Kids, do not try this at home

Most cats I have lived with were happy to give up the active life by age 3; were content to eat the same food every day; and had no problems using the bathroom without having five books, two stuffed friends, and constant adult companionship.

I knew kids would be more of a challenge, but in hindsight, I wish they were born with whiskers.

Cats use their whiskers as measuring sticks to ensure they don't get stuck in tight spaces. If the whiskers touch the sides, the cat retreats. For a cat, it's simple. For a kid - nothing's simple.

Like the young man who spent an hour roasting in the summer sun, his head jammed between the rails of a black metal church fence, his backside pointed out toward the busy street. The rails were finally pried apart to free him.

Or my cousin, who wedged his head between hand-carved wooden rails at the Alberta Legislature building. Fortunately, because the caretaker insisted he would not cut the bars, his head slipped out.

Or my son and the potty seat.

We had just moved to a new house in a new neighborhood. I was unpacking boxes in the basement when I heard those dreaded words: "Mom, I'm stuck." Standing before me was my 3-year-old with a (thank goodness new) kid-size white plastic toilet seat around his neck like a collar.

There are times when the hardest part about being a parent is not laughing. But one look into his terrified blue eyes wiped the smile off my face.

It seemed simple that what goes on, must come off. Right?

But the wizard who invented this seat designed it with beveled sides, so it would lock securely onto a full-size seat. And my son had pulled it on upside down, so the beveled edge now rested securely under his ears. His big, red swollen ears; swollen from his own numerous attempts to pry off the seat.

Cutting it was not a ready option, as all our tools were still packed in one of the 100 poorly marked boxes in the garage. And although my son wasn't in any pain or physical danger, I could see that, if left on, the seat would make dressing him a bit of a challenge.

My options were few. The nurse at the hospital suggested a hacksaw. Ours was (thankfully) still packed. This was a good thing. My son wouldn't want a woman who had once sawed into her big toe while cutting a shelf, at his neck with such a weapon.

The man at the ambulance company took a few minutes to stifle his laughter, then gave me the non-emergency number for the fire department. They assured me they weren't busy and would be happy to pop over and have a look. They were only a few blocks away.

As I set down the phone, I heard the sirens. As they got closer, the lights of the approaching trucks lit up the early evening, and the two large fire trucks screeched to a halt in front of my house. My son and my 2-year-old daughter watched in awe as eight fully outfitted firefighters thundered up our stairs and into our living room. Both kids grabbed my leg and started to cry.

It took five minutes to persuade my son to show them the seat. And a detailed tour of all their equipment before he'd let them touch it. But it took less than three seconds for a large pair of tin snips to slice though the plastic.

He was free.

We stood on the sidewalk and watched as they loaded their trucks. I smiled pleasantly at all our new neighbors milling around, taking in the excitement. For a long time afterward, each time we heard sirens my son wondered aloud if another little boy's head was stuck in a toilet seat.

I had dearly hoped that the episode would teach him a lesson, but as I sit bandaging his pinkie finger, the one that was cut as I pried his hand from the small hole in the side of the library counter, I wonder.

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