The previous post about loosening my protective urges was drafted before I left for vacation. But while on vacation we had a scare, a few minutes at most, but a scare nonetheless. It made me rethink when and how far I’ll let the kids wander. It also reinforced that I can let Ells (at 5) have more independence than Ben (at almost 2). Obviously.
I have been letting the kids out of direct eye sight more and more. At home, I’ll let them wander onto the porch while I am still putting my shoes on. I did the same while in a hotel room this past week. I let them go out into the hall while I was grabbing the key and bag. Before I made it out the door, Ells started hollering about Ben. Apparently she had pushed the button for the elevator, it came to our floor, the doors opened, Ben got on and the doors closed. I hollered for SA (fortunately we were both around) and sprinted down seven flights of stairs. When I got to the lobby, Ben was surrounded by people. I grabbed him, someone asked if I was okay (breathless!), and I got on the elevator to return to our floor. He was fine, didn’t seem bothered or even aware of his adventure. But when SA and Ells returned to our floor (they had taken the elevator to the lobby), they were both white as a ghost and Ells ran to me crying, “It’s all my fault!”
I’m going to guess that a kid probably rides an elevator accidentally like that at least once a day, somewhere. And 99% of those rides are frightening to those involved but have a quick reunion. Later that night, SA told me that she was particularly freaking out because she remembered the book “The Deep End of the Ocean” about a boy who vanishes from a hotel while with his sister. (I just googled it and the boy’s name was also Ben: freaky.) Other things to panic about: most floors that the elevator opened onto led through a sliding glass door into the parking garage. The (unattended) lobby level also led to an outside patio with a water feature ripe for toddlers to fall into. On the other hand, the reassurances: it was spring break in Florida and we were at a family-friendly resort. The odds were pretty good that there would be an adult around when the door opened. But in that moment of panic, the anxieties and irrational fears override the logic and reassurances.
The worst part, though, was the effect on Ells. That night when I checked on her in bed, she wasn’t asleep and said to me, “When I lay here, I start remembering. I remember when I lost Ben, I was so sad. I love him so much. It was my fault! I shouldn’t have pushed the button!” I told her that it wasn’t her fault. That she is never “in charge” of her brother, and that I will no longer put her in situations where she feels that way. That, in fact, it was my fault for letting them go alone into the hallway. I agreed that we could all hold hands when we left the room from then on. And, per her request, only adults pushed elevator buttons for the rest of our vacation.