I locked my 2-year-old in her room
From the outside…with no key.
Let’s just start off with this: It was an accident.
It was 3 in the morning. We were going on night No. 4 of — dun-dun-dunnn — sleep training our daughter to sleep in her own bedroom. Four nights of often-interrupted, very little sleep. Four nights closer to insanity.
A wailing cry woke me. “Woke me” might be an exaggeration because, really, I was semi-comatose. The world was a thick fog and the 10 steps from my room to hers made me feel like I was Artax trudging through the Swamp of Sadness.
I was sinking in sleep deprivation and frustration.
There she was. That adorable little girl. Fed. Bathed. Safe. Pooped. Empty Bladdered. All her needs met. Crying. Screaming nonetheless. Behold, the beautiful bedroom we had decorated with her favorite things. Behold, the soft comfy bed with sheets of her choice and the small mountain of beloved “stuffies.” The poor, miserable child!
In a haze, I came to her side and mustered what small amount of sympathetic care I could. I patted her back, mumbling my most consoling mumbles, swaying on my feet as I tried to stay awake while her cries lessened.
“Okay, Mommy needs to sleep now,” I slurred, moving toward the door.
I touched the handle and hesitated a moment. The vision of her climbing out of bed and appearing in my room for the fifth time that night hit me like a brick wall. One more wake-up and I was quite sure I would melt like the Wicked Witch in a swimming pool. Without thinking, I turned the lock and quietly shut the door behind me.
The moment I heard it go click, I realized what I had done. I had locked my 2-year-old in her bedroom, from the outside.
I instantly burst into inconsolable tears. I woke my husband who, alarmed and confused, tried his best to understand my cry-talk as I attempted to explain the ridiculous situation.
“Why did you lock the door?” he asked.
“Because I’m a terrible person!” I screamed as I crumpled dramatically onto the floor, resigned to drown in a puddle of my own tears.
We had just moved in and had no idea if there was a key to the bedrooms in the house. We searched fruitlessly — somehow managing to check above the 7-foot door frames. It was all a blur , literally , as I looked at the world through a waterfall of tears.
My daughter woke up, and though at first calm, she read the desperation in my voice as I tried to coach her through unlocking the door from her side. Her 2-year-old brain struggled to understand, and her little fingers couldn’t execute the complicated maneuverings I suggested.
“Mommy, I can’t,” she said. “Open the door.”
I burst into a sob. The sob told her I couldn’t open the door. So she burst into her own. We both sat, a thin, hollow door between us, crying loudly. Separated by 2 inches, we felt hopelessly alone in the world. I’m the worst mom ever, I told myself again and again, knowing full well I was irrational but taking joy in groveling.
After all, I was trying to teach my daughter to sleep in her own room, and now I had locked her in it. I was convinced this would forever traumatize her — fusing a pathway in her brain that equated sleep in her bedroom with her mother abandoning her. What kind of expensive psychotherapy would she need as an adult to right this wrong? She would grow up determined to be “nothing like her mother,” opening up the whole world, removing doors wherever she went like some strange new Johnny Appleseed.
An hour later, at 4 a.m., after my dad drove to our house with his tools, after many failed attempts at picking the lock, after much speculation on how to open the door (including knocking it down, taking it off the hinges, and slamming a hammer on the handle), after my daughter had long ago fallen soundlessly asleep in her bed, after my husband forced the door handle down and — pop — it opened. The door opened, and the nightmare was over.
She was contentedly sleeping like an angel in her perfectly decorated room, her “stuffies” around her, drool puddling on her new pillow cover. She had even managed to go to the bathroom on the toilet during the whole debacle, all by herself.
We congratulated each other. I can’t remember what we said. But it was probably something like, “Good job, you survived tonight.”
We all returned to our beds, and as I lay my head on my pillow, I said, “One day this will be a funny story — just not today.”
Well, maybe today is that day. Look, it’s not my favorite parenting story for obvious reasons. I pretty much failed at the “parenting” part of the story. It was really a quite remarkable fiasco. But it was real. It was me. Human, tired me. It was me not thinking. Mistake me. Flawed me. Pushed-to-the-limit me. Can’t-be-strong-anymore me. Crying-on-the-carpet me. Call-my-dad, I-don’t-know-what-to-do-anymore me.
In the morning, I told her I was sorry, and she smiled in a confused sort of way, as if she had no idea what I was talking about. I realized it had been worse for me than it had been for her. And that night she slept in her own bedroom.
This post originally appeared on That Odd Mom.