Our five-year-old locked himself in the bathroom at the neighborhood coffee shop a few months ago, and now we’re dealing with the fallout.
At the start of the school year, I fell into the habit of a latte and a chat with a few other moms before the 3:30 pm chaos, so we hit this place up regularly. It’s not every single school day, but we’re there enough that the baristas all know me by name and drink order – and my husband has pointed out more than once that an espresso machine would be a lot cheaper.
Ahem. It’s not about the coffee. After a day of wrangling kids and staring at a laptop, I really (really, really) look forward to thirty minutes of socializing with people my own age.
Anyway, B is pretty comfortable cruising around the outdoor patio and helping himself to water from the dispenser inside. But one day, I watched him head inside for water, then turned my attention back to my two-year-old as she stacked a little pile of stones and the general group chatter.
A few minutes later – five? Seven? Definitely, way too long – my son banged through the door, sobbing, followed by the owner of the place. He had detoured to the bathroom on the way to the water and managed to lock himself in this windowless room. The owner eventually heard him banging on the door and screaming, and immediately rushed to the rescue.
It felt like a huge parenting fail, but he seemed to bounce back pretty fast, brushing away the tears and going to investigate this admittedly impressive pile of stones his little sister was assembling.
No harm, no foul, right? I mean, I thought so, until the day he had an accident at preschool. This from the child who potty trained himself at age two, the one who never, ever has accidents.
I dropped everything and raced to the school that day. He was sitting in his sodden pants on a towel in the office because he had refused their offer of loaner pants. I gathered him up and took him to the bathroom to sort him out.
“Oh, buddy, what happened?”
“I was scared to go in the bathroom because the door locks,” he whispered.
So we came up with a workaround plan and briefed his teachers on the locked-in situation of a few months past. Again, I figured we had a handle on things.
Now, I spend mornings on preschool days fielding increasingly worried questions about whether his class “will be going anywhere today.” It took me a while to pinpoint the issue, but yep, it’s the door.
The thing is, it’s really stressing him out. I hear it in his apprehensive little voice and I see it written all over his face. And when I was telling him that putting things off only makes them harder, and trying to explain that whole getting back on the horse concept, I shut up for a second and really looked at him.
He was listening, but my lame pep talk was going in one ear and right out the other, because, come on, all a five-year-old knows is that he’s scared and anxious, and no amount of rationalization is going to help. That’s the thing – fear isn’t rational. He’s just drowning in emotion, and five-year-olds are still learning how to effectively and appropriately navigate big feelings.
So I told him he can skip school on days they go out, and just like that, everything was fine. Am I rescuing him? Yeah.
But this is the kind of thing he’ll grow out of, and I can’t see the benefit of forcing him to do something that’s giving him so much anxiety. Not when he’s still so little, and I’m in the fortunate position of the kind of work flexibility that makes an indulgence like this possible.
He’s five. And in the not-so-distant future, I really won’t have this kind of luxury anymore. But today, I do. So today, he can stay home.
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