My advice for my daughter is not limited to just reflecting on my own life—whether I write about the trials and errors of parenting or the experiences I had as a child and young adult. As my daughter knows, I have endless amounts of advice for her—sometimes maybe too much—from “why you really shouldn’t leave wet towels on the carpet” (they stink and the odor takes forever to get out) to “you should brush your hair before bed so you don’t wake up with dreads” (she never does this and the knots are unbelievable!). Since much of this type of advice is simple in its purpose, I’ve decided to make a list. That being said, there may be occasion when this type of advice does warrant a story to help illustrate my point, and I will therefore tell it. Check back each week to find a new piece of practical advice, and if you have any of your own, make sure to share it with me.
Here is the first:
Practical Piece of Advice #1
If you are leaving the house—even for a minute—never go outside without your house keys in hand.
How often do you walk outside and lock the door without thinking? How often have you suddenly stopped—feeling panicked—frantically feeling for your keys, praying that they are somewhere at the bottom of your purse? Most of the time, the reflex to grab your house keys is the same reflex you use when you lock the door—all are done without thinking.
I believe that this reflex is one that is developed over time, often through having the very negative experience of being locked out. It could be that you’ve been locked out of your car (I’ve done it once), locked out of your home (twice), locked out of a friend’s home while wearing nothing but pajamas (once). Yep, these experiences are burned into my memory, not because something terrible happened to me, but because the frustration—and regret—over doing something careless made me feel both stupid and helpless.
I was thinking about which one of these situations was the worst—there is one that I still think of every time I leave the house—and it was the time I was locked out of the house . . . with my two year-old son inside.
We—my husband, children, and I—had been enjoying a nice evening together at a restaurant located on the Hudson River, about 20 miles north of Manhattan. Dinner was over, and our son had started fussing, so I decided to head home, leaving my husband and daughter behind to feed the ducks. We arrived home, I brought my son inside and sat him on the couch, then after I put down my purse, phone, and keys, I realized that I had forgotten the leftover food in the car. In the thirty seconds that it took me to run back out to the car, my son decided to use his own resourcefulness to close the door and turn the deadbolt. When I heard the noise of the door slamming, I turned around and ran back to the house only to find that I couldn’t get in—my two-year-old son had locked me out!
I could see him standing in the living room looking at me, so I started yelling at home to unlock the door. He has always been a very sensitive child, so when he heard me yelling, he climbed onto the couch and began to cry. The more I yelled, the louder his cries grew. It occurred to me that he was not going to open the door, so I started looking around for someone to help. I saw a neighbor playing basketball with his son, so I ran over and asked—or possibly demanded—to use his cell phone to call the police. Yes, I was so panicked at the thought of my son being left alone inside the house, that my first thought was to call the police, and not my husband who was only twenty minutes away.
While I was making these calls, the funniest thing happened. Since I was no longer yelling at my son like a panicked madwoman, he had calmed himself down, walked over to the door, and turned the deadbolt once again. When I went back to check on him, the door was open. I ran into the house, scooped him up, and hugged him like there was a chance he was somehow going to disappear from my arms. I then grabbed my keys and my cell phone and walked outside to wait for the police to arrive, which they did about two minutes later. I apologized for making them come out for no reason, and they had me make a brief statement as to what had occurred. They laughed as I recounted the details, and then they drove off.
My children are now older, and I have no fears about walking outside for a minute without my keys while they are inside. That being said, I never want to experience this feeling of helplessness again, so before I leave the house—even for a minute—I intentionally take hold of my keys. My daughter has one year left until she heads off to middle school, when she will more than likely need her own set of keys, so I don’t think its too soon to share this piece of advice with her. Get into the habit now of holding those keys in your hands, find a secure place to put them so they can easily be found—maybe in your backpack or purse—it doesn’t matter as long as it’s the same place each time you leave the house. The reality is, she will more than likely need to learn this lesson the hard way—but as a parent—I can always hope, right?