Thursday, January 22, 2009

I lost my 19 month old son today. I was at one of those indoor kids centres that are so popular with parents today. I have to admit, I love the concept and frequent this particular centre on average once a week. It's a great way to catch up with your fellow mommy gal pals, while watching your children burn energy without having to worry about cleaning up the mess. These places usually look like an indoor play ground, only much cooler, with jungle towers and 4 story tunnel slides. I have to admit, it's a blast climbing through the structure with my 3 year old.

That being said, when you're in the structure with your 3 year old, you need to make sure your friends are watching your 19 month old, and vice versa. When any of the moms are absent, whether it's for a pee break or standing in the lunch line, we all sort of watch each other's backs. The problem comes in when all the moms are present and accounted for. The chatter becomes distracting and let's face, you tend to let your guard down when you're in a place that caters to just that- giving parents a break from entertaining their kids in a child proof, gated environment.

So there I am, standing around chatting with my fellow moms, one eye on my daughter who is making her way through the play structure, and one eye on my son who is running in circles around a padded pole at the base of the structure. Everyone is accounted for. I'm enjoying the chatter, while sipping my coffee, when my ears perk up a bit as one of my girlfriends starts talking about ski lessons she just enrolled her son in. I've been wanting to put my daughter in ski lessons, so I start asking her all kinds of questions, losing my focus on the kids for a moment, caught up in the conversation at hand. When I break away from the conversation for a moment to check point my children, my eyes roam the room, trying to locate my son. He is no longer running circles around the padded pole, nor is he at the food counter which is his second favorite place to be. I step away from the conversation that has now turned to schooling, and slowly make my way through the centre, checking all the usual hiding places for my son, expecting him to pop out at any given moment. Still no son, I start to wonder, worry crossing my mind, but reason telling me he couldn't have gotten too far.

I start walking toward the bathrooms, when one of my girlfriends notices me wondering around searching. She asks me where my son is, so I tell her I can't find him. She then start searching with me, gathering the troops to help in the now escalating search. When I see the others looking too, my heart starts to race, suddenly taking in my surrounding. All I can think is, this cannot be happening. Where is the little bugger. My face starts to burn with anxiety as I open the bathroom door to first the women's quarters, then the men's, getting down on all fours in hopes of seeing two little legs standing by a pool of water where his dripping hand would be hanging by his side, caught playing in the toilet yet again. Nothing.

Starting to loose my grip on reality, I head to the food counter and demand if anyone has seen my son. The women know him well. They look at each other with blank expression and shake their heads no. To their credit, they leap into action starting a search of their own. Chest burning with dread, I head to the entrance with visions of my son having escaped unnoticed from the secure door with a family I spotted leaving earlier. At this point, I don't know who to turn to for answers. I force my way out of the door and start asking people in the mall if they've seen a little boy in a grey and blue striped shirt, fearing the worst. I walk all the way to the entrance doors of the mall, badger a father and his two kids demanding to know if they've seen a small boy. Turning back no further ahead in my search, I'm finding it harder to breath. I retrace my steps back to the once welcoming doors of the play center, eyes darting back and forth, taking note of every possible attraction to a 19 month old... which isn't leaving much to ignore. I allow myself one quick glance through the glass windows of the centre before hitting the other end of the mall, not wanting to face the fact that no one has found him yet, only to feel relief spread through me like a breeze of fresh air at the sight of a waving hand beckoning me back in.

There he is, my beautiful red faced devilish child, being held in the arms of one of the women who work at the food counter. I buzz my way back into the centre, slowly walking towards them, wanting to savor every second of rejoicing in this moment as though I need to know finding him is real. I don't even reach for him right away. I just look at him feeling a smile slowly creep its way across my face, feeling much of the same wonder and amazement as I experienced after giving birth to my children. A moment of appreciation for the fruits of my labour, somehow feeling grateful to have been given the chance to feel such torturous pain for this wonderful end result.

When I finally take him in my arms, I shower him with kisses, and hold him close. I look up around me to see my mothers-in-arms hovering around and near by, every eye wet with tears of relief. My heart isn't big enough to hold all the love I feel for these women at this precise moment. How does "thank you" even begin to express your gratitude for their support in a time when you thought your world was coming to an end. I turn to the food counter woman who was holding my son and say the only thing I can... where was he?!

Turns out he had explored his way into the admin office tucked away at the back of the play area near the restrooms. Once inside the office, he closed the door and it locked behind him- not that he was aware of it, too busy trying out all the new toys at his disposal. Thankfully, the staff keeps a spare key at reception and all's well that ends well.

My sanity restored, I "keep moving forward".

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