July 30, 2013 by CassieCravings
I took my child to a department store.
It’s not something that I do often, but with an event coming up and a husband out of town, I decided that it was needed and it might even be fun.
In the first store, my child crawled through the racks of clothing and sprawled out in the middle of the polished floor. I gave him a chevron printed top to hold which he promptly twirled about until it was a rumpled heap. Two potty breaks and a pile of ill-fitting clothes later, I decided it would be a fine idea to go to just one more store.
The second store was progressing much better. We were nearly out the door when I detoured to the children’s section. Elijah plucked a toy off the shelf and settled down at my feet as he examined the box, turning it over and over for close inspection. This was all routine for us, and he has yet to have a problem putting a toy back on the shelf. Sometimes it takes a “Let’s save it for later” and a bit of empathy in waiting for things we want.
But this time was different. This time three-old Elijah was furious that he didn’t get the toy. He stomped off to another aisle. I watched him closely and shifted to keep him in eye-sight. He never left my sight. I did not even take my eyes off of him for a moment. I was locked on him, but he began to run. I rounded a corner, calling his name.
He ignored me and disappeared into the endless rack of clothes.
I didn’t panic then. I knew he was still within reach. I searched and called, searched and called. By the time I had covered the area high-and-low a third time with absolutely no trace of my little boy, I frantically looked for someone who worked at the department store.
“Have you seen my little boy?”
I tried so hard not to cry.
This wasn’t the time. Several minutes had already passed. Should I have found the employee faster? Is he still in the store? Did someone snatch my baby up and walk out of the store?
Within a few seconds an alert was given and doors were guarded. People in name tags carrying walkie-talkies systematically searched between the racks of clothing. “3 year-old boy. Hispanic. Brown hair and eyes. blue shorts. gray shirt,” echoed over the walkie-talkies.
The employee who called the alert patted my arm gently as I re-traced my steps again. “We’ll find him,” she soothed.
I tried not to cry.
It seemed like hours had passed. It could not have been more than a few minutes, and a young man rushed towards me, “He’s here! We found him!” He had been found on the opposite side of the store and must have passed right past the front doors to get to that side.
My little boy sat with hands folded in a chair in customer service. The moment he saw me, he burst into tears. I swept him up and carried him to the home-goods section to talk.
“I. Want. That. Toy!” he exclaimed. His face was flushed with anger.
Instantly I turned on my heel. “Are you KIDDING me?,” I hissed. But then I stopped. I couldn’t breathe. I was so angry, so frightened, so relieved. I didn’t have any words what-so-ever. My world was shaken to its very core, and he was worried about a stupid plastic toy. Defiantly he stared at me. I opened my mouth to yell or to explain or to cry, but no noise came out.
I scooped up my boy and took him to the car so that I could think. After a moment of sitting without words, I glanced back at my pouting preschooler and picked up the phone to call the husband. He said words like, “emotions bigger than he is” and “All that matters is that he is okay.” But I couldn’t hear his rational remarks over my ugly cry.
It wasn’t until our evening chat that my three-old looked up at me with big brown eyes and a serious frown, “My mama. I have sowrry in my heawrt. ‘Dat was a baddest choice of ‘da choices I made. T’anks for keeping me safe today.”
I kissed his curly head. He promised to never, ever run off again. And again breathed a thankful prayer that my little one, who understood no dangers, was kept perfectly safe.