It took less than a minute.
Trite. Cliche. True.
The kids and I were at their school and had finished delivering t-shirts to classrooms, getting ready to head home. JP wandered outside and I had my back to the baby for 15-seconds, tops. In that blink of an eye my two-year old went from being 10 feet behind me to gone.
I checked his favorite places to play (a ramp, the stage). I told my friends to keep their eyes open as I did a quick sweep of the cafeteria. I sent SG and her friend down the second grade hall and ordered JP down the third grade hall. I checked the office. The copy room. The teachers’ lounge. No XC. I came flying out of the office and ran into SG’s teacher. “SG says you lost XC,” she laughed. She didn’t realize that we’d really lost him. That what SG had told her wasn’t hyperbole. “I can’t find him. I CAN’T FIND MY BABY.” The words came out shrill and breathless. I was losing it. I never lose it.
Our school was hosting a math competition and was full of people- children and adults- that I didn’t know. My worst fear was that someone took him. Or that he’d wandered outside in the cold rain and busy parking lot. Rationally, I knew that wasn’t a possibility- he would’ve had to walk in front of me to do that- but where the hell was my baby?
SG’s teacher and a couple other staff members immediately began looking once they realized what was going on. They even paged him on the intercom. I sent JP downstairs to look and followed a minute later. When I turned to go down the hall I saw him standing, still as a statue, and then he took off running. “What are you doing? Why are you running?” I asked. “I heard him, mom! Listen!” As JP sprinted away I stood there listening and heard a tiny, muffled voice say, “Mama! Help!” My baby. “XC” I yelled, “XC where are you?” “Mama! Help!”
And there he was, behind closed elevator doors. He looked so tiny, pressed into the corner, hands folded in front of him. “Mama, help,” he said, raising his arms to be picked up. He had, apparently, taken the elevator down to the first floor and stayed put…because the only button he could reach was the “1”. I picked him up and started to cry. Never, not in my entire life, have I experienced such exquisite relief. The whole thing lasted less than five minutes but I felt like my world was crashing around me.
I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t survive an experience like that again (my heart would give out for sure) so, if next time you see me all three are tethered by leashes, you know why.