Update: With my permission, Lenore took this story, edited it and put it on her site. Now, it is all sparkly and pretty! I wish I could always have an editor. Would that not make blogging just grand?? Yes. Yes, it would.
I have made no secret of my love for Lenore Skenazy and her site, Free-Range Kids. I believe wholeheartedly in her message: "Children, like chickens, deserve a life outside the cage. The overprotected life is stunting and stifling, not to mention boring for all concerned."
I had to reach deep inside of my heart last night for that message.
Last night, I went to Tonganoxie to attend the Leavenworth County Fair with my sister and her kids. It was the typical fair scene - flashing lights worthy of a seizure, cheap stuffed animals hanging by their necks, chaotic noises of bells, buzzers and carnival music, the smell of grease lingering with the heavy scent of livestock. The fair.
It is a fair that was the highlight of my summers for the 7 years I lived in Tonganoxie and it was the place in town to be for that entire week. Because everyone was at the frocking fair- even that cute boy you spied from a neighboring town in that track meet last spring would be there. You begged your mom to make sure that your new school clothes were bought before the fair, so that you could wear them to the fair. THE FAIR. Ah, yes! This was a place with which I was so familiar and comfortable.
And none of that mattered one damned bit when Arun went missing. He was with my sister and headed towards me, but at some point disappeared. He was gone, it was dark and the population of folks seemed to be multiplying before my very eyes.
When my kids break dishes or create messes, I completely freak out. However, when my kids are in serious trouble, it is as if I enter some sort of tunnel of time dimensional warpitude and nothing else matters. Nothing. Everything around me becomes a hazy blur as I concentrate on my task at hand.
So, I leaped into action, handed Anjali over to my sister and told her to stay put with everyone. And then, I methodically and calmly searched for him. March...march....march..... I saw some police officers and made a beeline for them as I calmly told them the situation. After the longest 10 (15?) minutes of my life, someone found Arun. As my sister had stood in place, she told everyone she encountered about Arun being lost and someone brought him back to us.
Arun was not really aware that he was lost - in his mind, he was just hanging out by the super slide. What's the problem, yo? I explained to him what happened and told him to thank the police officers for helping. We also had a very long talk about it on the way home.
The whole experience is still a little surreal to me and I have not cried.
What would I do differently? Last night, I had dressed Arun in a green shirt, but it was a darker green which was so not helpful in a grassy field in the dark. I will definitely do brighter colors next time. And! I will snap a picture of each kid on my cell phone at the beginning of events like this. And! I will be looking into either doing a safety tattoos or a good, old-fashioned sharpie on the forearm. But that is it. Our days of the stroller are ending. I cannot keep my kids confined for much longer and I refuse to be afraid. I refuse.
The entire time I was searching for Arun, I was fighting back the rising panic rumbling in my stomach and that burning sensation on my pride that maybe, just maybe, this might be my You'll Shoot Your Eye Out! Moment. After all, who has posted endlessly about letting our children go? Who has been shamelessly taunting child predators everywhere? Was this the universe's lame attempt at bitch-slapping me?
I kept reminding myself of all of the sensible statistics that I have been reading on Lenore's site and in her book for the past year. I grasped those facts and figures tightly as my talisman while I searched. I knew that realistically, Arun was going to be okay. Afterward, my sister told me she was shocked at how calm I was during and after the whole thing.