Back in the heady days of young fatherhood, I had only one son to take up all of my attention and free time. When D was two years old, my wife and I packed up our two bedroom apartment in Encino, California and drove cross country to New Jersey with a couple of suitcases, the dog, and the ubiquitous Pack ’n Play. My wife had accepted a job as the Assistant Rabbi/Educator at a medium-sized Conservative synagogue by the Shore and we were all very excited to start this new chapter of our lives. D was so excited, he learned to climb out of the Pack ’n Play our first night on the road, rendering it effectively useless and a waste of space in our tightly-packed Honda CRV.
When we arrived at our new home, we were thrilled to accept the donation of a twin mattress and boxspring from a congregant, and D was thrilled with the acquisition of a big-boy bed. What he wasn’t thrilled about was staying in it after we sang the Shema, kissed him good night and shut the door. This deep antipathy, combined with a lever-style door knob, meant that he would open his door and come find us whenever he wanted, which was usually less than five minutes after we had left the room.
After a week of trying to patiently bring him back to his room several times a night, I decided to get creative with solutions. Since the “child lock” I bought at the hardware store both didn’t work and took the paint off the door, I decided to simply take the door handle and switch the sides, leaving the lock on the outside. We agreed to use the lock only when necessary, and to unlock it when we knew he was asleep. Though he cried at first when he realized we had taken away the precious power to leave his room at will, within a month he got used to it, and we stopped using the lock altogether.
Fast forward about eight months, to the holiday of Shavuot. My wife had written a sermon of which she was particularly proud, and wanted us to be present when she gave it to her congregation. Given that her shul didn’t have any kids’ programming on the holiday, D and I elected to hang around the house until it was time to leave to hear the sermon.
I had gotten myself dressed in my nice shul clothes, and was attempting to do the same for my son while hanging out in his room. His precociousness turned that attempt into a playful wrestling match and at one point he got away from me, ran out of the room and closed the door. And locked it, from the outside.
Months earlier he had experimented with locking himself in the bathroom, but I had always been there with the screwdriver to unlatch it when he began to panic. Now I was on the other side of the door, locked in his bedroom. With no screwdriver. And when we both realized this, he turned into a crying puddle on the other side of the door, unable to follow my directions to just turn the lock from vertical to horizontal.
No phone in my pocket and no one that I could call anyway. At first I tried to MacGyver a lockpick from my kippah clip, but I am no MacGyver. I frantically searched the room for something that might help me, without luck. I contemplated — should I kick down the door? Could I even do that? It looked so easy on TV… but even if it did work, I’d have to replace the door frame.
And then I saw the windows. Three of them, all on the first floor. Two, above D’s big-boy bed, had planters attached to the outside that would only complicate matters. The other was just above a thorny rosebush. And it looked a good seven feet off the ground.
With my kid still crying on the other side of the door, I had to move fast. I opened the window, took the thick bedspread and tried to evenly drop it over the rosebush. The ground still looked far away as I leaned out the window, head and arms first. On second thought, no. I did not want to break my break my arm, or worse.
I found a tub of clothes in his closet that he had outgrown and managed to push the whole the thing out of the window, to maybe give me a shorter fall. And I pushed his dresser across the room until it was flush with the wall, level with the open window. I decided to go out feet first, while sitting on the dresser. But as my hands gripped the inside of the window sill and my feet did not yet touch the tub on the bedspread on the rosebush, I took a deep breath and let go. And I fell.
I landed on the tub, shattering the plastic but otherwise ok. I picked myself up, walked around to the front door and found the key I had hidden in case of emergencies. I opened the front and walked over to my son, crying and terrified on the floor outside of the door and gave him a big hug. I couldn’t be mad at him. I told him I loved him.
And then the two of us walked to the synagogue, too late to hear my wife’s sermon, but with one hell of a story to tell, most of it legitimately my fault. The following day I returned the door handle to its correct position.