Mafe Maria: Personal stories by autism parent mentor, Maria Stultz

So close to tragedy

It’s been almost two weeks since I was given the names and numbers of five 12–year–old girls who live in the neighborhood and perhaps could babysit Joaquin. Despite a recent horrible day of depression and swearing that I will NOT have a second child, I haven’t called one of those girls yet. Joey asks me why… And what can I say… I’m a new mom. I don’t trust anybody with my baby. This house is not perfectly child–proofed; it’s impossible, and don’t even get me started on that subject. So I’m afraid about all the potential things that could go wrong while I’m not around that a 12–year–old might not anticipate like I do. And you know what? I am right. What just happened an hour ago is evidence that even I, Santa Maria, can’t foresee it all, and my baby could get badly hurt or — God forbid— die, even on my watch.

Joaquin loves closing doors. He’s very little and can’t open them yet, but that doesn’t stop him from closing every single door he can. He’s locked himself in several rooms a lot of times. As soon as two seconds go by, he starts freaking out, so I rescue him by opening the door from outside. He’s locked himself several times in the bathroom. No big deal… I just open the door immediately and get him out.

So today I’m in Joaquin’s room tidying up things after getting him dressed. I hear him wandering out of the room, like always, then getting in the bathroom and closing the door. I head straight there and before I can reach the door I hear the sound of death: Joaquin has just opened a drawer that blocks the door, making it completely impossible for me to open from outside. This is the stupid set up we have:

A tragedy waiting to happen

I realize the problem in a milisecond, and as I try to open, the door bumps against the drawer and Joaquin starts to freak out. I see his fingers trying to pull the door towards himself. He’s screaming. I tell him “cierra el cajón” (close the drawer), knowing that it’s very unlikely that he’ll respond to that. So as soon as I see his tiny fingers leaving the door, I close it shut again. I want Joaquin to close the drawer and keep telling him to do this, while in my head I start picturing horrible scenarios…

My brain plays the scenario of how I called 911 and they couldn’t get here fast enough before Joaquin forced open the toilet, reached in, and drowned himself while I couldn’t do anything from the other side of the door.

Then I play the scenario of how a bunch of studs get here and have no clue of how to open the door without hurting my baby. I picture them operating power tools to drill a hole on the door, and cutting my baby who is alone there, scared, and glued to the door. That wouldn’t work. Kicking the door open wouldn’t either. I have no clue how anyone could get in without hurting him. And by the time we figure it out, he’s drowned himself in the toilet.

We do have a toilet lock, but the thing sucks. It never stays put, so many times we don’t even put it. Coincidentally today the lock was there, and it seemed to be working fine. But I know Joaquin. He’s a strong little boy, and he recently discovered toilets and is so interested in opening them. I’m sure that he could force that toilet open without a problem. And several times he’s reached inside the bathtub, and at least one, he fell on it. My heart is beating so fast… I’m in the beginning of a horror movie. The one about the woman in her mid–thirties who is having a hard time adjusting to stay–at–home motherhood, and within the first 5 minutes of the movie loses her baby tragically, and then the rest of the film is about her sorry life afterwards.

I say “cierra el cajón” one more time, and miraculously I hear it! Joaquin pushes the drawer in, and within a second I open the door and get in. OH MY! What if… I thank him and his little angel for helping him do what he needed to do. We go downstairs for his lunch. He throws his cup to the floor the entire time, but unlike Sunday (the hell day), this time I’m just thankful that he’s safe. Doing annoying baby things as usual, yes… But safe, with mommy, who would probably kill herself if she ever lost this precious little boy.

I love you little baby

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  1. On , KSR wrote:

    Eeks! that is a scary story….on the other hand, how awesome that he could understand you and do what he needed to…..(I’d maybe look for a way that he can’t close doors, especially the ones like that where he can really get in a pickle…like put a foam wedge in the top, so an adult has to take it out to close the door….)

    It’s always awful when we get the little reminders of how precarious our tranquility is…..but also reassuring to know that for the most part our little munchkins are very resilient and resourceful….

    I can’t tell you how many times we had Andres or Adriana in ER……(Andres pulled the TV over onto himself one time! and Adriana tripped while carrying a can of juice on her 1st birthday and knocked her teeth out—–it was terrible because she was all scarred up w/ measles on her face and with her 2 front baby teeth bashed in and her face looking like i had burned her with cigarettes, I was convinced they’d take her away from me on the spot!)

    Ok, so maybe you’ll be a little nervous about a 12 year old babysitter, but maybe you can try her out by having her come when you’re actually home and letting her help you w/ Joaquin when you have things to do but then you can also kind of train her…….

  2. On , Maria wrote:

    That’s the accident I keep thinking about: Pulling the TV over himself. But baby–proofing our TV is one of those challenges so hard to accomplish we’re just living with an ottoman in front of it, hoping that Joaquin doesn’t try to do something stupid and that we’re always there, watching him around the TV. That was our same plan with two other objects he’s pulled down and broken, missing him by cms.

    Poor Adriana! Her baby teeth? What did they do? Did she just not have them until the next ones came out?

    Babysitters… That’s exactly what must be done… Which is the reason why I still won’t do it. Joey’s all “You need a babysitter”, and I’m all “I will have to be there the whole time, so what’s the point?”. I know it’s investment for future benefits, but when it comes to this, I am acting completely irrational only focused on the immediate future (the next 30 minutes, the next day, the next week). And so, I keep having 20 good days and then a really bad one — Those aren’t the exact percentages, but you get the idea…

    Now, having a playgroup has helped me immensely.

  3. On , ksr wrote:

    Adriana’s teeth? they were able to “save” one of them and she had it for awhile…then it died and fell out, so she was just front toothless until her big teeth came in….Seems like they made a spaceholder for the spot after all her baby teeth were in ,but i don’t think it was in for long because it wasn’t very practical…..She was a big time fingersucker..her index finger…so it was hog heaven for her to have a big inviting gap to fit her curled finger into! And thankfully all the chicken pox didn’t leave scars either!

  4. On , Petie wrote:

    What a scary story. I’m just now reading it. :( I’m sorry. I’ve had many of these scary moments, too. …and then mom tells me a story about a kid recently dying in our type of washer. There are hazards all around… it makes you wonder how any of us are still here!

  5. On , Marla Scott wrote:

    Hey! Man, I hate that feeling of panic. And being an intensely visual person, you “see” everything that could happen in an instant which is so much worse. Is he still closing doors? Sometimes just the scary consequences of being separated by Mommy where she can’t do anything is enough to quit what seemed like a fun game (if there is anything positive to come from it).

  6. On , Maria wrote:

    Yep. He’s still closing doors, though not the bathroom one since now I keep it closed at all times. But some times memory fails, and to prevent another nice episode, I ordered a little gadget that hopefully will keep Joaquin from closing the dangerous doors.

  7. On , Marla Scott wrote:

    those little nobby things are helpful on closed doors so they can’t be opened in the first place if you wanted to go that route too. They go over the door knob and have to be pressed in to turn. Smart toddlers can figure them out over time, but that’s anything. The other thing a friend of mine did with her two very, very active sons was to put hook and eye locks high on the outside of doors that she did not want the boys to get into, the front door for one. That’s a cheap and quick solution, but you can also get those slide locks that work on the inside of the doorframe, usually used to hold one of a set of double doors in place.

    Anyway, sorry. I’m rambling.