We Are the Locksmiths.

I locked my car keys in my trunk two Sunday nights ago while we were visiting my parents. It was my son’s bedtime and he was going to fall asleep in the car and we were going to get home before our own bedtimes. Instead, we waited two hours for the locksmith and everybody remained calm except for me. To properly express my regret and apologize for my idiocy, my subconscious thought it best to spend those two hours marching from the driveway to the porch to the living room wildly and purposelessly, bursting into tears, refusing water or snacks, and shouting things like, “I mean, I THINK they’re in the trunk! I DON’T KNOW!” and “PEOPLE DO THIS, RIGHT?” and then repeatedly miming the trunk slam that happened seconds before I realized what I’d done.

For your information, these exercises do nothing to better a bummer-but-not-dire situation. Because the thing is that my keys were there, right there, in the trunk and all we needed was someone to get them out. And, after an hour and a half, that someone called from his car and said he was 20-30 minutes away, according to the GPS! When I read about the refugees in Syria, their stories captured maybe most humanely and breathtakingly by Humans of New York, I see that there are no hidden keys and there is no locksmith, there is only horror and bravery and the sort of tenacity many of us will never have to locate inside ourselves.

The day after my own very minor non-crisis, I had the thought that locking your keys inside the thing that you need the keys for is a metaphor for the keys to your own LIFE being inside yourself. And, I thought excitedly, you sometimes have to troubleshoot them out, the way our locksmith did by changing course halfway through his silent effort and instead of trying to unlock the door through the window with his bendy rod claw, he used the bendy rod claw to pop the trunk instead! You just have to find your locksmith was a sentence I wrote in the notes section of my phone. It’s so cheesy, so hokey, and for that I’m sorry, but it’s also true and lately, with my child slowly steeping in the big bad socialized world and my own self tentatively returning to the great self-involved grown-up world from whence I came, I am finding it to be helpful.

Like, for example, today, when I dropped Sly off at school, two girls, both a year older than him who were eating their breakfast in the kitchen, turned to him and called him the name of another younger boy at school and then a different boy and then giggled to each other. They knew his name. They were just being clever and silly but of course I was overtaken by post-traumatic stress from the entirety of my public school experience and I had to escort myself off the premises before I started sob-yelling at those girls to BE FUCKING NICE, GODDAMNIT. It washed over me then, like a case of shingles, the reason why I was afraid of being pregnant with a girl.


What if I gave birth to a mean one? Or worse, what if I gave birth to one like me? One who had a hard time sticking up for herself, more and more as the years went on, one whose name other kids might’ve easily pretended not to know? I’m not saying this mired in self-hate or self-pity. I love where I’ve ended up, I’ve had a charmed journey, and I really like myself. But dear god, being an adolescent and teenage girl was a kind of endlessly confusing hell. And I experienced it buoyed by every advantage. What must it have been like for girls without the open-armed family at home and the nice house and the white skin?


My husband just last night read parts of an article to me about emotional resilience in children and I get it that we cannot and should not fight our child’s battles and that this tiny little moment is not even any great battle and that the world is often not nice and the sooner our kids know it, the sooner that first early trauma is over, and the sooner other traumas can be better weathered by these newly inured little people. I have heard all that responsible parenting talk and I know that my son and I both have to find in ourselves the good sense to figure shit out on our own. So I am here writing this down and not yelling at two-year olds to call my son by his proper name and thereby REALLY traumatizing him forever.


I was on the subway while Sly was at school earlier this week and I was wearing a dress with a flouncy skirt and checkered Vans and I did not feel like a mother. My body felt as light as it ever had. It isn’t that having a kid turns you into some kind of ogre or troll, it’s that kids are so often on you, holding your hand, in your arms, attached to your body like loving/flailing burrs. Or they’re magnetizing you from halfway down the street or from the top of the slide and no matter how laissez-faire you swear you are, you feel their falls, their almost-falls, their propulsion away from you, if they are in your sights. But he was not in my sights. Someone else was bearing the sweet weight of him.


And so I was on the N train during the day, dressed for an audition, listening to First Aid Kit, feeling young and vaguely cool. And then I saw two young actors reading sides from a script, one in a suit and the other in tall lace up boots and a lot of denim. I felt so endeared to them, so embarrassed for them, cringing and proud at the same time, like half-self, half-mother, feeling for them in all the ways somebody could, that I shrunk into myself like a paper bag and tried not to stare. Instead, I started writing this.


I can only imagine that the bristling vulnerability unlocked in me by two PRE-pre-school girls will just keep showing itself, rising up like reflux, and just as unwelcome and uncomfortable. I also imagine that it will get easier for me, as it will for Sly, but that he will be toughened and I, softened, as I relive all the uncomfortable memories of thirty years ago from above instead of on the ground. When I watched “My So-Called Life” a few years as a soon-to-be-mother, all I wanted was to say to Angela’s mom, Patti, “I am so sorry I was so mad at you. You poor, caring, loving, overwhelmed human. Your daughter is being ridiculous and you are doing the best you can.” I should say this to my own mother. If you’re reading this, Mom (and Dad), which I know you are, I am sorry I didn’t understand until now. It is hard to be a person and it is hard to be a mother. But mothers have to be both.


We’d driven only a few blocks down the dark road from my parents’ house in New Jersey back to Brooklyn when my brother-in-law realized he’d left his apartment keys at the house. When we pulled back in to the driveway, my mom was there, running up to the car window, telling us to drive safely, and we were on our way again.


There are locksmiths everywhere, I am sure of this. Sometimes, we are our own locksmiths, or sometimes they are people we love or they are strangers in t-shirts carrying bendy claw rods who appear in the night like gruff saviors or they are little kids with good senses of humor who will indirectly show my little kid that he also needs a sense of humor. Stay close by, locksmiths. I need you. Even when my keys are in my hand, I need you.