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The Day I "Lost" My Son

So I was at Safeway yesterday afternoon, and as I was sorting through Sourdough bread, I heard this little girl screaming for her mom. “Mommy? Mommy!! Where are you?!!” I turned around and she was alone, turning around in circles and obviously scared to death.

I wasn’t the first one over to offer help, and about two seconds later, Mommy surfaced—just as scared as the little girl was.

“See?! I told you not to wander off,” she said. Then she scooped up the girl, and then looked at me and glared, as if I was looking at her and judging her, but I wasn’t. The fact was, I was just lost in space, recalling when that happened to me.

It doesn’t take long. And it doesn’t necessarily happen when you’re alone with your child. In my case, I was with my best friend.

We were having a great day. It was Christmas 2005, and we were shopping. My son was being uncharacteristically well-behaved, given the fact that he was with two credit-card laden women on a mission. When we reached our limit, we got some sandwiches and sat down in the children’s play area at the mall.

We liked this particular set-up. It was more of a corral—padded benches faced inward lining the perimeter and there was only one way in and out. We purposely sat at the entrance/exit so that Jake couldn’t walk past us. He ran off to play, and would come back every couple of minutes or so to take a bite and a drink, then he was off again.

I watched him as he tumbled over a turtle. Then asked my best friend if she had any garbage and reached down for the empty bag. When I looked up and looked around for Jake, I couldn’t see him.

I had my head down for 4 seconds at the most, and he was gone.

So, I got up and began to scan the area for my son. I kept thinking I’d see him as I peered around every corner. But he wasn’t there. Then I started to panic. “What am I going to tell my husband,” I thought. I tried to remember what he was wearing.

I noticed a security guard watching me. I gave the “little-boy-about-yay-high” motion with my hand, and he shook his head. Then I looked up at my best friend and shook my head, and as she turned stark-white pale, I began to feel faint.


I jumped over the benches and started looking into the “kiddie rides” that were just outside of the play area.

And there he was—inside of the space ship ride, yanking at the steering wheel and pretending to drive it; clueless as to what his mother had been going through for the past three minutes.

I grabbed him and hugged him and began to cry and hyperventilate all at the same time. After about ten seconds, I handed him to my best friend and said, “Take him so I can go throw up.”

In the car on the way home, she offered to keep the whole thing a secret if I decided I didn’t want to tell my husband. (I’ve known her for over 20 years, and we’ll never stop being Thelma and Louise.) But I declined, telling her that he had to know. He had to know because we weren’t being careless. He had to know because it took less than 5 seconds for our son to run off—the time it takes to sneeze and look for a Kleenex, or to turn your head and cough. We were being careful to watch him and it still happened!

So, lady in Safeway—I was not judging you. I was just looking at my reflection.


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