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The Big Scary Moment

November 7, 2011

This past weekend we attended a birthday party for one of Spike’s little friends. The event was held in a kid-friendly touch museum. It was a neat place– every exhibit was made to be played with and explored. There were random tunnels and slides dispersed throughout the large building as well as tanks with reptiles and a huge pit where you could dig for dinosaur bones. Very nifty.

We started out the party with pizza in a party room and then a staff member led the group of two-ish-year-olds into the museum to play some games while cake was being set up. HH and I followed our son as he was instructed to sit in a circle and play “hot potato.” The children had no clue how to play the game and it became an event an chucking the object to a random child in complete glee. At one point the “hot potato” fell near Spike. He lunged for it, grabbed it, and made a rather superb toss across the group to the staff member. My eyes followed the “hot potato” as it was next thrown to another little boy who was more bewildered than Spike had been. I glanced back towards my son and…

He was gone.

Completely and utterly vanished without a trace. There was nothing but a hole in the circle to indicate he had ever had a presence. I glanced up and met my husband’s eyes across the circle. There were no words needed– we had lost our child.

I scanned the surrounding area– the mini-basketball court, the put-put golf and rock climbing wall… there was no indication of Spike in his multi-bright-colored jacket. My heart rose to my throat. Toddlers are fast, very fast. But surely not fast enough to completely disappear from view within ten seconds. I turned to the parents next to me, their smiling faces unaware of my own panic and begged for help– “Spike is gone, have you seen him?”

HH, after confirming with me verbally what we had conveyed without words, rushed off to the front desk to get a search team. To their credit, the other parents around me instantly departed in multiple directions, calling Spike’s name and searching different exhibits.

As for me, I was in a daze. My heart was pounding and my throat closing in terror. I couldn’t even utter his name. I had no idea what to do. I wanted my husband to come back, but I knew we would be more effective split up. I walked in an aimless circle just looking for that jacket and repeating in my mind exactly what he had been wearing and where his birthmark was located. I couldn’t shake the complete dread that came from the fact that I had only glanced away for three or four seconds. How does a child vanish so entirely in that time?

It was a nightmare and I couldn’t believe it was happening to me.

I made a tour around the dinosaur pit and the fake construction zone, my eyes wide, but not seeing. I passed several of our friends yelling Peter’s name. I must have looked like a zombie. I ended up back where we had started, where the hot potato game had turned into the hokey pokey with the remaining children. I realized how monstrous this location was…all the tunnels and random hiding spots. There must have been at least five hundred kids of varying ages scampering about. So much laughter and fun.

I turned around and caught sight of a set of parents next to the kodak memory photo booth. They were fishing around behind the curtains and before I quite realized it, the mother had withdrawn my squirmy toddler. “Look there’s your mommy,” she told Spike.

It hit me– of course he went there. We had seen the photo booth earlier and it had…dum dum dum… steps. He loves steps. Favorite toy, hands down, is anything with steps. We were also about five feet from the hot potato circle. He must have seen an opportunity and taken it, the full length curtain hiding him from view.

At this point HH appeared, his face etched with a worry that could probably be misread as pure fury (apparently his was, at this point,100% considering knocking down the cardboard castles to get into them faster). We had no words I had hugged Spike, but he wanted down and he now stood between us, doing the hokey pokey energetically from afar.

We stood there for a while, reiterating to ourselves how absurd the whole thing seemed, until we realized we should probably call off the search. It was surreal. I was pretty much in an adrenaline high from the rest of the night.

I guess that was a fairly big parenting first. I’m disappointed by how I reacted. If I had thought about it clearly and calmly(even for thirty seconds), the photo booth, with it’s appealing set of stairs, would have, at once, jumped out as the most likely place to go. Especially since he had been trying to get up them for about half an hour previously. Instead I jumped to worse case scenario and completely shut myself down in fright. I don’t handle stressful situations well– at least not when it involves my family. But, who knows, maybe Spike will give me enough practice that I’ll get used to it.

Oh, I hope not.

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