There's nothing like the sinking realization that your keys are inside the car with a young child snapped into her car seat. Smile, and wave to the kiddo while you figure out your next move.
What You're Going to Do: Assuming your phone isn't in the car, call for help. Depending on where you are (a crowded mall parking lot, your own driveway), you have a few possibilities: Dial 911, and some locksmiths will dispatch free assistance when a child is trapped in a vehicle. But rescue may be even closer than a phone call, since some security officers have lockout tools. If you don't have a phone, enlist a friend or a passerby to get assistance for you. Don't leave the car!
If it's a warm day, cover the windshield and windows with blankets or newspaper to keep it from getting too hot inside. Obviously, leave gaps so you can see the kid and she can see you. Continue to smile, wave, and make faces. It is urgent that you get your child out of the car as soon as possible. If you're in a remote location without a means of getting help quickly, breaking a window is your only option. Pick the window that's farthest from your child, and get your hands on a heavy rock, a tire iron, or another hammerlike object. Be prepared to use a lot of force -- car windows are meant to be hard to break, but the corners are weaker so aim for one of them.
Lesson Learned: It's really easy to lose track of your keys when you're juggling small children. Forgive yourself and trust that the memory will keep you from ever doing it again. Don't forget to tell your tale to all your friends -- in vivid detail.
When your child isn't putting playing cards into the DVD player (these usually shake loose pretty easily) or shoving your driver's license into the fridge's ventilation grille, he may very well be coming up with ways to get a part of his body jammed into a seemingly impossible space. There's the classic "toddler-head-in-the stair-banister" maneuver -- but that's just the beginning. Little kids manage to get heads, arms, legs, hands, feet, fingers, and toes stuck in everything from drainpipes and folding stadium seats to the fence around the zoo's lion habitat.
What You're Going to Do: The good news for you is that most often you can carefully guide your child out of the jam. With the head-in-banister scenario (and other head entrapments), ears are often the primary problem -- try pressing them flat against your kid's head, while you help him slowly move his noggin out of the gap. An ice pack can work miracles on trapped fingers and toes -- the cold will create a little shrinkage, allowing you to make a nice, smooth extraction. If you can't gently glide your child free, get something greasy -- vegetable oil, shampoo, or liquid soap -- to lubricate any stuck parts. But it goes without saying that if your attempts fail or your child is hurt or in danger, call 911 immediately.
Cheerful Thought: It doesn't seem funny now, but as long as your child wasn't hurt, this will some day be a hilarious family story that he'll want to hear again and again.
Nothing can ruin bedtime faster than the realization that a beloved stuffed animal has gone missing. As a preventive measure, you must cultivate a stunt double. But just having two isn't enough -- you need to regularly swap them to keep similar levels of wear, tear, and even scent. Believe us, if you keep a pristine one hidden in the closet, Substitute Spot will be outed by your clever kid before you can say, "Look, I found him."
What You're Going to Do: During that dark moment when you first realize that a lovey is missing, it's important not to blurt a panicked "Did we leave Rex on the roof of the car?" (even if you're pretty sure there's a stuffed tyrannosaurus in that ditch back there). Your child needs to know that the universe is still in order. And remember that the doppelganger isn't much good when your child's stuffed friend gets lost while you're traveling. If that happens, run to the nearest store and grab the cutest nonidentical stand-in you can find. Then offer the following explanation: "Rex couldn't come with us because he needed to watch the house and catch up on his reading, but he sent this bunny to keep you company. What books do you think Rex is reading?" With any luck, your child will be enthralled with the idea that her BFF is home and happy and will want to make the new critter feel welcome.
Lemonade Out of Lemons: Talk about what Rex is doing at home. As soon as you get home, bring out Rex's double.
By the time you have a toddler, your gross-out toleration level for bodily fluids is in the stratosphere. That is until the first time you experience Real Throw-Up. The most important thing to know is that sick kids hardly ever vomit just once, so preparation is everything.
What You're Going to Do: When your child is clearly sick and you think barfing is imminent, it's best to put him in quick-removal clothing. Pick something with a front closure --
preferably a zipper or snaps. Don't choose a pull-over-the-head outfit. Double- or triple-layer the bed with sheets, and use plastic (even a garbage bag will do) between each one. You'll be thrilled when you can pull off a soiled layer to reveal a clean, dry one underneath. Stash extra supplies (clothes, diapers, and so on) close at hand.
Through all of this, remember that the bathtub is your friend. Setting him in the dry tub minimizes the damage to your rugs and furniture. You can turn on a warm shower for a quick rinse and leave all the soiled garments in the bottom of the tub until your child needs less attention.
Throwing up can terrify young kids, so it's important to act calm and reassuring. This will steady you and comfort your child. Singing a favorite song helps everyone feel a little better.
The Silver Lining: You've completed a parenting rite of passage. By the time you have your second child it will seem routine.
Many people aspire to have original artwork in their home. But no one wants a child's masterpiece permanently painted with markers on the wall -- we don't care how talented the child is.
What You're Going to Do: Choosing the right cleaning tool depends on the artistic medium and the surface. Keep this anti-graffiti tool kit handy, or even commit these tips to memory. (If you swap out the theme song to a bad '90s TV show, you'll have room in your brain.)Crayon on Walls: Baby wipes, bread, or Mr. Clean Magic Eraser Pencil on Walls: Art-gum eraser, baking soda, non-gel toothpaste Pen (Ballpoint or Gel) on Walls: Dishwashing liquid, rubbing alcohol, all-purpose cleaner such as Simple Green Permanent Marker on Hard Surfaces or Fabrics: Amodex Ink & Stain Remover Ballpoint or Felt-Tip Pen on Clothing: Milk (allow it to soak in) Ink on Carpet: Solvent spray cleaners like CarpetAid+ (available only from carpet installers)
Upside: Don't you want to be the go-to mom in your 'hood for helpful household hints?
Obviously, this is one of the biggest danger zones for children. Little kids are too short to be visible to drivers, and parking lots -- even seemingly deserted ones -- have unpredictable traffic patterns. Add the fact that you're likely to be pushing a huge shopping cart, may have more than one cranky child in tow, and you've got the perfect storm for a scary accident.
What You're Going to Do: Childproof the experience by doing some advance planning. Have your toddler wait next to you by the car door while you locate keys, unload the baby, or set down groceries. Make it a rule that she must always hold your arm, sleeve, pants pocket, or bag, or touch a special part of the car (a door handle is a good choice), until you're ready to put her in the car seat. If she's going through a stage where she may run off, so what if someone looks down on you for using a child-safety harness for a few minutes.
Excuse to Shop: There are really cute leashes on the market -- some even disguised as backpacks.
When your kid's gotta go, he's gotta go -- even if it's the weird, icky bathroom at the gas station.
What You're Going to Do: First deal with the self-flushing toilet. A young child's squirminess can trigger the sensors, causing a loud, rocket-powered flush mid-business. The resulting roar can terrify your kid and throw a wrench into the training process. Carrying a small pad of sticky notes in your bag and placing one over the sensor is a simple fix. When it's time to flush, simply remove the sticky.
Don't set your bag on the floor if you can avoid it (germs!). A spring-loaded carabiner clip attached to the diaper bag can you help you secure it if the door hook is missing. Then there's the parent-has-to-take-an-opposite-gender-toddler-to-the-restroom situation. This can be especially awkward for a dad bringing his little girl into the men's room. Just take a deep breath and say loud enough for everyone to hear: "Daddy's taking you to the potty!" as a warning to the dudes already inside.
Positive Spin: You're on the road to having a totally potty-trained kid! Woot!
Originally published in the November 2008 issue of Parents magazine.