By: Heather Desmond O’Neill
That pit in your stomach when you lose, or you think you have lost, your child.
My 6-year-old son and I were in Target. We had been looking for a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle bracelet for his brother. They didn’t have any in the boy’s department, so as we were checking out, I thought there may be some in the aisles where they sell all of the “impulse buy” merchandise. I mean, who doesn’t need a Tide-to-Go pen, or a small batch of wet wipes or some extra hair ties?
We happened to be shopping on a rather busy day, and all of the registers were running with lines of at least 3-4 people in them. I searched the aisle we were in. He said he would look at the few around us.
I put my merchandise on the belt and waited the few minutes in line.
Jameson did not return.
I looked around behind me, left my line and went to the aisles around where I was standing.
I called a few times. Not loudly, but enough that he could hear me if he was within earshot.
I go back to my line figuring he would return to where he thought I was.
Now I could care less about my place in line and walk in front of the line I was in. Now I am starting to panic. I call a little louder.
A little louder.
People are staring at me. I want to scream at them.
I raise my voice – “Has anyone seen a little boy with a blue Spiderman shirt?” “JAMESON! JAMESON!”
Some woman points to the service desk and tells me I should go report it. I want to kick her in the throat.
Why would I want to stop looking for my son to talk to the customer service desk?
There are, what seem like a million people staring at me. Silent. No one is looking. No one is saying a word.
What is wrong with them?
“HAS ANYONE SEEN A LITTLE BOY WITH A BLUE SPIDERMAN SHIRT?” I repeat.
It feels as though an hour has gone by.
My mind is racing. I am tearing up. The door to the store is right there. I know he didn’t leave. He wouldn’t leave without me. Plus, we didn’t come in that door. But anyone could have grabbed his hand and walked him out. WHERE IS HE?!?
No one is moving!
Finally – “He’s here!” Some angel of a woman calls out to me.
“He’s coming this way.” More songs from heaven call out.
“MAMA!” And I see his angelic face with big crocodile tears streaming down them.
We are both crying.
I hug him and pull him aside, away from all of the people still staring at us.
“Where were you?” I say through tears and hugs.
“I was looking for the bracelet and walked too far away.” He is clearly shaken up. He has no idea the panic and relief I have just experienced.
I make my way back to the line I was in, pay for our merchandise and cannot wait to get out of this store.
People are still staring.
A woman touches my arm as we are leaving and says she lost (and found) her son once. She understands the range of emotions I am going through.
I never want to experience this again. I know it is inevitable. My children will wander, we will become separated. For now, I will hug them a little closer. Kiss their faces a little bit more. I will embrace the fact that I am blessed to have my two children home, safe, with me.
To the bystanders: please don’t stare at a woman who is clearly in panic mode. Offer support and assistance. Look for the child! Staring in silence does nothing to help the situation.