I’ve been debating how to write this story for a few days now. Do I write in my usual self-deprecating, tongue and cheek, dry humor, or do I tell it straight up, emotional and serious. Is there a “right” way to tell it? Will being funny make me seem like I don’t know that what could have really happened?
So I’ve decided just to write.
I’m not going to over think my words, or try to say things the right way. I’m going to say them my way, and hope the funny and the serious can cohesively meld here.
Thursday afternoons are one of Matts “weekend days.” Usually Alex and I get everyone off to school and work, and we cuddle for a couple episodes of Dora, Bubble Guppies, Diego, or Umizoomi, and then ready ourselves for the day. These last few weeks have we have been heading out to do something that he can enjoy while I work on additional class work I was unable to get done because I’ve had to run taxi to doctors and dentist appointments during my usual work hours, ie- when Alex is in preschool.
Afternoon’s are when Matt, Alex and I do something fun together, like run errands, get things waxed, pay bills, you know riveting things that are so much easier to do with just one kiddo in tow.
Last Thursday we needed to get Matt a few things for his ensemble for his date night with Reese to the Her Knight dance, so we headed out to grab lunch at Jimmy Johns then poke around at the mall.
Alex decided he didn’t like the location of our table at Jimmy John’s, didn’t like the chairs, didn’t like life, so we were forced to pick up our stuff and leave. Matt wanted to head home, but I insisted the wild beast boy was just hungry and would calm down once he ate. We parked at the mall and stuffed down our sandwiches. Alex did indeed change his behavior.
We managed to check out several places in the mall, Alex was so good walking around and being pleasant, I bought us an order of cinnamon pretzel sticks, and we headed to Gap.
Alex loves Gap. Our store has displays that resemble the set up of a crazy cat lady’s house on Bunco night. Tables and displays everywhere to hid behind and run under and in general have the best time someone less than 3 feet can have. About 5 minutes into looking around the monster within Alex return and he began running, diving under things and refusing to respond to me in an attempt to “get lost.”
I talked him into looking at the accessories clearance while we waited for Matt to finish looking for an oxford. I’m flipping through belts asking Alex to help me find one and I see him run by and dive under yet another display and then head in the direction of Matt. Being more than 3 feet tall, I had to weave my way toward the direction he ran, calling Matt as I walked. That day was not a day Matt had been aware of anyone, and for like the 60thbillion time, I was yelling his name over and over trying to get his attention to tell him to keep an eye on Alex until I got there.
And he didn’t hear me until I got right where I thought Alex would be, standing next to him, giggling from having successfully hidden from me for close to 30 seconds.
Except, when I got there, Alex wasn’t there. He wasn’t under any table. He wasn’t trying to climb the wall of shirts. He wasn’t peeking out from behind Matt. Immediately, I began searching the store. A minute goes by, but it seems like way longer that I haven’t been able to find my baby, and I’ve asked people and searched everywhere. Matt has looked out front of the store. He’s not there. Matt tells the front counter, and I begin to feel my chest tighten. I’m not breathing, I’m not thinking, I’m nearly rooted to the floor.
My baby is lost and I don’t know where he went or if someone took him.
The employees joined the search and begin to notify security as I begin to break down.
And what feels like years since I’ve taken a breath, has passed.
And then the employee who had begun to search outside the store yells from the front, “They found him!!!”
But I still can’t move, because I’m not sure it is him, and what if that’s not what he said, and what if it’s not Alex?
So I yell from the middle of my panic, out of the muddy waters that have filled my ears and the metal taste that has risen in my mouth, “You found him, are you sure?”
Yes, your husband has him.
I ran to the front of the store, throwing down the clothing I had been absently carrying around, and there was my Alex in Matt’s arms, clutching a chocolate milk. He looked at me and said, “I’m firsty, I go to Starbucks!”
Now, here’s where you have to wonder, my kid knew EXACTLY where Starbucks was located in the mall from Gap. Like knew which way to turn out of the store, and that he’d have to walk about 100 yards to the stand-alone kiosk. Then you have to wonder how the Starbucks employees didn’t notice him putting his grubby little hands in their drink cooler, and walking away with a milk box. If you want to load up on freebies from Starbucks, just send in your under 3 foot high accomplice and they will just have to chalk it up to shrink (shrink is a retail term about disappearing product for those of you not in the know. I am because of my prestigious history in children and women’s departments of Old Navy here in Lexington).
He was spotted by two ladies who work a kiosk and are immeasurably more observant. Partly because they hawk pashminas and that dead sea salt stuff that you get attacked with and no one buys, and partly because it’s quite odd for children to frequent Starbucks and the Mall alone. They are too short to drive or carry their own car seats onto the bus, so they usually have to harass someone else to drive them inorder so they can practice petty theft.
They walked right behind Alex to try to figure out where he was going and make sure no one shady took him. I tried to write a joke here about people and the important things they had going on that didn’t lend to noticing a small child walking the mall alone, but honestly I’m thankful no one else noticed him. It frightens me to think of someone who didn’t want to see him back to where he should be, noticing him.
Alex made it almost all the way back to Gap before Matt spotted him when he was searching out front.
I of course thanked the two women profusely and hugged my baby. Everything was ok, and the only crime was his stolen milk, which completely confused the girl at Starbucks when we went to rectify that situation.
On the way home I made Alex cry.
I told him what he did was wrong and asked him how he would have felt if someone bad took him when he didn’t have mommy or daddy with him.
No, no one take me!
But what if they did, what if they made you do things that weren’t fun, like clean their house all the time and you couldn’t play anymore. What if they wouldn’t let you watch Bubble Guppies or Dora ever again?
I watch Umizoomi!
No, what if they wouldn’t let you watch that either, and you couldn’t see Berkley or Nate,Reese and Teddy ever again. And Mommy and Daddy wouldn’t be there and you couldn’t see us anymore.
* tears *
But I wan a be wif you! I no wan a go wif bad people!
And then we talked about not running away and all that.
And really the whole thing is funny, except that it’s also not.