A long time ago, when William was a toddler, my mom was watching him in a bookstore play area and suddenly he was gone. She ran to the front of the store and asked a clerk to prevent any blond toddler boys from leaving, and then ran back to look for him---and found him almost immediately, since he had just stepped briefly behind a large storybook cutout.
It was so different than the way I suspected I'd have handled it myself. I thought she was very brave to immediately seal the exits. I wondered if I would do the same---if my worry would override my usual embarrassed, don't-make-a-fuss tendencies.
Today the kids and I were leaving swimming lessons, walking down the lonnnnnng path that goes through a playground. William saw one of his friends, so we paused to talk to her. We said goodbye and turned back to the path---and Edward wasn't with us.
Because I am the kind of anxious person who thinks of Cujo every time I get into a car and vampires every time I see a dark window, and because I'm a PARENT, I'm accustomed to flashes of thinking my child isn't with me when he or she is right behind me (or, um, when I've counted wrong). So I turned all the way around, and I recounted, but he still wasn't with us.
Well, he could have wandered a little farther away from me than I'd expect. It's a grassy park area. I turned around again, widening the search. No Edward.
Okay. Okay. It's a playground. It would be out of character for him to go play on it independently, but it could happen. I turned again, looking at each piece of equipment. No Edward.
Well. So already I had discovered I was not someone who first sealed the exits and then hunted. But next I found out what I do when the hunt is fruitless: I continued turning around and around, looking and looking, feeling stunned, not knowing what to do next. I tried to remember what shirt he was wearing, and I couldn't remember. I reassured myself that he MUST be there, he MUST, and therefore he WAS. I kept looking. He wasn't. I looked at each child in the playground, and each one I looked at was not Edward, even though I kept loosening my standards for "what could be Edward."
I should have been in a total panic. I should AT LEAST have been yelling "EDWARD! EDWARD! EDWARD!" But I felt dazed. I felt like one of those little toy robots that, if it bumps into a wall, will just keep bumping into the wall again and again until someone turns it around.
Here was my brain: "Should I ask another parent for help? But what could they do? They don't know what he looks like, and I can't even say what he's wearing. There's a camp leader over there---I could ask him. But what could he do? He's in charge of other kids and can't leave them, and I don't know what my kid is wearing. Could he seriously, really, actually been TAKEN? Should I go back to the pool and ask for help? What could they do? And then what if Edward IS here, and he looks for us and we're not here? Oh my god, I really don't see him. I really don't see him. I'm looking and looking and I don't see him. I guess I should...call the police? But... And I don't have my cell phone. I'd have to go back to the pool to use their phone, and then what if Edward IS here and we're not? And it's a long walk back to the pool. Think think think: what shirt did I put on him this morning? Was it red? blue? What if someone DID take him? Statistically unlikely overall, but for a single incidence it's either 0% or it's 100%. Should I...chase after? See if a car is leaving? What about the other kids? And then I'd be in the parking lot, and I should be here, looking for him. I think it's getting to be time to panic. At some point I need to do something. He's NOT HERE. He's NOT HERE. I need to do SOMETHING."
About halfway through that paragraph, I thought to send Rob to walk as far as our parked car, looking for Edward the whole way, and then come back when he didn't find him. I didn't think he'd find him, because Edward always Always ALWAYS waits at the gate next to the parking lot, even if he's been given permission to run ahead. He's never gone into the parking lot, never even tried.
I continued turning around, looking, thinking. A woman with a stroller approached, heading for the pool, and I realized I was directly in her way on the path, so I stepped back and kept looking. She said, "Is he wearing a striped green shirt?"---and my memory flooded back and YES, YES HE IS WEARING A STRIPED GREEN SHIRT, and she said, "I wondered who he belonged to, but I couldn't see anyone around. He's over by the fence." She pointed to the fence ALL THE WAY ON THE FAR SIDE OF THE BACK PARKING LOT.
The NATURAL next step would be: sprinting to him. MY next step was: standing there saying to the woman that I'd been panicked! because I couldn't find him! and we'd just stopped to talk to a friend for a minute! and he was gone! and he NEVER went into the PARKING LOT! and my older son was headed there right now, so he'd probably find him! and I just couldn't believe he'd gone into the parking lot! and I'd been looking and couldn't see him! and I hadn't known what to do! and I'd been thinking I would have to call the police!
She stood there looking at me, probably wondering why I wasn't sprinting. Over her shoulder I could see ROB sprinting, and then I saw the green-striped-shirted Edward tiny in the distance standing next to the car next to ours, and I saw Rob grab him, and then my legs started working and I still didn't sprint but I walked fast, telling the other children "Hurry! Hurry!"
It's true that it would be almost impossibly out of character for Edward to go ahead of us to the car. What I hadn't taken into account was whether it would be in character for him to FOLLOW us to the car: HE thought we'd gotten ahead of him, so he'd been trying to catch up. Through two parking lots, crossing one of them to get to the other one. With cars backing out all over the place as everyone else left the swimming lesson. He's four years old and three feet tall. When I'm backing my minivan out, I can't see children if they're behind my car.
I could hardly believe how far he'd gotten. I could hardly believe he'd remembered where our car was, considering we park in a different place each day and usually park in the front lot and had only parked in the back lot because the front lot was full. I could hardly believe any of it had happened, and that it had taken so long.
I loaded the car up as usual, except that no one was talking or being silly or tattling and I wasn't saying "Come ON, let's get in the CAR, stop ARGUING, it doesn't MATTER who gets in first." Because I get frantic and snappish and flingy if I can't find my book or my lip balm, I'd have thought I'd be angry and upset and/or weepy, but I was dazed and sleepy and it was hard to put sentences together.
After a silence William said, "I think who would have been saddest would have been Elizabeth, because when she grew up she would have known she DID had a twin, but didn't anymore." That's not an easy comment to respond to. I said, "...Yeah."
On the way home we talked about it a little. I reminded the whole group that when they're lost they're supposed to STAY PUT. I asked Edward in a dazed voice if he'd been scared or worried, and he said no. I asked if anyone had asked him where his mommy was, and he said no. I asked about the parking lot: had any cars...moved? He said yes, one was behind him but then he moved over and it went past. He said we had NOT stopped to talk to a friend, he hadn't seen ANY friend. He was a little crabby with me for disappearing.
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