It has been about a year since this column last checked in with my daughter, Molly. You might recall that particular heartwarming Christmas tale about how her house in Virginia became infested with hundreds of baby praying mantises that had hatched in her family’s Christmas tree. News accounts went globally viral.

Today we have a new festive holiday story! It concerns the events of Christmas Day.

Molly’s life — if not her penchant for seasonal drama — has changed a bit. She is now living in Lusaka, Zambia, with her husband, Julien, who is a Foreign Service officer for the U.S. State Department, and their two children: Max, who is just over 2, and Max’s baby sister, Eliza. Needless to say, Max is a very, very big boy who has recently learned, as big boys do, to go potty all by himself.

As with many people who have acquired important new skills — say, applying the principles of Newtonian calculus to advanced computer programming — Max’s successful introduction to bathroom adulthood has suffered some bumps in the road. The mathematician, for example, might forget to apply the appropriate derivative formula to certain complex functionalities. In Max’s case, he toddled off to the bathroom all on his own, and, as is quite proper, locked the door behind him but did not yet know how to unlock it. These things happen. Einstein often forgot to wear socks.

Max and his parents were in the home of friends, at a Christmas lunch party. Molly almost immediately became aware of Max’s absence, or as she put it: “My mom spidey sense alerted me that something catastrophic was probably occurring.” She got up from the table, didn’t see Max, tried a door that was locked, noticed the front door was open and bolted for the street, terrified. Then, she heard a timid “Mommy?” from a window in the house. That window was behind the locked door.

Max is very smart and quite articulate and communicative for a 2-year-old, which is to say that, especially under duress, he can be a babbling incompetent. Shouted instructions as to how to unlock the door had no meaningful effect.

If this had happened in the United States, the solution might have been simple — for safety purposes, our bathroom doors are generally made so they can be jimmied with a tool as primitive as a toothpick or a paper clip — but Zambian rooms aren’t that wussy. Each Zambian door is lockable, and each has its own key, and each key looks like those keys from prison cell blocks in 1840s London; in Zambia, in other words, keys are cumbersome, and present in great numbers, and seldom used, and thus tend to get mislaid. Also, the bathroom had TWO doors — there was a bathroom vestibule — and Max had evidently locked them both. Good boy! The homeowners found the key to the first, but not the second.

I know what you are thinking: Surely, there must be a window to the bathroom! And there was. But it was not commodious enough to admit an adult body. There was no way into that bathroom from outside, or from within the house, apparently, without the cooperation of the person inside.

Efforts to remove the non-wussy lock were unsuccessful. More than an hour had passed. Julien had phoned for a carpenter. A carpenter, on Christmas! First, who the heck can summon a workman on Christmas? It was doomed. Second ... a carpenter. It almost seemed holy.

Neighbors fashioned a long pole to snake through the window, with a grappling hook at the end, to twist the handle from inside. Didn’t work. Finally, an embassy security guard found a swimming pool pole, snaked that through the window and popped the lock.

But before this occurred, my son-in-law — who shares my sense of humor — photographed everything through the bathroom window. Even for a VERY big boy of 68, it is difficult to look at these photos and maintain completely dry underpants.

In one, Max is standing near the toilet, his pants around his ankles. In another, he seems to have utterly given up ever being rescued, resigned to the utter despair of life on Earth, lying on the bathroom floor, beside a toy truck, possibly asleep, possibly dead or wishing he was.

All turned out fine. The only conceivable lingering problem is that when Max learns to read, he will hate me. It might take some time, but I am confident he will ultimately forgive me. He might be 68 and a grandpa in his own right by then, and I will be dead, but still.

Email Gene Weingarten at weingarten@washpost.com. Find chats and updates at washingtonpost.com/magazine.

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