born from my intense fear that he’d squirm out of his seat when I couldn’t pull over and then get hurt if I had to stop quickly—he began getting the message that his antics made me less than pleased. However, it took one further step to halt his shenanigans for good—immobilization.
The immobilization was a little tricky. The goal was to strap him in so snuggly that he couldn’t inch his way out of his seat but, at the same time, leave him breathing room.
“Don’t you think you have him in there a little tight?” my husband asked as he looked at our son in his car seat before a trip to the mall.
“Do you really want him bouncing around the van while we’re flying down the highway at seventy miles an hour? He could get killed, for heaven’s sake. He’s fine, trust me,” I said with a reassuring smile.
He frowned at our son. “But his lips are turning blue.”
I rolled my eyes. “They’re not turning blue, he had a blueberry fruit bar before we left.”
“Oh.” My husband glanced at me again. “If you’re sure…”
“I’m sure. He’s perfectly comfortable. And, you know, we’re making progress. He finally realizes that we will never, ever be happy when he escapes from his car seat. I think I’ve nipped that tendency in the bud for good.”
Then I committed “The Deed.”
Again, I was in a hurry. In the garage, I put the dog in the house and then secured my son in his car seat, all while trying to keep the day’s schedule straight in my mind. First, I’d drive to my kids’ school, pick them up, swing through McDonald’s, and get my daughter to her soccer practice…wait. In which field was her practice?
I loaded the back seat with toys, books, diaper bag, and stinky soccer shoes. Shoot, I’d better check her practice schedule before I ended up in the wrong place. Then my oldest son would be late for his practice…or did he have a game? I handed my toddler a container of Cheerios, wondering where I’d stashed their soccer schedules. Then I opened the front passenger-side door, threw in my purse, hit the lock on the door without thinking, and slammed it shut.
It’s true what they say—during a period of disbelief, time really does revert to slow motion.
Through the tingling haze, as I watched the door close inch by inch, I glimpsed my purse, replete with keys, on the seat. Behind it, my son ate Cheerios with happy little gurgles. A prolonged “Nooooooo!” echoed around the garage, and I saw myself reach out, fingers extended toward the door. But I was too late.
I ran to the door leading from the garage into the house, but I’d locked that, too. I ran around the house and tried each door, but I’d done a dandy job insuring that no invader could ever get inside. Finally, I sprinted back to the garage, where I peered through the back window at my son.
Now what? Most of my immediate neighbors were at work. I could scurry around the neighborhood, pounding on doors and explaining my plight. I’d beg to use their phone and then call my husband to come home and the school to find my children.
As I stared at my son, he turned to me with an impish grin. And that’s when I remembered—he was an experienced car-exploring contortionist. Not only could he get out of that seat, he could unlock the door. Then we wouldn’t be late picking up my two kids, my husband wouldn’t have to traipse home from work, and I wouldn’t become the laughingstock of the neighborhood.
“Honey,” I called to him with a big smile. “Can you come to Mommy?”
My son looked at me with wide eyes.
“It’s okay,” I said. “Get out of your seat. Mommy needs you to open the door. Come on, you can do it!”
Yes, a one year old can look at you like you’ve lost your mind.
After a few minutes of indecision, my son gave his arm a tentative twist and began pushing it under the harness. “Good, good!” I shouted from outside the car. “Keep going, get out of your seat, there’s a good boy.”
Talk about confusing your kids. I’d spent months trying to curtail his car-seat antics with frowns and stern warnings. And now, here I was, standing outside the van, cheering him on with shouts of encouragement and praise.
When his tucked arm emerged close to his body, free from the restraint, I jumped up and down with a joyous whoop. Shed now of all inhibition, my son grunted and squirmed, wriggled and squiggled, until he liberated his upper body. Then, motivated by my elation, he pulled his legs up and under the straps with a triumphant giggle and stood on his seat.
He’d never had such an exuberant audience.
I re-positioned myself outside the front-passenger window and pointed to the lock. “Now open the door, sweetie, so Mommy can get in.”
With an ear-to-ear grin, he waddled up to the front and crawled into the seat. And after one final glance at his ecstatic mom, he slid open the lock.
Today, I’m proud to announce that I’ve made significant progress in the #failcarmom department. Since 1999, I have not locked any more of my babies or toddlers in the car.
Of course, I didn’t have more children after child number three…
Which made success much easier.