Friday my husband’s job hosted a family picnic at work. My husband is a civilian employee for the Air Force, so a family picnic is more than driving to the local park and throwing a Frisbee around. A family picnic is driving on base, stopping at the MP checkpoint to prove your identity (ie: citizenship, sanity, all together Americaness) with your driver’s license and most winning smile, following your husband to a base “park”, meeting co-workers who just happen to be brilliant engineers and scientists as well as Colonels and Generals, and there’s potato salad.
We have been married for seven years, and I have never seen my husband’s office because the protocol is just complex enough that we didn’t want to deal with it. So when hubs told me I’d be driving myself onto base, with the toddler, I was very nervous. So nervous in fact, that when the MP handed me my license after she cleared me, I dropped it under the car and this soldier had to get down on her hands and knees to retrieve my stupid ID. She probably got her gun dirty when she was crawling around under my car.
Thursday night as my husband and I were discussing the logistics of the picnic (yeah, we use that word in our house…), he mentioned that this was a picnic run by engineers (which he is) and military(which he is not), two personality types that value efficiency. I pictured factory level assembly lines of food, napkins folded in perfectly precise halves, and a grill master I’d have to salute.
Hubs is a master’s degree level engineer. He can do math and problem solving in his head that I can’t even understand after taking a nine week course. I am a master’s degree level English teacher. I can see symbols and meaning in the type of toilet paper you buy. Also, I was the theater director at my previous school, so I can see symbols and meaning in the type of toilet paper you buy, and I can dramatically demonstrate that meaning in multiple accents while bossing you around.
So, the picnic. After the MP drops my license, I vow to the toddler in the back seat that I’m not going to embarrass Daddy at the picnic. He is working with a new branch and I don’t know many of his coworkers; this picnic is a wonderful chance to make a good first impression. I wanted people to compliment my husband on his smart yet adorable toddler and his witty, but likeable wife. I was going to be efficient.
I pulled into the parking space next to my husband, turned the car off and threw the keys into the diaper bag that was perfectly packet with toys, sunscreen and the salad we were bringing. Then, I got out of the car and shut the door. Two seconds later, when I tried to open the back door I realized exactly what you just did: I had locked the keys AND MY TWO YEAR OLD in the car on a 78 degree day.
In panic, I looked at my husband. “Where’s the extra key? Where is your car key for my car?” (Please read this in a shriek, if you raise your volume, all the better)
“On the dresser at home.” (Please read this in a calm, flat voice with no volume or emphasis changes)
“I just locked Lincoln in the car. We need your key!” (again, shrieking, but this time stomp your foot)
“Are you sure?” My heart rate sky rocketed while he tried all the doors and Lincoln looked at us from his five point restraints.
“Ok, I’ll drive home and get the key. It’s only 20 minutes. It’ll be okay.” (flat, calm voice- no hint of panic on his face)
“No, it’s too long. He’ll get too hot…. it’s too long!” I screech this while I’m searching Cliff’s car for something to break a window. “You have to break the window. Please, please Cliff—it’s too long, he’ll get too hot.”
My heart was pounding against my chest and sweat made my shirt stick to my back. My baby, my sweet, gentle baby was trapped in the car. I’d seen the news reports; twenty minutes in a 78 degree car at noon- the car could get up to 120 degrees. He would have heat stroke. I peeked into the car; he seemed ok, confused but okay. I thought about the logistics of talking him through unbuckling his car seat, but even if he could somehow do it- there was no way we’d be able to talk him through unlocking the door. “Cliff, it’s too hot. Home’s too far. You have to break the window. You HAVE to.” My hands were shaking so was my voice; I was in full blown panic. “Please. Please!”
He didn’t answer me right away. I could see him calculating the effects of breaking the window: scaring Lincoln, glass all over the car, the cost of repairing an automatic window once we had him out. “Andrea, there has to be another way.” And then, praise Jesus, my genius, calm, dependable husband looked across the street – at the base fire department. “Go, ask for help.”
People who know me will tell you that I am no athlete. I have zero coordination , no lung capacity, and I generally lack a desire to move faster than a leisurely stroll. But when your kid has been locked in a hot car for five minutes and there is suddenly hope on the horizon, well let me tell you I sprinted across that road as fast as my Keds would carry me. And even as I was running across the street, I was thinking about how horrible this was. I knew the firemen were going to call CPS, I was going to have to answer questions, I’d have a social worker… but it didn’t matter. I had to get him out of the car.
Even though I, loudly, interrupted their lunch, the four fire men who came to free my son were so kind. They reassured me that this type of thing happens all the time, they were happy to help. They got into my car within two minutes; Lincoln only cried when my car alarm went off. I wanted to kiss all four of them, and I had to restrain myself from hugging each of them. Then, it was over.
We got Linc out of the car, grabbed the diaper bag and walked to the picnic. I apologized to Lincoln and my husband at least 15 times. My fight or flight reactions were so overtaxed, I was exhausted the rest of the day. But we had a good picnic, Lincoln was thrilled with the potato chips and corn and I was thrilled to have him out of the car. I don’t know that I impressed Cliff’s coworkers, but I’m sure I made every parent there grateful that they were not me, so that’s something. Once we got him out of the car, I didn’t care about impressing anyone. I just wanted to hold my son with one hand and my car keys with another.
Once again, I am thankful that God put me with a man who is my essential opposite. When I panic and narrow in on one (extreme) idea, he is able to rationally consider other (better) options. Even in the middle of being embarrassed, like many engineer personalities- hubs does not enjoy attention, he still found a timely solution that freed our son. And he did it all while I was stamping my feet and shrieking at him (Later, he told me I was cussing as well. I truthfully, do not remember this at all… that’s how upset I was).
I locked my son in the car. I overreacted and panicked. Thankfully, he was okay and we got good help. And I learned that I am not efficient, dramatic – yes, efficient, no.