I have an early childhood memory of being locked in a public bathroom while my panicked parents stood on the other side of the door with members of some fast food chain restaurant staff, most likely management, attempting to give me directions on how to unlock the door. I was probably 3 years old. I remember them telling me what to do and understanding what it meant but not being able to make my little hands twist and turn the way that they needed to in order to unlock the door. I had not thought about this experience in MANY years. I had no reason to draw on this little kernel of knowledge…until tonight that is.
This holiday season our family has jumped onto the Advent Calendar bandwagon! Well, sort of. The boys and I came up with the idea of an Advent Jar. Here in Ethiopia there is no Michaels or Hobby Lobby for me to buy craft supplies, we had to come up with an idea that would work with the few supplies that I brought with me. Brenden suggested putting 24 activities into a jar and rather than numbering the activities, as you would in a traditional advent calendar, we could just draw randomly for each day. Sounded like a GREAT and easy idea to me so we found an old preggo spaghetti sauce jar, wrapping paper, white paint and some sequins and set to work decorating.
We choose the activity each night before we go to bed and then we actually do the activity the next day. This allows me to do any prep work during the day while the kids are at school if necessary. For tonight’s activity we chose “bake cookies”. The boys were so excited that after we baked the cookies a quick game of hide and seek spontaneously erupted with boys running to and fro, chasing and catching and hiding all over the house. It was loud and noisy but I didn’t mind, the screams were happy screams….at first. Then the screams turned in to Brenden freaking out and shouting way too loudly for me. I’m just in the other room SERIOUSLY! What is wrong?!!?!?!? “Jake locked himself in the play room”! RIGHT….because the 2 year old can close that big heavy door and then turn the key to lock the door.
On a side note, every stinking door and cupboard in the two Ethiopian houses that I have lived in has a lock, with a key in it! The doors have locks with keys for every room in the house. This means that people can be locked in and out of rooms all over my house.
I walked over to the playroom and sure enough Jake has successfully locked himself inside the room, oh and the light was off in the playroom as well. This is where the vague memory from my childhood comes into play. When I was locked in the fast food restaurant bathroom I don’t think that I got myself out, maybe I did I’m not sure…maybe my parents can weigh in on this but I do remember that it felt like I was in there a LONG time. I kept trying to remember how I got out of there and I kept coming up with nothing. Did they find a key? Did someone pick the lock? Did I eventually figure it out?
I have now become my parents. I am on the other side of the door giving directions to a two and a half year old, Oh Joy! I begin with
“Jake, it’s Mommy, can you turn the key?”
“I’m hiding from James, I not come out”.
Of course what better way to win at hide and seek than to lock the seekers out of the hiding place?!
“Jake, James isn’t going to find you, open the door.”
Hysterical laughter now erupts from James and Brenden.
“ James – A- get me.“
This is where I tell the older boys to shut up, yes I said shut up! This was stressful ok! My baby is locked in a dark room at 7:30pm with his favorite blankets; if I can’t get him to open this door and he falls asleep I’m not sure what I’ll do! So no judgments!
After the older boys calm down I decide on a new tactic.
“Jake, can you pull the key out and slide it under the door?”
“I not come out!”
“Jake the game is over, YOU WON!”
“Oh Okay, I come out now”.
Jiggle, Jiggle, bang, knock,
“Mommy, get me out, I stuck”.
That is what I’m trying to tell you buddy! Now I have to be cautious we are heading toward a toddler melt down if I’m not careful.
“Jake, hunny, its ok, just pull the key out and put it on my fingers”.
I heard some pulling and jingling and then
“Oh No! I breaked it”.
“No, No you didn’t just give me the key”.
I feel the key being put softly on my finger tips that are shoved under the door. Excited that this whole mess is now coming to an end I slide the key in the lock. Of course it can’t be that easy. The key won’t go in all the way! There are about 5 keys to that door all on the same key chain that is attached to the key in the door. The key that Jake gave wasn’t the key that was in the lock. The key in the lock is keeping me from unlocking the door!
“Jake, I need you to pull the key that is in the lock out and give it to me”.
Jacob now proceeds to rip each of the 4 keys off of the chain until only the key in the lock is left. I’m pleading at this point for him to pull the darn thing out He is getting scared now and starting to cry a little. I send Brenden to tell the night guard. The guard calls the duty tech. I continue to talk to Jake through the door. Just when I was about to give up hope I hear the key slide out of the lock!!!
“Mommy, I get the key for you”.
“Great job buddy, now hand it to me”.
He did and I unlocked the door and let the little monkey out of that dark room. He sure was happy and the older boys were too. They were getting really nervous! We let the guard know that the emergency had been averted and all was well. As Brenden made some celebratory hot cocoa, I scooped Jake up to snuggle on the couch. I couldn’t help but wonder if he will someday have a vague memory of being locked in a dark room while his mother and brothers attempt to talk him through unlocking a door. Until next time friends and family.
Survival Tips: Helping your kids out of sticky situations
- Ensure all keys have been removed from doors, before any games begin.
- Speak in a clear and calm voice when directing toddlers on the finer points of locks and keys.
- Be patient!
- Keep annoying older siblings far enough away that their laughter does not distract the young child from his task.