Our morning started pretty much like any morning. We got four people dressed, packed lunches, couldn't find water shoes, argued over toothbrushing and ponytailing and whether pre-bagel blueberry muffins were really all that necessary. We checked the weather forecast and determined that it was so cool outside, E's class probably wouldn't even have water play, so it was no crisis to leave the water shoes unlocated. We tried to skip packing the water play bag altogether. E insisted she needed it and because it was easier to pack and carry an unnecessary extra bag to school than successfully argue with her, it was packed. We found rain jackets and shod all the feet and we headed out to the garage. L yelled what she always yells: keeyzh!! keeyzh!! like some Ukranian babushka locking up her storefront. I handed her my car keys, as I always do, and once she had them in her occupation she agreeably walked down the two steps into the garage and around to her side of the car, as she always does.
And here's where everything went awry. I strapped her in her carseat as she played with my keys and then, once strapped, I tossed the keys over the headrest so that they landed on the driver's seat. I closed the door and went around to E's side, to ease her door further open so that she might climb in, like always. But either I hadn't opened E's door at all or she had closed it, as she sometimes does when she needs more room for garage-dancing and isn't ready to be forced by straps to sit still. I tried to open her door and it-- was locked. And I knew. Even as I ran back around to the driver's door, I knew. L must have, for the first time ever, pressed the lock button on my keys-- just before I tossed them away from her and closed the only open car door.
I choking-yelled to the lovely husband, who frankly was not so lovely in the moment as he informed me that he had no idea where his key to my car is; he hadn't carried it in months, maybe a year. I yelled to him to call the auto club service. He yelled from inside the house that that, typical of our phone-apathy and general chaos, the phone was dead. He'd have to run upstairs to find one that was charged. (My cell phone was in my car, of course. I don't know why neither of us thought for him to grab his.) The dome light inside the car turned off and suddenly I could barely see my baby. She began to cry and because I didn't want her to see me walking away from her, I stood right next to her window. And I began to cry with her.
M handed me the phone and I called the auto club, who bumped us to the top of the priority list but still said it could be a little while. She asked if I wanted to call the police. I said no, L is strapped in and safe, just upset. She said she'd call back as soon as she could give me a better time estimate and in the dead space between the next ring of the phone I wondered, should I have said yes? Should I call the police? The rapidly-shrinking rational part of me knew that that was an unnecessary overkill but the frustrated part of me just wanted to be doing something, anything.
And then everything happened so fast, even as time slowed to a slug stream. The phone rang as L started screaming and clawing at the window as E started screaming and trying to climb up my leg. The dispatcher told me which intersection the truck was driving through and I thought, "eight minutes, eight minutes," and began an internal countdown. L scratched her too-long nails across the window yelling Mommy! Mommy! Mama! MoMMY! MommymommymommyMOMMMMMEEEEEEEE!! and my mental state decided to hold itself a home-improvement seminar as I added "oops, I was supposed to cut her nails last night" to my layers-of-guilt pre-bagel phyllo snack. E asked who was coming to help and I answered "the mechanic" and she declared herself afraid of the mechanic. I don't want him to see me! she shrieked, and insisted I hold her, which-- those puff pastry layers are delicate, can't make another kid cry now. And I don't know if it was better or worse for L that she could see both her sister now and me but her sister was in my arms and she wasn't, but both girls were crying and E began screeching, because she wasn't holding her water play bag. Never mind that the child is 35 pounds before clothes and sandals but I was going to hold her while she held her water play bag, because what if the mechanic looked at her.
And then E's sensory issues kicked in: Wipe your tears, Mama. "Thanks, my love," I said, fumblingly misunderstanding her as I gave a cursory wipe of my face, thinking she was offering me comfort. She was not, in fact, offering me comfort; rather my tears were distressing her. Too much moisture and a delicate dough gets gluey. Wetness in a location proximal to E without her authorization makes her get ungluey. Wipe your tears! Wipe your tears! And from within my arms she savagely pulled the bottom hem of my shirt to my face. That she is three and uses her shirt hem to wipe her own tears is not the same as that I am 32 and flashing my nursing bra at our neighbor backing out of her driveway, an unprepared witness to our little mamadrama. So I had no choice but to stop crying.
We played clapping games against the window and we played peekaboo through the tinted glass by pressing our noses so close and many more minutes than eight passed by, which I know I did not exaggerate even in my own head because anybody coming off of Georgia Avenue, as the dispatcher promised, would arrive in my driveway from the left and this dude pulled in from the right but whatever, you're here, get my doors open thank you NOW.
Want to know how to break in to a car? He took a little rubber tool that looked like a doorstop and wedged it just the slightest bit into the opening of the doorframe and in that small slit, inserted a black square of fabric. To the square he attached a puffer head like the top of a turkey baster or blood pressure cuff, and the square inflated, opening the door about a quarter-inch wide. Into that narrow opening he inserted a long, sturdy wire that he used to push the "unlock" button on the console of the door.
With that click, I let out a breath I hadn't known I was holding. E jumped out of my arms to sit on the hood of the car, clapping and chanting Yay yay yay! Yay yay yay! My re-lovely M clapped the dude on the back and said thanks, and, best of all, the door opened and the dome light popped on inside of the car, revealing an unharmed L staring at all of us and our crazy commotion.
And so we went to school and work. L was fine and E was fine and both girls were all smiles when I said goodbye to them but all day I was accompanied by shadow feelings of grief and helplessness. I picked up the girls and they were all smiles even though there (as predicted) hadn't been any water play and we came home and they were all smiles and as I pulled into our garage where the day really began, a feeling of claustrophobia I've never felt in there before squeezed onto me. I panicked again for no reason, until as I turned off the car M appeared in the doorway to the house and both girls squealed at the sight of him and I remembered that we were, in fact, all okay.
So we went into the house and we fed the girls dinner and I cut L's nails and we put one girl to bed, then the other. And so it goes.