Hold the Door!

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

That’s probably what Dana screamed in her head:

Thank you for all these stories of readers losing their little kids in public. Here’s mine: I was on the 22nd floor of a downtown office building with my baby in a stroller, holding the hand of my three-year-old son as we waited for the elevator. When the doors opened, the older boy slipped free and darted in. As I struggled to get the wheels of the stroller over the threshold of the elevator, the doors closed.

I am not sure why or how the elevator automatically went to the ground floor. Perhaps that was the default for the car, in case no one pressed a button. Or perhaps the kid knew to push G! We never figured that out.

The minutes I spent waiting for a second elevator and traveling down were some of the longest of my life. This was before cell phones. My three-year-old was waiting for us, in the lobby, crying, holding the hand of a uniformed janitor.

So yeah. A split second.

Dana’s story reminds me of this scene from Louie, when CK loses his daughter on a subway platform after she suddenly lunges through the closing doors:

This next reader, Anne, also has a story of a little kid getting through a door and exposing himself to danger:

I know this story isn’t about losing a child in public, but it really does take seconds for them to get into a situation. Toddlers can be amazingly curious, agile, and very quick.

I worked in child care for many years and lived for a while with friends, Russ and Cass, who had three kids. We traded partial rent for baby-sitting duties. Their two-year-old son, Rickie, was the challenge, as he was big for his age and quite the handful.

One day, while the kids were watching cartoons, Rickie suddenly decided to climb a bookcase.

I had my back turned, since I was washing our lunch dishes, but I heard a little something. I don’t know if it was a creak from the shelf or something else, but it caught my attention just in time. I turned to see Rickie almost six feet up this seven-foot-tall shelf! I ran and pulled him off in an instant. I was terrified! A minute earlier he’d been sitting quietly on the floor enjoying the cartoons.

The shelf was made of that pressboard material I find to be very heavy but somewhat flimsy. It was also a little warped, not bolted to the wall or anything, and full of big books. When I asked Rickie, he couldn’t even say what made him want to climb that thing! Of course he was oblivious to the danger he’d been in and seemed surprised at how distraught I was. We bolted down the shelf after I talked to his parents that evening.

I have another story where Rickie ends up in the middle of the road while everyone else is in bed. That one might have folks tut-tutting his dad, though. Let me know if you want to hear it.

Sure, I replied. Anne:

Russ and I worked a late shift together and Cass worked a regular day shift. She would leave in the morning and Russ would watch the kids until I got up and took over. When Cass handed off the kids, Russ would take them to the kids’ room, push one of the beds against the door, and let them play while he slept in the bed for another hour or so.

One morning, Rickie and his older sister Carrie figured out they could move the bed if they pushed it together. So these kids, who were just two and four, moved an entire bed with a 200-pound guy on it without waking him up and then got out of the room.

They had some cereal out of the box before Carrie went back to the room and Rickie decided to go play outside. This little toddler figured out the front door locks to get outside! I tell you, kids are clever and almost always on the move.

I was awoken by someone pounding frantically on the front door. It was the landlady who lived next door. She had found Rickie in the middle of the street in nothing but his diaper. Mind you, we lived on a road that fed into a freeway on-ramp and was always busy. Understandably the landlady was freaked out.

This happened over 20 years ago, but the names have been changed to protect Russ from internet outrage!