My head blew off my shoulders about a month ago, after one of the most traumatic experiences of my parenting career.
Though I alluded to PTSD a few times during the interim, it has taken me weeks to write about this incident without almost fainting from the stress of the-horribleness-that-might-have-been. Thinking about the danger Mali was in still makes my heart pound and hands shake. And the aftermath was a depression spiral unlike anything I've ever experienced, and from which I am only now emerging.
A few weeks ago I went to pick up Iz from school as per usual. Leelo and Mali were strapped into their five-point-harness carseats, Leelo having been returned to lockup only a few days beforehand due to his newfound tendency to unbuckle himself mid-ride and thwack me or his sisters. Leelo had also been too aggressive lately to risk parking and walking in to get Iz, so I waited with the other curbside pickup parents in our line of idling minivans, wagons, and trucks.
Iz did not notice me at the back of the line, so I turned off the car, stepped out, and shouted at Iz to let her know I was there. Then I turned back to my car.
The door had shut. Not only had it shut, but it had malfunctioned; the button was in the "open" position, but the door was locked.
Leelo, Mali, my keys, and my phone were all in that car.
I suppressed my panic. Leelo was in his five-point carseat, and the day wasn't as hot as it had been the previous week. Leelo and Mali would be fine in the car for a few minutes. I walked over to a friend's car and asked to use her phone to call for help. I then called the local Honda dealer, as they were two blocks away and it was their fucking car door that had malfunctioned.
The receptionist was chilly, telling me that opening locked car doors wasn't really their deal.
I lost it.
"MY THREE-YEAR-OLD IS LOCKED IN THAT CAR WITH HER AUTISTIC SEVEN-YEAR-OLD BROTHER AND IF HE GETS OUT OF HIS CAR SEAT HE WILL BEAT THE SHIT OUT OF HER AND I DID NOT LOCK THE DOOR AND THE BUTTON IS IN THE OPEN POSITION AND YOU WILL OPEN THIS DOOR BECAUSE YOU ARE ONLY TWO BLOCKS AWAY!"
The receptionist's empathy chip flipped on. She asked me for my car's VIN# and location, and the number of my phone, and assured me that someone would be there posthaste. I thanked her while mentally scanning the area for blunt items with which to break one of the car's windows, and targeted some nearby kids' skateboards.
I tried to shove images of Leelo extricating himself from his car seat from my head, but was unsuccessful. His car seat straps are now long enough and he is smart and dexterous enough that, should he care to, all he would have to do is shove the chest bar all the way down to the crotch buckle, and wiggle his way out the top. I started to get shaky.
By this time Iz and several of her friends had circled the car, talking with Mali through the window. I joined in, asking Mali if she could undo her chest buckle and open the door, as she is a clever little monkey and it seemed possible with the proper coaching. Instead, she undid her crotch buckle and, before I could stop her, slid down so that her body was hanging out the bottom of the seat and into the air, with the chest buckle pinning her throat, right under the chin.
This is the point at which I lost all pretenses of calm. I tried not to let Mali or the other girls sense my hysterics as we talked Mali through walking her feet up the back of the seat in front of her and avoiding asphyxiation, but by the time her bottom was back in her seat I was crying outright.
Leelo, meanwhile, was starting to get agitated. While he couldn't reach Mali's seat, he could certainly kick its back, and he proceeded to do so, continuously. Now both kids in the car were hysterical, too.
The dealership called back on my friend's phone, asking for some more details and letting me know that they'd be there in a few minutes. By now almost 20 minutes had passed and most of the other students, cars, and adults had left.
My friend and her phone needed to leave. Two other parents came by, and said they would stay around to ensure a happy ending for us. One of them told me she knew just how I felt, as she had locked her kids in her car before. "I DIDN'T LOCK MY CAR!" I yelled, still hysterical. "AND MY AUTISTIC SON IS TRYING TO GET OUT OF HIS CAR SEAT AND IF HE GETS OUT BEFORE THAT KEY GETS HERE, HE WILL START TO HURT HIS BABY SISTER AND I WILL HAVE TO BREAK A WINDOW." Then I took a breath. "But, thank you," I said. "I appreciate your help." Then I resumed crying.
The car was rocking and both kids inside screaming by the time the good mechanics from Honda arrived a few minutes later. The key worked, instantly. I leapt into the car and kissed both kids inside. They seemed fine. Iz was very relieved.
I hugged a mechanic before he could run away, but not before he told me that the dealership was going to eat the cost of the key because of the lock malfunction.
I drove us all home.
I took the mechanics a big box of chocolates the next day.
And I spent most of the next two weeks in a haze, taking to my bed or the couch whenever I could, and trying to avoid thinking about what COULD have happened. Unsuccessfully.