My firstborn was two years old and had just been diagnosed with his umpteenth ear infection.We’d gone straight from the pediatrician to the drug store where I’d gotten his prescription filled. Keys in hand, I was now attempting to buckle him into his car seat, but he kept pushing the buttons on the car’s remote. My efforts were futile, and my hands were full, so I dropped my keys into the front seat. He shot me a look. Lady, just because it’s easy to take candy from a baby doesn’t mean you should do it, his expression read. I slid the final latch into place, kissed his paler-than-usual round cheeks and closed the door. I was ready to go home. But when I lifted up on my door handle, nothing happened. I tried again. I walked around the car, trying all the doors, waving idiotically to my son at each window as a means of trying to fight back the panic rising in my throat. Every door was shut tight. I’d locked my son in the car – with my keys, my phone, and his medication. The worst part was that I wasn’t near the store’s entrance. I had parked off to the side because my little man had a tendency to run, not walk, through parking lots and I wanted to be where there was less traffic. My eyes scanned the parking lot. Not a soul. Does no one need to buy toilet paper or tissues mid-afternoon? In desperation, I tried the trunk. Nothing. I walked around the car again, a fake smile plastered on my face. My son waved tentatively. You could see the question: Were we playing some kind of new game? After what felt like a vast number of anxiety-filled minutes, a woman pulled up beside me. She and her middle school-aged daughter got out of the car. I tried to wait until her feet hit the pavement before I assaulted her. “Ma’am, can I ask you a favor?” I began, hoping I didn’t sound deranged as the story poured out of me. She pulled her cell phone out of her purse. “No problem, ” she said. She even offered to wait with me in the parking lot. A tow truck came (and to my great embarrassment, but my son’s delight, a massive fire truck, as well). My son was safe. My keys were recovered. And this kind stranger lady hadn’t made me feel like a mommy failure. Instead, when she told me how she’d locked her daughter in the car years before, I felt like I belonged to some bizarre motherhood initiation club.
In each situation, I was offered the truest words of comfort: It wasn’t just me.Finally, I threw my hands up in defeat and delivered him to school unshod. I handed his preschool teacher his socks and shoes and told my story. She was decidedly nonchalant. According to her, many parents often are in my shoes, their children not in their’s. In each situation, I was offered the truest words of comfort: It wasn’t just me. The next time you see a parent attempting to wrangle a crying child into a shopping cart or when you see someone locked in hopeless negotiation in the toy aisle, instead of ignoring it (while mentally thanking your lucky stars it isn’t you), say the four magic words that can change that parent’s day: