Well, Monkey, you gave us perhaps the greatest scare of Mommy’s and my parenthood today. Sure, we’ve seen you really sick with a couple of nasty colds, you’ve cut yourself in a couple of nasty falls, and definitely given us some worries during our return flight to Canada so many months ago now.
But today ... today was a new echelon in fear. Today Mommy and I joined the ranks of millions of other parents who have had that moment where they doubt all the confidence and belief they have built up over years of careful watch and control over their child’s life. They see it crash down in a single moment, utterly ruined when they come to the horrific realisation that they don’t know where their child is.
Today, Monkey, you disappeared.
I had the day off. The company gave me the day off, following two months of near non-stop work to get our project delivered. After your Animal Class, we decided to check out the "new" mall in Calgary, CrossIron Mills, just north of the city. Mommy wanted to pick up a couple of things for you and Choo Choo, but otherwise it was just a random adventure.
We got to the mall just after 11:00, and walked in near the hockey store (as I would comment to Mommy later, an all-year hockey store just seems natural in Canada), and headed down towards the Toys ‘R Us. Mommy and Choo Choo made a stop at the nursing room (Choo Choo was getting hungry), while you and I went hunting for the mall’s play area.
CrossIron Mills’ play area seems to be patterned after the one at Market Mall — you have to reserve a space in one of the 30-minute blocks, and wait your turn. As it happened, the next block started not long after we got to the play area. I couldn’t come in with you — the play area has a strict socks-only policy, and I was wearing sandals. That didn’t stop you from climbing the faux-volcano and sliding down over and over, running around, and jumping on the soft dinosaurs. You even played well with the other children.
Mommy and Choo Choo finally arrived, then went to Toys ‘R Us. We followed when the play time was up, finding them looking at rain covers for the stroller. We wandered around the store, looking at play sets, dolls, little plush chairs (that you’re now too big for), and you even found a Ya-Yas (Backyardigans) book. You carried the book all over the store while we were following Mommy on her quest for a few more things.
Mommy was looking at stickers, and I — carrying Choo Choo — was distracted by some LEGO sets. We both thought you were still sitting on the floor, reading the book. We both thought when we turned around, you’d still be there.
But you were gone.
Our first instinct was that you’d walked off into one of the aisles of toys, or was hiding in a corner, something you love doing. But you weren’t coming when we called your name. There was no giggle, your normal response when you tell you to come back and you’re walking away. There was nothing. You’d vanished.
I gave Choo Choo to Mommy, and she stood where we’d seen you last. I was no longer walking. I was running. Up and down every aisle, calling your name. I ran into every corner, ran outside, looking up and down the hallways outside the store, and along the walls outside in the parking lot.
Thoughts were already going through my head, and I struggled to dismiss them. You weren’t kidnapped. You weren’t taken by some strange person. You weren’t going to be one of those children you see on TV, sold into slavery. Basically, all the worst-case scenarios. These are the things you think about as a parent with an over-active imagination. I was trying not to panic. I focused instead on being frustrated that you hadn’t answered when called — something you do a lot at home.
The Toys ‘R Us had effectively locked down with a "Code Geoffrey" — an alert to all staff of a lost child. After a couple of minutes, it was clear you weren’t in the store (or if you were, you were very well-hidden), and we extended the alert to the mall security. All the while, Mommy clutched Choo Choo, trying not to panic.
I had run over to the play area, not far from the store. I had thought that, maybe, you’d gone there. But you hadn’t. You can run about as fast as I can walk quickly, but I figured you hadn’t run. When you walk — you don’t move quickly. You hadn’t gone far. But I didn’t know where. I thought, maybe, someone at the store had found you, so I went back. A mall security guard was there, and quickly took your description. They were watching the cameras. Within a moment, he’d reported that they’d found you.
One day, you will probably hear something derogatory about mall security staff, "mall cops". They’re "fake" or "wannabes". Make no mistake, once you see past the uniforms and peach fuzz, there are people who are dedicated to their tasks, and very understanding of situations. Today, I have a much better appreciation for their value.
The man who met me at the store took me to the security office. He explained that you were either there already, or "en route". Barely a minute after I got there, his colleague — a man I could scarcely believe out of high school — brought you in tow. You followed him diligently, without complaint or concern, not looking at all worried or scared, still carrying the Ya-Yas book. (One day, we’ll have to make sure you understand the need to pay for things before you take them out of a store.) The man who’d brought you to the security office explained that he’d found you following an elderly couple. I can only assume you must have thought they were Grandpa and Granny.
After giving you a big hug, I let you know that walking away wasn’t good. On the way back, you seemed to understand just how scared Mommy and I were that you’d walked away. Mommy looked so relieved when she saw you, and gave you a big hug.
Then we buckled you in tight into the stroller. You weren’t wandering away again.
But we can’t keep you from wandering off, not unless we tie a rope to you. (Which, coincidentally, I happen have about 30 feet of 1/2 inch nylon rope in the shed I’m starting to seriously consider putting to use.) You will do this again, if we allow it. And that’s the lesson we learned today, I guess. We have to watch you, always. At least until such time as you’re able to understand that when you can’t find us, it’s not a good thing.
You’re fearless. Being fearless is good, at least to an extent. I don’t want to make you fearful, either, though. I don’t want you to go through life, constantly looking over your shoulder. There’s a middle ground, we just have to figure out what it is.
Sleep well, Monkey. And don’t worry if you wake up and see me watching you from the corner. You might be fearless, but I’m not.