Little Eli was in the classroom with me. My eldest Ethan ran off to the tetherball courts. So, I did what mothers always do…I gave my two sons one eyeball each. And when Eli found a preschool buddy of his to occupy him, I was able to “Ooooo” and “Ahhhh” for Ryan with single-minded focus. Single-minded focus. Now, there is a novel concept for a mother of three. It is rare that I am able to focus completely on anything when the kids are around. Again, circumstance and adult onset ADD converge to create a world of challenge for me.
When the school bell rang, my sons and I proudly paraded out to the playground to watch the third graders do-see-doe. Again, the kids dispersed. Ryan off to find Ethan on the tetherball courts and Eli tagging confidently behind. He’s a third child and thirds are notoriously competent. That’s when my senses hit overload. I was trailing behind them, one eye on the goofy dancers, when I was intercepted by that rare creature that comes into my life on occasion –another adult. This one was a friend I’d not seen in some time and we had loads of catching up to do. She bought a house. She was headed back East for the Summer. Would we like to come swim in their pool? I looked past her and thought Eli looked fine with his brothers and so I enjoyed a few minutes of adult chat.
The time flew as it always does with adults. And then it was time to go. Most everyone had left the playground. So, I walked to the courts to grab the boys. They weren’t there. I saw them off in the distance on the grassy field and waved them in. Three had become two. Where was Eli? They didn’t know. They hadn’t seen him. I’ve been a mom long enough to know it’s never too late to assess blame (which clearly falls on me in this case.) Now was not the time. It was time to breathe, focus, stay calm, and simply find Eli.
We marshaled the troops. The boys searched the entire campus—checking the classrooms we had been in. The fields. The playgrounds. My friend’s kids checked all the bathrooms. The principal made an overhead announcement. Eli was no where. And as I saw all these people scattering across the school property, I felt my panic gathering in my chest. I’d had this feeling before. The building tightness. I’d lost Ryan a couple of times. He had a nasty habit of disappearing –once in a department store for a good 10 minutes (he decided it would be fun to try the escalator.) Once, as a toddler he unlocked the back door and left the house, managing to get the garage door open, locking himself in the car and then closing the garage door shut. That terrifying episode ended with a policeman in my driveway insisting I open the garage door just to be sure. And there was tear-stained Ryan, a set of headphones on to protect his ears from his screams for help.
So, this feeling of instantly mounting pressure was unfortunately familiar. I had a little dialogue with myself. “Stay calm. We will find him. This is a good neighborhood. No one would steal him. Freaking out will not help. Just a couple of more minutes and you will call the police.”
Just then I got an idea. “Run home and check if he’s there,” I dispatched Ethan and he took off for the 1-1/2 block walk to our house. Just as he leaped into action, we caught sight of Eli walking towards us, hand-in-hand with a neighbor of ours. She had spotted him sitting on our front stoop waiting for us.
Eli was cool as a cucumber. “I couldn’t find you,” he explained shrugging. “So I walked to my house.” I scooped him up in my arms. “I knocked on the door and I ringed the bell and no one was there. I was sitting on the stairs waiting for you and I was staying calm.” he said. “So was I Eli…I was trying really, really hard to stay calm.”
(After my heart stopped hammering, I explained to Eli that he should have stayed at the school and gone to the office or asked an adult for help.)
How my four year old managed to navigate his way home after only taking that walk one or two times with me, escapes me. He must have some GPS device linked to his Y-chromosome. I was so relieved to have him in my arms and completely exhausted by the experience. I’d like to say it was a huge wake-up call and it will never happen again…but after three kids, I know better and on the upside, I am too overwhelmed to beat myself up.
What’s the most precious thing you’ve lost? Did you find it again?
(and ffs, please don't say true love...I can't handle it this week.)