I'm Sorry, Jane, But You Have Competition for Worst Mom in the World

I locked my two-month-old baby in a hot car. Top that!
Publish date:
June 14, 2012
parenting, kids, babies, cars, worst mom in the world

So I understand that Jane holds the title of Worst Mom In the World, and I am totally on my way to snatching that title from her honest, oversharing little hands.

Some examples: I let Oliver play with toy guns. He’s had a temporary tattoo disintegrating on his arm for like, three weeks; I just haven’t bothered to get out the baby oil to remove it properly. He looks pretty dirty most of the time, because he can stay clean after a shower for exactly 10 minutes, and after seven years of wiping dirt off his face, I’ve just stopped doing it. He came home from school yesterday with a paper bag full of junk food from his end-of-the-year party, and I let him eat the whole thing as a legit snack (whatever, he was going to his dad’s later, let’s load him up with sugar!)

But the actual worst thing I’ve done so far as a mother, the thing that I almost cannot bring myself to even think about, is the time I accidentally locked him in the car on a hot day, when he was just a couple of months old.

This is not a re-enactment of any sort, just me making a stupid face.

But before we get to that, I must start with the story of the second car I ever owned, a Saturn with exactly zero horsepower that I bought in 1996 and drove allll the way across the country when I moved to California.

We’d been through a lot, me and this car. Thank you, Saturn (RIP, those cars) for making vehicles that could be totally neglected for years and still run, because I almost never got the oil changed. At a certain point, I decided to stop putting money into the thing. I would just drive it until it left me stranded on the side of the freeway, I decided.

One morning in 2002, I went out to my car to discover that one of the rear passenger windows had been smashed. The crappy post-factory tape deck that I’d had installed years earlier was gone, having been jimmied loose with a fork or a crowbar or something, leaving a tangle of wires spilling from a hole in the dashboard. This was pretty hilarious considering said tape deck was worthless because it refused to eject the tape that had been stuck in it for about a year. Let’s just hope the perp was a fan of Blondie’s "Parallel Lines."

I cleaned up the glass and taped up the window. And that’s how I drove around for years. I was not only poor in that way many people in their early 20s are poor, but also I didn’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on fixing the window, especially when that was hundreds of dollars I could instead spend on food, clothes and beauty products. Ahem.

When Oliver was born three years later, I knew I finally had to get the darn window fixed. I could not drive a tiny baby around in a car held together by duct tape. So fix it I finally did.

One of my first big outings with the new window was to traverse the San Fernando Valley, a place where I worked and lived for years and that I lovingly call “the armpit of Los Angeles,” to visit some old co-workers and let them hold Oliver. It was a successful trip until we got on the freeway to go home. Of course, we got stuck in traffic, and of course, Oliver picked that moment to start crying and wailing and having one of those newborn freakouts that we parents are hard-wired to Respond To Immediately.

I made my way off the freeway and found a mostly-deserted parking lot, where I parked, got in the backseat with Oliver, and nursed him until he fell asleep. It was like a billion degrees that day. For those of you unfamiliar with the Valley, there are parts of it that are mostly concrete with exactly zero trees or shade, and I happened to be in one of those parts. I’m saying it was hot.

Now, when I moved to the backseat, I had taken my keys out of the ignition, because I’m paranoid about carjacking situations. I’d locked the doors and put my keys in the center console and sat securely in the backseat with Oliver. So when I stepped out of the car to get back in the front seat, of course I locked the backseat door behind me (habit!) and also I left my keys in the car. Along with my tiny baby. On a hot day.

To say I was upset is like saying that s.e. smith is only mildly concerned with social issues.

The feeling in the pit of my stomach -- no, my very soul -- was one of pure, heavy, can’t-scream-can’t-think terror. Holy shit, I’d just locked my baby in the car. He could die, it was so hot in there.

These are car keys. And that's LEGO Boba Fett, in case you are wondering.

I spotted an auto shop waaaay across the parking lot and ran to it faster than I have ever run in my life. About halfway there, one of the mechanics saw me running toward him, obviously panic-stricken, and he ran, full-speed, to meet me. I screamed something like, “Car! Locked! Baby!” and I was crying and totally fucking hysterical. I mean, hormones and adrenaline.

This total stranger ran with me to my car, saw my baby in there, looked at the window I had finally just had repaired and said:

“I might have to break this window.”

Of course I gave him permission. This is the way life works, right? You wait three years to get something fixed, only to have it broken again almost immediately.

But he didn’t break the window -- I had left another window cracked about two inches. The mechanic, in a feat of strength, wedged his hand in and pushed the window down into the door. I unlocked the doors and took Oliver out and hugged him close to me. I have never felt relief like this before or since.

The mechanic started crying and he hugged me. I thanked him and thanked him. I offered him money, even though I had none to give him. He told me that he had three little kids at home, and he would want someone to do the same for him or his wife if they were ever in the same situation (you know, the one where you stupidly lock your infant in a hot car). I didn’t get the man’s name, but I do remember where the auto shop is located. I wonder if he still works there.

Anyway, faith in humanity restored, baby saved, window intact.

After that experience, letting Oliver eat ice cream for lunch seems like a pretty minor thing, in the grand scheme of things. I’ve done worse, as demonstrated here. Do I get my award now?