When I was two and a half I learned that you only get credit for something you have the courage to do.
My mother contests my memory of this event.
I remember single frames of it almost more clearly than any other memory I’ve ever had. It was summer, and I was in the back seat, on the left hand side, in my car seat. The car was the Golden Nova, a two-door nugget of vinyl-seated glory from the mid-late seventies. We were at a gas station, but it wasn’t the Gulf station we always went to. We may have been in New Jersey.
It was hot. We may have been returning from a lake or pool. My mother, who does not like to pump her own gas (maybe because of this story), got out of the car to pump gas.
My mother, lest we forget, was only about two and a half years older than the mean age of my four favorite drinking buddies (i.e. she was pregnant at the age of my four favorite drinking buddies). What any of the four of them would do if they locked their two-year-old in the Golden Nova on one of the hottest days of the year I can’t say.
(That’s a lie. Two of them would McGuyver it open, one of them would have a panic attack and then do something highly logical, and the other one would helplessly flirt with someone who she suspected could open it for her.)
(I’ll leave the four of you to figure out who you are and which thing I think you would do.)
In any case, when mom got out of the car to pump gas she pressed down the lock on her car door before slamming it shut. Was it a reflex? Had she forgotten that tiny Peter was in the back, strapped securely into his car-seat, already beginning to die a slow death of asphyxiation?
It didn’t take her very long to realize our predicament. What had she done? I am missing the still memory picture to go with this part of the story, so have to extrapolate from the bits on either side. After yanking the door handle to no avail did she cup her hands to the glass, peering in and tapping frantically as if bothering an animal at the zoo?
I may have waved back at her as she peered into my vehicular cage. The whole situation was amusing to me – my mother now frantically seeking out a station attendant. Didn’t she know I could unbuckle own car seat and unlock the car door? Surely I had unbuckled my carseat in front of her before?
No, no, she didn’t know, because now she was back with a man who was wielding a curiously bent coat hanger. What was he doing with the coat hanger?
Never mind the coat hanger, mom. I tried to signal to her as she stood behind the attendant. Look at me! I was about to perform my toddler houdini routine, unbuckling the car seat strap and crawling up to the front seat to pull up the lock. How amazing a feat! Oh, the congratulations I would reap! She just had to watch… Watch, mom, watch.
I got her attention, I think, and I made a big show of reaching out to the lock, as if I was just working out in my toddler head that *I* could open the door for her. Yes, let her see the baby head wheels turning. Such a smart toddler. I would just have to… *gasp* unbuckle the car seat on my own! Could I? Dare I?
My chubby little fingers crept to the red release button on the car seat buckle, brow knitted in concentration. Would I be able to figure it out? Through the window my mother frantically motioned that I should release the buckle, though I studiously ignored her.
Then, there was a pop. The man’s wire hanger triggered the lock on the door, and the chipped metal knob had popped up into the unlocked position. Open went the door, the sticky outside air hardly a relief from the sticky inside air. My in-progress escape act quickly forgotten, my mother was all coo and apology for leaving me to suffocate alone in the Golden Nova on such a hot day.
To this day she insists I was too young to remember the story. I’m sure I’m making some of it up, though she confirms that it occurred. What I know to be true is that I *knew* I could unbuckle the car-seat and unlock the door, *knew* I could easily solve the problem myself.
But, I didn’t. I was too interested in making sure someone was looking on, as if only that affirmation would enable me to do anything. Having someone watch the process, though, wasn’t as important as achieving the result.
You have to be brave enough to try whether or not anyone will see you fail, because they will surely notice if you succeed.