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Grandparent Nightmare on a Beautiful Winter's Day

This morning started out like any other good Sunday. We had coffee by the fire. We had some good discussion. We made it to church on time and sat with a friend and our daughter and her husband. It was a good sermon that contemplated how a Christian stands firm in their faith in a broken world…good stuff. Then afterwards, my daughter suggested that I take her van and her kids so she could ride with her husband in his car to watch his basketball game. SURE! I’d love to have the grandsons at my house for a few hours before the Super Bowl. How perfect! Keys were swapped, kids were strapped, and away we went.

Grandma navigated at the helm, gliding through a beautiful, 10-degree wintry scene…passing the lake, seeing the mountains, waving to their mom and dad when we passed them on the highway. We went separate ways eventually, and they entrusted the safety of their precious children to me.

The four-year-old and I talked back and forth from back seat to front, and front seat to back. I glanced at the 2-year-old to see how he was doing after a little separation anxiety from “Mom” when we first left. All seemed well. I turned up the radio to a good tune. We moseyed up the hill to the final stretch toward home and I decided to hop out quickly to grab the mail from yesterday since I hadn’t had a chance to get it on Saturday. The package I had waited for was there, and I was happy to see it…excited to try on my new purchase when I had a chance.

Then I went to get back in the van. The door had locked automatically when I got out. I didn’t know a vehicle would do this when a car was running. I instinctively put my hand in my down coat pocket (thank God I hadn’t taken my coat off!) only to find that my phone was locked inside the car...with the only key to the car in my possession and Katie’s possession...with the boys strapped “safely” into their car 10-degree weather. I looked around and no one was in sight. I remembered that our policeman neighbor had headed off this morning on a snow machine adventure (what kind of a man leaves his TV on Super Bowl Sunday??!!), so I turned around in circles in the street trying to decide where to go for help. Every house is on an acre and the two houses closest to the community mailbox are not the people I know and trust. They occasionally have set their house on fire or had drug busts or DV calls.

Lest you think Nathan would soon be on his way home in our car, you would be mistaken. He had taken my car to have a good cleaning, and with these temps it was going to need to be dried off after he washed it by-hand in the indoor car wash by the church. And, of course, I had to go to the bathroom. And my hands were already starting to freeze. But my biggest, loudest concern in my head was that our precious grandsons were locked in a running vehicle and I had no way to call for help. I tried asking the 4-year-old to break free from his car seat harness. He wouldn’t budge. I quickly glanced at Silas, the 2-year-old, and he smiled sweetly back at me. I realized I had to leave them to go to a safe neighbor to ask for help. I went to the next closest neighbor that I trusted and rang the bell and knocked. I could tell someone came near the door, but she wouldn’t open it or talk to me. I assume it was one of the daughters who must be home alone without her parents. She wouldn’t open up…good girl. BUT, she didn’t call 9-1-1 like I asked her to. I must have scared her. I knew the next neighbor was away, and so I ran back down the driveway, peeked back in the car, and spoke to Paul again. He started to look concerned. He knew this wasn’t normal. I had to leave again to now go 3 house plots away to try to get help. THANK GOD the new neighbors from Wyoming were home! They both came out and tried to calm me down, but I was a grandma bear (I have been a mama bear, but this grandma bear feeling is even more awful…instead of mad and protective, you feel fearful and protective…and as if you’re going to be in trouble with one of your kids like they must have feared being in trouble when they were young and did something wrong). The nice man handed me his phone, and honest to God, I didn’t know how to use it. I knew I had seen one like this about 10 years ago, but I didn’t know how to make a call on it. I handed it back to him and asked him to dial. Thankfully I knew my daughter's phone #. It rang. No one answered…we had all just left church and the #1 cell phone rule in church is to TURN IT OFF. No one ever remembers to turn it back on right when they leave. I tried calling my husband, but knew he really wasn’t going to be able to do much since he didn’t have a key. But, again with the church cell phone rule. No luck. Should I call 9-1-1? My neighbor said the police really didn’t unlock cars because they don’t take away business from lock smiths (?). I think that’s what he said. I was appalled, but still very rattled, so I asked him to text my daughter for me since I didn’t know how to use a flip phone to text anymore. I probably could have figured it out if I had been calm, but I wasn’t calm. Why did Pastor Larry have to talk about being CALM in his sermon?! I added guilt to my feelings of inadequacy.

Katie soon called the neighbor’s phone back, and I was able to talk to her. She said she would drive back to be with the boys while I tried to continue to solve the problem. She was 5 miles away and got to us as soon as she could. She tried to get Paul to bust out of his harness and open the door, but he refused. He began to look sadder and a bit afraid. I played pop-up peekaboo every once in a while for the two-year-old, and that worked for quite a while, while the neighbor tried to pry open the window with wedges and to unlock the door with a hanger made into a hook. He had driven his car over and gave me his keys to hold in case I needed to get in to keep warm (he was running back and forth to his house for tools, and his car would turn off if he got too far away from it). I would not get in the car because I wanted the boys to always be able to see me, so his keys went into my pocket.

Katie had called her sister-in-law 7 miles away, but she was too sick to come. She had her younger brother go over to Katie and Seth’s house to find the spare key and drive it over to us. My pride was stinging worse than a hornet. EVERYONE was now going to know what a grandma fail I had had today.

Nathan finally sauntered up the hill in my shiny, clean car, and I knew from past experience that he was going as slow as possible to not stir up the stuff from the road that he feels coats the cars in the winter and makes them sticky-dirty. In fact, today’s car wash was actually a re-wash to hopefully get all the crud off the car, and he would not be driving over 15 miles an hour. I motioned wildly for him to step it up. He finally realized it was his stressed-out wife who was waving for him to hurry up from 100 yards away, so he picked up the pace a little.

When he finally pulled up to our three-car scenario, he entered into the crazy with us. Katie was talking to her boys through the windows. The neighbor was trying to break into the running van, I was, well…I was looking frantic and not doing much else. He hopped out of my car, I hopped into it, and drove straight home into the warm garage because the doors were freezing shut, and ran inside to quickly go to the bathroom and change my boots. Then I realized I had the neighbor’s keys in my pocket. Oh my goodness, I thought “he is going to think I’m the biggest idiot ever born”. His car would have turned off because I had driven too far away from the scene in my car. I high-tailed it back down the driveway and ran all the way to the mailbox. They were still working…no luck. At last the Cavalry came up over the hill and delivered the spare keys. Katie unlocked the van, and I hopped into the driver’s seat. The two-year-old began to cry because his mom seemingly was leaving (to get into their other car and drive it home). I implored Katie to get in the van with me and give her sons the reassurance that they were not going to be left again with an incompetent, stressed out grandma. She wisely left her vehicle and rode home with me. I indicated to Nathan that he should go back to Katie’s Subaru and bring it home. He looked puzzled but turned around and walked back without an argument.

Once in the driveway we unloaded the kids and all their gear, and for them, all was soon forgotten in their sweet little trusting minds. I, on the other hand, took hours to have my breathing return to normal and my heart rate go back to a resting pace. It wasn’t until I shared what happened with my sister that I realized how deeply unsettled I was inside. How quickly my good day could turn to bad. Staying calm for the children was only a calm on the outside…internally I was a complete wreck. I think I was actually beginning to hyperventilate when I went to the second neighbor’s house. I had to mentally tell myself to take deep breaths.

If you’ve made it this far in reading about my encounter, please know the reasons I share this long tale with you…1) So hopefully you learn from my misfortune and don’t do what I did…keep your phone in your pocket and switch it to “on” when you come out of church, and 2) make sure you don’t lock your children/grandchildren into a vehicle in extreme weather conditions. I guess 3) would be to keep a spare set of keys on you at all times when you go out with someone else (if Katie and Seth had each had a set, she could have saved the day a lot faster).

Phew! I needed to cast this experience from my mind onto the page. I pray my grandsons have no memory of this incident...ever. I believe it was only about 45 minutes, but I was a mess. I will never forget it. This mini trauma sure put “who do you want to win in the Super Bowl?” in perspective”. And I think I’m going to go back to having a house phone # in my home. Since I locked my phone in my car, I had no way to come home and call for help. That was a terrible feeling. I was completely helpless right within sight of my own home. I could not get help safely and I endangered the well-being of my grandchildren. We are all fine, but I hate to think about the chaos and stress that ensued by not being cautious and prepared. If Katie hadn't been able to answer her phone and respond, we would have had to break into the car. I'm thankful it didn't come to that.

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