“Ready or not, here I come!”
The old familiar words play in our memories of a childhood filled with steamy summer days. Sun-browned children, free from the bondages of school and homework, spending their days hiding behind trees, boats and under porches while the one who drew the short straw has the opportunity to hone his hunting skills.
However, this time, I was not smiling neither was I enjoying the hunt. Thoughts from “mommy failure” to kidnapped son flashed through my mind as I frantically searched for my two year old. “Have you seen my son? He has big brown eyes, orange-red hair and freckles splattered on his cheeks and nose. He’s wearing navy blue shorts and a blue and white polo shirt.” I asked one of the women working in the photography studio at Sears as I choked back the need to panic. I had dressed him and his sister in their Sunday clothes to get their bi-annual portraits and send off to grandparents, aunts and uncles around the globe.
I am sure I saw pity in her eyes, or maybe it was accusation, “No I’m sorry, I haven’t.” Perhaps she was too busy to show concern or move to assist this terrified mom. How I loath the game hide and seek. Hunting was never something I chose to do.
“He was here just a moment ago!” I was beginning to feel exasperated--desperate for someone to take a moment from their life and help with my crisis. I have heard stories of children disappearing without a trace, and few ever returning. I could not bear it if my child was to join the ranks of children’s faces appearing on milk cartons and billboards reading, “Have you seen me?” Panic rose, threatening to overtake me; I did not know whether to scream first or to cry.
After several moments, the department manager approached, concern showing in her eyes. “We’ll get everyone looking, Ma’am. Where was the last time you saw him?”
“Right here,” I choked back sobs. “I turned only long enough to help his sister find a toy in the toy box, and then he was gone.”
My mind raced. I could imagine the police ripping my babies from my arms, never to see them again. “You’re a failure mommy!” A voice shouted repeatedly inside my brain. I knew it was true. Even as a young mom, I knew there were consequences for not watching your children. All the “You should have…” speeches began to play in my head.
Before long, the entire staffs of the photography studio and the children’s clothes department were searching racks for my son. Photographers were scouring through their rooms, under tables, behind screens and behind camera equipment, but to no avail. He was gone. The manager decided it was time to call in store security. “Have you got a picture we can give them?” She asked me.
My trembling hands fumbled around in my purse looking for the pictures I had taken six months ago.
“Hey, who’s the kid in the storeroom?” A staff member who had just returned from break opened the employee storeroom to store her purse away for her shift.
We turned, and saw my son, playing with toys he had found tucked away to be used as props by the photographers.
“Mommy, look…a truck!” He exclaimed, oblivious to the frantic looks on the crowd of people gathering around him. Out of the storeroom he toddled, happily carrying the fire truck he had found looking as though he had uncovered a mountain of gold.
I realized long ago that I was not born to be a hunter; I did not have the patience. Never did I expect to have a child who would question everything, his curiosity being enough to spin my serene world out of control. Someone said, “One day you will look back at this and laugh.”
That day has become a distant memory, and yes, I do sit with my nearly grown son and laugh with him about how he tested my sanity.
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