It's one of the most terrifying moments a mother can experience. Your child is lost in a crowd of people and you don't know where to start looking for him. Today I lost Kaleb at the SuperWalmart, and I'm still a little shaken up about it.
We were at the checkout and Kaleb was looking at the Darth Vadar exhibit a few feet away from the counter where Leah was helping me unload our groceries. He had just gotten to the age where he was too big for the cart. We had barely established our newest rule: Hold onto the cart. Unfortunately I had gotten distracted and wasn't enforcing that rule. I assumed he knew where we were and would join us when he was done looking at the Darth Vadar masks.
I stepped away from the counter to call him. “Kaleb?” No answer. I stepped further away to look down one end of the store. Kaleb was wandering towards the mini McDonalds by the exit, his grey coating bobbing at he looked around for me. “Kaleb!” I yelled. I yelled again and again on tiptoe, willing him to turn around at look at me. He continued to wander past the McDonalds. I went back to the checkout counter. “He didn't hear me,” I said to the cashier and the lady who was currently writing her a check. “Go get him,” the lady said. “I'll watch your kids.”
I took off after Kaleb, calling as I went. I could see other people were starting to worry which increased my panic. Two ladies, customers, asked what he was wearing and told me they'd search in the back of the store. Then one of the employees stopped me. She put her hand on my arm and said, “Go to Customer Service and tell them your little boy is lost. They'll alert all the employees to search for him.”
I ran to Customer Service. Just as I pushed my way through the long line to the counter, one of the employees spoke into the intercom, “Will Shauna please come to the front of the store.”
I looked around and saw Kaleb holding a man's hand. Kaleb's face was red and splotchy; he was trying not to cry. I picked him up and cried into his coat. “Thank you,” I said to the man, who I now realized was wearing scrubs. “Thank you so much,” I said, meaning, thank you for not being a pedophile. Thank you for not being crazy and cruel and stealing my boy for whatever reason. And thank you for seeing him lost, and being kind enough to help him find his mommy.
“That's okay,” he said. “He was in the parking lot, wandering around. It's happened to my kid before so I was glad to help.”
We had a long talk on the way home and made a few more rules. 1. Stay in the store if you ever get lost. And, 2. Never get into a stranger's car to go look for mommy.
Unfortunately I had to tell him that the bad guys he's seen in movies are real, not pretend, and that in order to be safe he can't trust anyone his mommy and daddy don't know. And even that's not a guarantee.
I was grateful he knew my name, but when I asked what my last name was he said, “Mommy.” Shauna Mommy. It wouldn't have mattered; I would have come regardless of what I was called.