Parenting Talking Point

Stuck in a lift with three kids

Alarm button
Written by Kirstie Pelling

What do you do when stuck in a lift with the kids?

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Have you ever been stuck in a lift. With your kids? You know like all of them? Is it your idea of heaven or hell? I’d never considered the idea. Until it happened to me. And then, with time on my hands and in very close company, we considered it a lot…

Chairlift at Vallter 2000

We’re supposed to be on a lift like this.. but find ourselves stuck in another kind

How I got stuck in a lift with the kids

We are in a ski resort but need to catch a train to a remote valley. We finish breakfast and Stuart heads straight off to pick up the car from the garage. The rest of us need to take the lift to our room to retrieve our bags.

The train to Vall de Nuria, Catalonia, Spain. In Winter

We’re supposed to be catching this train to Vall de Nuria. In one hours time.

Outside the lift

Cameron calls the lift by jabbing away at the button. It arrives and we rush in. Cameron is impatient for the lift to move. Cameron presses all the buttons. At once. The lift grinds into action as I am telling him not to press all the buttons at once.

“But that makes it work,” says Cameron.

Suddenly there is a bump, then silence. We have stopped.

“Actually, it makes it not work,” says Matthew.

Inside the lift

Cameron presses all the buttons. Matthew presses all the buttons. Hannah presses all the buttons. I press all the buttons.

“You told me not to do that,” sulks Cameron, before he too presses all the buttons. But this time his magic touch isn’t working. The lift is stuck.

Outside the lift

There is an alarm, which I press. It is deafening. Deafening enough to wake every apartment. But not reach reception. Because reception is in another building.

Alarm button

This is the one button I hoped we would not have to press. Now we are all pressing it.

Inside the lift

Everyone has a go at pressing the alarm. We then press every other button. And then press the alarm again.

Outside the lift

Stuart phones. I tell him we are stuck in the lift. He asks how that happened.

Inside the lift

I tell him Cameron pressed all the buttons.

“Yeh right, blame it on me.” Cameron says.

“But you did,” says Matthew.

Outside the lift

“Is there an alarm you can call? Stuart asks.I oblige.

“Oh, that’s the alarm?” he says as the noise blasts through all the apartments once again. “I wondered what that was.” I ask him to inform reception. “But I can’t speak Spanish, “ he says.

Family in close proximity

I’m not sure how well we’ll all get along for in such close proximity

Inside the lift

We all try and work out what ‘My wife and kids are stuck in a lift’ would be in Spanish. ‘Family stay in box,’ is the best translation we can come up with.

Outside the lift

Stuart departs to mime being stuck in a lift to the hotel receptionist.

Inside the lift

“Do you think that will work?” asks Cameron. We all try to mime being stuck in the lift to see if we can communicate our problem.

“Is this a competition?” asks Cameron miming being in a box by sitting in a right angled position.

“Is there a prize? If there is I think I’ve won” says Hannah who looks more like a starfish than an eight year old stuck in a lift.

Matthew curls up like a feotus. I’m not sure whether he is miming being stuck in the lift, or just being a teenager.

“The prize is that you get out of the lift,” I say. “Probably.”

Outside the lift

Stuart phones to say the hotel has called the engineer. The engineer is in another resort. He will be at least half an hour.

Cross by piste in Vall de Nuria

The engineer’s coming. From another resort. I pray he’s here soon so we can be where he is.

Inside the lift

Half an hour is too long for Cameron who presses all the buttons once again. Then he tries to jump start the lift. By jumping.

“Stop it, you’ll break it,” I tell him.

“He already did that,” says Matthew.

Cameron tries to jump start Matthew’s temper by pressing his brother’s nose against the alarm. Matthew responds by pressing Cameron’s head against the doors to see if that will release them. It doesn’t. Eventually he releases Cameron.

Outside the lift

Stuart phones to see if we have enough air in the lift to see us through till the engineer comes.

Inside the lift

We are having a debate about how oxygen will get into the lift, and how much we all use.

Cameron accuses Matthew of using too much; both in the lift and at home. Matthew accuses Cameron of poisoning his air by having beans for breakfast. Hannah starts whining to see if that makes a difference to the air quality. Matthew is insulted at being told he breathes too much. He holds his breath till he goes red in the face, then starts to hyperventilate when he releases it.

Cameron demonstrates that Matthew was correct about the beans.

Outside the lift

Stuart rings to see if the wailing he can hear from the ground floor is anything to do with us.

Inside the lift

I confess that I need the toilet.

“If it’s a number two we’re in trouble,”says Matthew.

“No that would be awesome,” says Cameron. “We could make turd sculptures to pass the time.”

We all pause for a moment to contemplate that.

Football Figures in Barcelona Shop Window

Is this where Cameron got the idea? Football figurines in Barcelona shop window.

Outside the lift

Stuart rings to say that a man has just told him that last year his wife was stuck in our lift for most of the day and the rest of the family decamped to Burger King while waiting for the engineer. Is he asking my permission to go for a coffee?

Inside the lift

Hannah puts the phone on speaker. “Dad, we’re wondering about making the Eiffel tower out of Mum’s turd.”

“Or a brown bobsleigh run.” Cameron chips in.

Matthew curls back into his foetal position.

“Can a loo seat be a different colour to a loo or is that a bit common?” I wonder out loud.

Outside the lift

Stuart goes off to see if there is any sign of the engineer. Either that or to find the nearest Burger King.

Inside the lift

I’ve always wondered how you make a human tower. It seems a great idea to try it now. After all, we are in Catalonia.

I tell Matthew that if he stretches out his arms he can touch both sides of the lift. That makes him steady enough for Cameron to climb on his shoulders, and if I give Hannah a leg up we are almost there. If I then somehow replace Matthew at the bottom, could we just climb out of the lift shaft? But before I have a chance to substitute myself for Matthew, Hannah has formed a pile at the bottom of the pile. Cameron jumps down to join her. She doesn’t like him jumping on her back and starts wailing again.

Matthew opts to go back in the foetal position.

Boys make a human tower

I just know from experience this human tower thing will not work out

Outside the lift

Stuart phones to say the engineer is here.

Inside the lift

We cheer. And press all the buttons. But nothing happens.

Hannah sits on my knee because there isn’t enough room for us all to sit comfortably. But she’s heavy and my leg has gone to sleep. We consider how much weight you could put on a knee joint before it would snap. Hannah thinks it might take a car. Matthew thinks a gold bar. Cameron thinks if Dad and the engineer joined us on my knee then that would probably do it.

Matthew and Cameron both sit on my knee to see how much pain I can take. We talk about pain, and why humans feel it. Matthew announces pain is an alarm signal, like the bell in the lift. He presses the alarm to show us what he means. I have an idea. I tell them about childbirth, using the alarm to demonstrate contractions.

Outside the lift

Stuart rings from the car park to find out why we are pressing the alarm. The engineer is working on the problem. Are we in distress?

Inside the lift

I tell him we are simulating a natural birth. The boys take over the alarm as I pant. Hannah has gone silent.

DDR Museum Berlin in a cell

We’re just not good in cell like spaces

Outside the lift

The engineer resets the lift.

Inside the lift

The lift moves. We get excited but it only travels to the top floor. We chat about what would happen if it flew through the roof of the hotel and out into the atmosphere. “Like Willy Wonka!” says Hannah.

“It might fly out of the hotel onto the snow park,” says Cameron.

Outside the lift

Stuart rings to see if we are out yet. I tell him only in our imaginations.

Inside the lift

We are discussing what tricks you could do with a lift freed from a lift shaft when it moves again; this time accelerating down into the basement.

“It’s like The Tower of Terror,” says Matthew, and we discuss our favourite theme park rides.

“Small world, says Hannah.

“It is indeed,” I tell her.

The lift doors do open. We spill out in case they close again, gasping dramatically for oxygen. Another family are standing with their bags waiting for the lift.

“Don’t do it. It’s worse than the Tower of Terror,” says Cameron.

Outside the lift

Stuart rings to tell us we will miss the train.

“We’ve got the bags and we are just calling the lift to come back down,” I say.

There is a silence.

“Only kidding.”

Sledging at Vall de Nuria

We are beginning to think sledging at Vall de Nuria might be possible before sunset

Inside the lift

Inside the lift a family bravely goes where we have gone before. I shake my head at their stupidity.

But then, was the lift so bad? Already I am getting nostalgic about it. It was a chance for a chat. A few moments to catch up with each other and share ideas. I have prepared them for the birth of their first child and we know what we would make out of a turd if we were ever confined to a small space again.

You might think getting stuck in a lift with your family would be your worst nightmare, but I confess, we had quite a good time. And we’re still coming up with ideas for that sculpture.

Talking Point

Have you ever been stuck in a lift with your kids? Do share your story and tell us if it was a success. Or share your irrational fear of being in a confined space with your toddler or teen.

Train arriving at Vall de Nuria

Train of skiers arrives Vall de Nuria. Two small confined spaces conquered in one morning.

About the author

Kirstie Pelling

Kirstie is the Editor of The Family Adventure Project. A professional writer and poet, she's the creative and journalistic force behind many of the stories and features published here. She's a co-founder and co-director of The Family Adventure Project and also works as the #poetinmotion producing and performing poetry for print, video and live performance.


  • No, I have never been stuck in a lift with the entire family. In fact the 15 seconds in a lift with the entire family are quite enough. But we have been stuck in trains numerous times. Out in the open or 17 metres from the platform, it can be hours either way. You have the comfort of air condition and the toilet. Both break down after about two hours. At least once it was substantially longer until a spare locomotive towed us away. With two toddlers, in July heat. Passengers actually praised us for how well the children coped afterwards. They were no longer with us when the final leg of that journey ended, three train legs later, in the middle of the night, in a mountain village, with a heap of luggage and no transportation. So perhaps it does count after all.

  • Getting stuck in an elevator is actually a big fear of mine from childhood. So of course last week while shopping with the boys the elevator stopped. All I was doing was taking the cart from the 1st floor to the 2nd floor and suddenly we were stuck. Thankfully after lots of button pushing it went back to the 1st floor, but still. Not sure I’ll be taking THAT elevator ever again!

  • Twice I have been stuck in a lift, both times on my own. The first was in the evening in my office building while I was working late and I did have a brief panic that I’d be there all night. In the end I was in it for about 20 minutes. The other time was in a different office building while I was going out for lunch. It was a pretty high pressured news job so after I was released after about 50 minutes, I had to go get my lunch and use the stairs to go back to my desk — not even the chance to hit the bar and steady my nerves.

  • Your expression in the group shot is classic. Exactly the way I imagine I’d feel!

    Glad you got out before you had to describe makeshift toileting facilities in a lift…

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We're Kirstie & Stuart. We share an adventurous spirit, a passion for indie travel and 3 kids. The Family Adventure Project is our long term experiment in doing active, adventurous things together. Find out more...


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