It happened so quickly. I shut the back door and went to open my door, only to realize that it was locked — with both the keys and my daughter inside.
She was only 20 months old at the time. We were packing up the rental car for a quick weekend getaway out of the city. We didn’t have a car of our own and hardly ever drove, so keeping track of the keys and if the car was locked was foreign to me.
As soon as I realized the car was locked, I panicked. My husband was upstairs getting the rest of the stuff from our apartment and I had no idea what to do. Rather than thinking through it, I picked up my phone and dialed 911. Tears ran down my face and my voice cracked as I told the 911 operator what happened. She assured me that help was on the way.
As we waited for the police to arrive, my husband MacKay and I attempted to get our daughter Harlan to unlock the door. Because we were waiting for my husband to come down from the apartment when I closed the door, she wasn’t secured in her car seat just yet. Initially, this seemed a blessing because I really thought we were going to be able to coach her into unlocking the car door.
But as we talked her through the process, a crowd started to form. New York City is always busy and there are always people walking around. But rather than trying to help us, they just stood and watched as if we were some circus show. They also gave their best unsolicited advice on how to avoid something like this in the future (as if I wasn’t already beating myself up enough about it, leave it to strangers to kick you while you are down).
Just as our daughter was about to get the hang of unlocking the door on her own, she spotted an open bag of M&Ms in her diaper bag. Immediately, her focus turned from unlocking the car door to eating every single M&M in that bag. While I was panicking, she was in a happy place eating chocolate knowing there wasn’t a thing my husband or I could do about it.
When the police finally arrived, they continued to try to get Harlan’s attention and get her to unlock the door with the key fob. We watched as she pressed every button except the unlock button. Just as we were about to break the window, another officer spotted a tow-truck driver across the street. Luckily, he grabbed some of his tools and was able to get the door unlocked from the window.
As excited as I was that the door was unlocked and Harlan was safe, all I kept thinking was: They’re going to call CPS on me for locking my child in the car. I was a first-time mom and this was the first traumatic event that had happened to me. Thankfully, the officers were nice and completely understood it was an accident.
It’s been years, and that day is still so vivid in my mind. I still have lingering guilt about it and constantly think of how I could have prevented the situation (the faces of the onlookers giving their two cents still haunt me).
Back when the news of Carrie Underwood locking her baby in the car broke, the day it happened to me quickly came to the forefront of my mind. While her baby was safe and all went well, it didn’t stop people from leaving comments telling her how much of a horrible parent she was. Those 30 people that stood on the sidewalk and watched me and told me what I did wrong? That was nothing compared to the hateful comments that were shared in response to Underwood’s story.
But rather than focusing on the problem that has already been solved, why don’t we support one another and acknowledge that mistakes happen? While I still can’t fully forgive myself for locking my daughter in the car, I’ve realized that it can (and does) happen to anyone. We shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves. We shouldn’t be so hard on one another. It doesn’t matter who you are, parenthood is all the same. We learn together and we will make mistakes. All of us. And that’s okay.