I Locked My Kid and My Keys In the Car

Salamander seems to have decided he doesn’t need us to rock him to sleep any more! I thought I’d have that pleasure until he was at least eighteen months, but he’s shown me.  Only fourteen months old and ready for going to sleep on his own.  Sniff.  Tear.  And ok, here’s a story about the little tyke and me that happened nearly a month and a week ago.  Or is it a week and a month ago? I forget…

At least I didn't strap him to the roof rack!

I was having some regular, low grade cabin fever and decided a walk in one of my favorite parks would be nice.  It would be even nicer, I assumed, if i stopped at my favorite cafe/yoga studio for something warm and lovely first.

Salamander had been getting lots of practice at keeping his footing on the uneven ground of the outdoors.  I thought I’d give him the opportunity for more experience; namely crossing a large field.  We were doing well.  He had successfully traveled a long field of rain-squishy grass and arrived at the meandering walking path near the waterfront.  There were large puddles everywhere, but I wasn’t too worried about them. Also, I have a lot of faith in my kid’s balance.  This may be an error at times, but it doesn’t matter.

Speaking of large puddles, he was standing in a shallow one that was at least five feet by three feet when an elderly man and his beautiful blonde husky approached.  Salamander’s attention was held rapt by the dog.  From about six feet away the man called, “He’s friendly!”  I wasn’t sure if I heard him right and said, “Oh?”  So the man said more clearly, “He’s friendly!  He loves kids.”

“Ooohh” I said, tardily realizing he was referring to the dog, “he likes dogs.”  That being settled I didn’t follow my impulse to pick Salamander up.  I suppose I just let it ride, as the saying goes.  The man and dog approached.  The dog sniffed and tried to lick, the man discouraged, the dog wagged, Salamander fiddled with his clothing (which I thought was very wise of him since he did not, in fact know this dog), the man and I looked on smiling.  Ah, we perhaps collectively breathed, dogs and kids.  Ain’t life nice?  

By this point I’m thinking my luck is about to run out on boy standing, and not sitting, in the large puddle.  Just as I think it, of course, it happens and Salamander plats butt-first into a very (I again, tardily, realized) goose poop-y puddle.  Disgusted but not deterred, I gathered him up and carried him while also trying to avoid the murky-water soaked parts of him.  I crossed the wide field back to our car and the front of the favorite cafe/yoga studio.

I set my paper cup of chai on the roof of my car, opened the door and tossed the keys into the front passenger seat.  I laid Salamander across the back seat then reached forward to dig around in the diaper bag for dry clothes and a fresh diaper.  I removed his jacket, shoes and wet pants, socks and diaper.  I cleaned him all up and were ready to go once more.  This time though, I was going to be calling the strides, making the waves, or you know, doing the walking while he did the riding-in-the-stroller.

I gently pushed the door of the back seat so that it was nearly closed, but not latched, to keep Salamander from accidentally tumbling out, while I moved to quickly get the stroller from the trunk.  When I arrived at the trunk it was locked.  I was like, d’oh! and spun round to go back and get the keys from the front passenger seat.  The back passenger door, the one I had intentionally not latched was now, of course you guessed it, latched.  It was in that infernal position of not-all-the-way-closed but not-able-to-be-opened-if-the-lock-is-engaged-either.  I surveyed the situation and panic struck me.

My kid, my keys, my phone, my wallet are all locked in my car.


So then I thought, well…Crap.  I looked up the street. I looked down the street.  I jogged to the corner (two cars down) and poked my head in the door of favorite cafe/yoga studio.  I did something to interrupt the conversation between barista and customer and said, “Can I use your phone? My kid, keys and phone are all locked in my car!”

Her eyes got wide and she was like, “Uh. Yeah!” and handed me the phone.  I semi-constructed a sentence about taking the phone outside so I could keep an eye on the situation while dialing for help.

From the street I dialed 4-1-1 which got me that irritating sound that means you have dialed a bad number.  I dialed 3-1-1 which, in Chicago, is the non-emergency version of 9-1-1.  Bad number.  So then I deemed it an emergency, gulped and dialed 9-1-1.

I’ve not had to do it many times, but dialing 9-1-1 makes me nervous.  I guess that is kind of the point.

Someone answered right away and I began talking.  Then I was interrupted by the dispatcher saying, “Hello? Hello?” and I realized (how many friggen realizations does one simple walk at the park require?) they couldn’t hear me because I was on a cordless phone and the antenna signal didn’t reach.  I ran back in to the cafe.  I conveyed the situation and the barista gave me her iphone.  I ran back outside to dial.

Meanwhile, Salamander is totally chillin’.  He’s completely unaware of the shenanigans his mother is up to.  He smiles at me from inside the car as I stand outside it talking to emergency services.  The dispatcher tells me that the police do not “do” keys locked in cars.  I’m like, what about babies and keys locked in cars?  She does manage to convey her helplessness and understanding, but no, not unless the baby is in a life threatening situation, they don’t do it.  Then she tells me, and this was weird, that even if they did send police or fire department to help, they’d have to break a window to get in.  Doesn’t that seem:

A.) like they’re overdoing it a bit?

B.) like they would then be endangering the baby in the car?

So I said, “Jeezus.  Do you have the number for AAA?”  The dispatcher did have the number and asked if I had anything to write it down.  I said no, but I’d remember it.  She didn’t seem to believe me because she asked me if I could write it in the dirt on my car or something.

Here’s one of those delicious moments of irony and serendipity (within a whole dang morning of them).

(I didn’t used to care about this stuff but I only recently got this car and I’m all excited and babying it still.)  I laughed out loud and said, “Oh my god! I went through the car wash on my way here!!!”  Ridiculous.  Hilarious.  I looked and noticed that the car wash didn’t do a very good job on the dirt I specifically went to remove.  I also noticed that the passenger-side rear-view mirror had enough water spots and residual dirt on it, so I wrote the number for AAA there.  About five minutes had passed.

The owner of the cafe, who is also a yoga instructor and lovely, comes out, having heard of my predicament.  She says she’d call 9-1-1, in my spot.  I tell her of that dead end and my next move.

Back to my little darling in the car.  I’m thankful at this point for a few things.

1.) I’m outside a very nice place in a lovely part of town.

2.) Salamander is in dry clothes and diaper and is not upset with me for gesturing outside of the car while he is in it.

3.) I didn’t lock my chai in the car.

4.) It’s not sweltering hot, freezing cold or raining.  It’s a lovely, sunny, sixty degree day.  Perfect weather for locking your baby in the car.

So, Salamander.  He has, at this point, pulled himself toward the front seat.  He’s laying on his belly on top of the console between the two front seats.  He has decided to amuse himself by rummaging through the diaper bag which is open on the passenger seat.

I call AAA.  I tell the woman of my non-life threatening, but still emergent, situation.  She gives me some details about signing up which I barely listen to because all of this is so, as I said earlier ridiculous, and hilarious.  I’m ready to sign up.  I don’t care too much about the parameters.

She then says, “OK, I’ll just need a Visa, MasterCard or American Express…”

I interrupt her, “my wallet is in the car with him.”

I’m kind of laughing. Kind of ready for this, shall we say zaniness?  To end.  I look in at Salamander (I had been staring off while conversing in front of the passenger-side windows).  He is now holding my debit card.  He has found my wallet in the diaper bag, is emptying if of its contents.  He is holding my debit card aloft.  I’m dumbfounded.  I stammer this to the AAA agent and quickly begin reading the numbers before he can toss it aside for some other prize.  I’ve made the AAA agent laugh, signed up and a tow truck will be on its way within 40 minutes (“hopefully sooner,” the agent says).  We hang up.  I sigh.  The barista comes out, gets the scoop and I hand her her phone back.

I sigh again, shrug, smile at my boy and take a swig of my now-cold tea.  Then the people start coming around.  I look innocuous enough, but still, somewhat strange standing on the sidewalk staring into the passenger side of a car.  It has been nearly fifteen minutes, I guess, since I first realized he was locked in there.

A woman is walking by and notices my boy fiddling around while laying on the console between the front seats. “He locked in there,” I pause for effect, “with my keys.”  She has the appropriate and soon-to-be-common reaction: a chuckle, a gasp, empathy for me and relief that the boy isn’t miserable.  We look at Salamander together and I notice something.  He has just about finished emptying my wallet and the car keys are about six inches to his right.  “Salamander!” I holler, “get the keys!”

A police car pulls up to the corner.  He comes over to where the woman and I stand.  I tell him what’s up. He asks if I called 9-1-1 and I tell him about that.  He wonders aloud at having not been notified.  A man joins the two.  And so on.  The man tells me he did that once.  The owner of the cafe comes out, she’s the one that called for the cop (for different non-emergent reasons) and tells me that her son also locked his keys and young child in the car once upon a time.  We’re having a party now and watching my boy.  My boy is watching us.  I wonder what he thought about it all…

It’s been almost twenty minutes.  All the folks have gone on and left my son and I to our waiting game.  Salamander finds the keys.  He does what he always does when he has my keys.  He finds the fob and begins pushing the buttons.  He pushes the bigger of the two buttons.  The “arm” button.  Salamander is causing the horn of my car to honk three short times over and over and over.  “Push the little button!” I holler instructively to him.


The first woman who had approached returns from the cafe and stops to see what’s up.  She says, “Maybe we can show him mine [the key fob] and show him the button size difference!”  This kind, sweet woman had a very high hope for my fourteen month old’s grasp on language.  “Sure!” I say with enthusiasm and a smile.  She gets her keys out and shows him.  “Little button! See? Little button. Big button. Little button!”


The horn honking understandably draws more inquisitive passers-by.  Meanwhile, I’m stuck waiting, with a smile plastered on my face.  So far, it’s harmless and I’m in public.  I maintain my composure.

A woman with beautiful silver hair walks by, peeks and says, “You’re kidding me” before moving on.  Then I felt stupid.  A few minutes later a different woman comes along and blows all of the previous nonsense out of the water.


“Salamander! The small button!!”

Coming across the field, then street, is the final woman who will get to glance into a day in my life.  She is walking a smallish black dog who has the unmistakable energy and wiggle of a puppy.  She purposefully rounds the front of our car and stops next to me.  I give her the now abbreviated low-down.  “He’s locked in there with my keys.  We’re waiting for a tow truck to come with a slim-jim.”

Here’s what she says to me.

“Oh! I have an ex who works at [Local Subaru]!  Maybe he knows of a way we can get in without the keys!”

I’m thinking that she is out of this world, nutso and bonkers when she begins to dial her ex.  She can’t get him on the phone (he’s not at work today) so she says to me, “Oh! My brother in law works at [Mechanic Shop]! Maybe he’ll know something!”  Now, I’m feeling sorry for her family members.

She gets her brother in law on the phone.  She says, “Oh? Nothing, huh?” and then talks about something more personal before hanging up.  She turns to me and tells me that, “he said there’s nothing.”

Wow. I mean…

Salamander is still in there, by the way.  I’m staring at him.  He’s staring at me.  I’m thinking we’re both wishing this would all end now.  Salamander starts to get that face.  His lips turn down into a dramatic sad clown frown and now, oh he’s starting to cry.  Game over.

Suddenly the woman again, she breaks me from my child focused reverie.  I’m watching her.  She picking up her little excited dog.  She is pointing.

“Look baby!  Look! It’s a puppy! Doggie!”  She explains to me, “Maybe this will cheer him up!  Look! Doggie!”  Salamander looks at this woman and her dog and starts crying much harder.  I try to comfort him from the other side of the glass.  The woman seems to be literally encased in her own ineffable bubble.  She points, my ire is raising…

She says, “Look [Puppy]! It’s a bay-bee! Look!”

And she taps the glass.  I’m near furious right now and thinking, “This isn’t a zoo lady!  That’s my kid!”

I grit my teeth.  The woman’s friend has arrived at her side and also has a little dog.  She does it again.

While Salamander’s cries grow increasingly loud and miserable, and while his face turns redder and big, salty tears run down to join the snot and drool seeping from all crevices of his face this oblivious human picks up the other dog and taps the mother-loving window again.  She points.

“Look [New Puppy]! It’s a bay-bee!”

I feel miserable, angry and helpless.  I want to do something violent to this woman.  I turn to humor again  and find myself wishing that she had a really harsh English accents; like it would make her idiocy more utterly unreal.

Her friend was more restrained and stood by looking shy or embarrassed.  The window tapper lost interest just as I was about to thrown down, or at least cough loudly, and went on.  Salamander bawled.  My heart broke for him.  I estimated it had been almost thirty minutes, all told.

My son was face down.  I was wondering if he were stuck on the console and being pained by something.  I stroked the glass as if it were his cheek and talked to him softly.  I crouched down next to the car gathered my strength and patience.  Waited.  He began to sound like he was losing energy.  I thought he was going to pass out from crying and into a nap.  My forehead rested on the car door and I was quiet inside.  Then…


I stood as soon as I realized, as soon as I heard and I opened the door.  My heart soared.  I’m thought, he rescued himself! I scooped him into my arms and wiped all the moisture-goo from his face onto my shirt.  I felt delirious, he’s a hero!  I rocked him and rocked myself back and forth and was so, so happy it’s was over.  I felt jittery inside and awed by the utter strangeness of my morning, sometimes my life and just so, so happy the debacle had ended sooner not later.  The tow truck pulled up five minutes later, as Salamander’s last sniffles subsided into my chest.  I called out to him, “he unlocked the door! He rescued himself!”  The tow-trucker driver cheered and I wondered if I could get a refund for AAA.

I put Salamander on a hip and gather all the contents of my wallet back into my diaper bag.  Holding my keys in my free hand I heaved us all from the car.  I opened the trunk, get out the stroller, tucked my exhausted baby into it and entered the cafe.  The owner and barista cheered the happy ending and I purchased two day-old vegan banana espresso muffins with chocolate chips.  I headed back toward that path I’d been meaning to walk and called my mom at work.

“Mom” I say, “I have a story for you: a story of trauma, comedy and heroism. have you got a few minutes?”


4 thoughts on “I Locked My Kid and My Keys In the Car

  1. I love this story. It might be worth googling/youtubing “how to break into (your model car here) and watching the video. My older brother also locked his kid in the car with his keys (the car was running) and had thankfully looked up and watched the above mentioned video for his model car. He was able to unscrew the antenna and, no joke, use that to unlock his car. Maybe the woman calling her family and molesting your car wasn’t so crazy after all….

  2. Great story Shana! You handled this well – and it’s pretty cool that Salamander ended up rescuing himself. You won’t soon forget this!

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